It's been almost 30 years since she was first elected to Durham's Board of County Commissioners. Now, Commissioner Becky Heron, 83, says she's ready to step down from her seat, effective Aug. 1, to take some time for herself and her family. Heron has also had some medical issues that caused recent absences from commissioners' meetings, and she says that also factored in her decision.
Heron, elected in 1982 and currently serving her 13th term, made the official announcement of her mid-term resignation at Monday's meeting of the board of commissioners. Her colleagues on the board praised her service and recounted some of her accomplishments.
"If she's fighting for you, you've got a great crusader working on your behalf," said Durham County Attorney Lowell Siler.
Heron has been a relentless spokeswoman for environmental protections, the humane treatment of animals and services for the elderly. As Durham County Manager Mike Ruffin noted, Heron also cast one of the deciding votes that made Mayor Bill Bell the first black chairman of the Durham Board of Commissioners.
Bell and Heron had a lot in common and both wanted to bring more transparency to the public board, Ruffin told Heron at Monday's meeting: "He, like you, wanted to see decisions made in the board room and not the back room," Ruffin said.
In recent years, Heron has been an advocate for improvements to the Durham County animal shelter and the start of Durham's senior center. She has also staunchly opposed the controversial 751 South development near Jordan Lake, a development that took nearly five years and several votes to get through Durham County's approvals process. Heron has served on myriad local and regional boards. (See her résumé.)
"I cannot think of anyone who has served their community more," Commissioner Brenda Howerton said.
After praising her years of community work, the board made plans to ask for a recommendation to fill Heron's seat for the remaining year and a half left in her term. In accordance with state law, the Durham County Democratic Party would recommend an appointee—a recommendation the four remaining commissioners could accept or reject when they vote for a replacement, Siler explained. The commissioners planned to discuss the process in more detail at a future meeting.
Heron won't be far away, she said—likely she'll take a seat in the front row at some meetings, watching the board and commenting alongside regulars such as Lavonia Allison, president of the Durham Committee Affairs of Black People, and a fellow community activist, Victoria Peterson.
The commissioners have one more scheduled meeting before Heron's departure date on Monday July 25. The board has 60 days from the effective date of Heron's resignation to fill her seat.
"Whoever's sitting in this chair here," Heron said, "I hope you do your best to keep it straight."