PEMBROKE — Pembroke dedicated is quaint downtown park next to The University of North Carolina at Pembroke on Wednesday in honor of the late Milton R. Hunt, ensuring that the man who “gave his heart and soul for the town” is never forgotten.
“He was very special. I don’t know what it was. I can’t put my finger on it,” said Gary Locklear, a retired Superior Court Judge and Pembroke’s current attorney. “He was not your average person. He had a Ph.D in people. He knew more about most people than they knew about themselves.”
Hunt, who died April 15, 2015, at the age of 71, was the town’s mayor for 32 years. He served as a chairman of the Robeson County Democratic Party, a trustee for UNCP, and elected the first chairman of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina. He is also credited with being “someone everyone in town, the county and state knew.”
During the more than one-hour dedication of the Milton R. Hunt Memorial Park attended by Hunt’s wife Polly and his two children, Anthony Hunt and Kim Hunt Mertz, close friends and those who worked with Hunt to guide the town’s growth stepped forward to give their thoughts and remembrances about the man who referred to everyone as “neighbor.”
“To me he was not only a good friend, he was a good mayor,” said Pembroke Councilman Larry McNeill, who began his council career in 1991 when Hunt was mayor. “He taught me a lot about his town. It was the town that he really cared for.”
McDuffie Cummings, a close friend of Hunt’s and former longtime Pembroke town manager, said that a park dedicated to Hunt is a great addition to the community.
“It show appreciation for his services to the community,” Cummings said. “It will be a reminder of his legacy.
“He was one of a kind. He allowed me to do my job. He would offer his advice, but in the end it was always, ‘Mr. Manager, is this what you want?’”
Former state Rep. Ronnie Sutton, a close friend of Hunt’s and the ceremony’s featured speaker, told the crowd of about 100 that he knew of no other individual who has done so much for the town of Pembroke and its people.
“It’s a great idea for this park to be dedicated in his honor because it is a focal point in the town,” Sutton said. “He did so much for the people in this town. He is a man who gave his heart and soul for his community.”
Darlene Jacobs, who served as the administrator for the Lumbee Tribe during Hunt’s time as tribal chairman, spoke of his love for the Lumbee people.
“He was a leader, an inspirer, and a motivator. He loved the Lumbee people,” she said. “… He was intense, passionate and had a deep wonderful laugh.”
Larry Brooks, who served with Hunt on Pembroke’s governing board, spoke about Hunt’s ability to get along with all people.
“He was uniquely people-oriented,” Brooks said. “He was in the Town Hall so much that I used to tell him we would need to cut him a check … . One thing is for sure. The next mayor is going to have a hard act to follow.”
Glenn Maynor, a former Robeson County sheriff, Lumberton councilman, and close friend of Hunt’s, said that Hunt would say what was on his mind and was the ultimate politician.
“Politics was fun when Milton and I were in it. It was fun and effective.” Maynor said. “It’s not that way today. Today politics is vicious.”
Pembroke has not yet replaced Hunt. Greg Cummings, a former councilman, had a lead after the March 15 election, which was a do-over from the November General Election, but the results have been contested and have not been certified.
Entertainment during the ceremony was provided by Mahlea Hunt and Calista and Kaitlyn Deal. Immediately after the program the stone memorial designating the park as the “Milton R. Hunt Memorial Park” was unveiled.
Tonight the newly named park will host its first event, the Summer Jam. The jam will be held from 7 to 10 p.m. Admission is free.