‘A force’: Charlotte, county officials mourn Ella Scarborough and remember her legacy

·5 min read
JOHN D. SIMMONS/Observer file photo

Public officials in Charlotte on Wednesday are remembering the legacy that transcends the life of Ella Scarborough, the former Mecklenburg County commissioner who died Tuesday at the age of 75.

Scarborough, the first Black woman to run for mayor of Charlotte and the U.S. Senate in North Carolina, paved the way for many Black politicians in the city, including Mayor Vi Lyles who called her fellow South Carolina native’s death “a significant loss.”

“I met Ella when I first ran for elected office and we became friends,” Lyles said in a tweet. “We both grew up in SC and embraced Charlotte as our new home. Her death is a significant loss for the city we both came to love. My thoughts are with her children, who are as smart & dynamic as their mother.”

County commissioner Pat Cotham called Scarborough “a trailblazer.”

“This is the beautiful face of an amazing woman and trailblazer, Commissioner Ella Scarborough,” Cotham said in a tweet. “May she Rest In Peace.”

County commissioner Leigh Altman said Scarborough’s “warmth ... tenacity ... trailblazing ... and lifetime of service” inspired her.

“I pray for comfort and consolation for her family in this time of grief,” Altman said in a tweet. “May her memory be a blessing to all who knew and loved her.”

Mecklenburg District Attorney Spencer Merriweather and his office said “hearts are heavy today” following Scarborough’s passing and the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, that killed 21 people — including 19 children.

“Yet, hope must endure,” Merriweather’s office said in a Facebook post. “May we allow ourselves to be propelled to action by these losses and to stand up for safety and justice for all people.”

U.S. Rep. Alma Adams, a Charlotte Democrat, called Scarborough an “extraordinary public servant who loved her God” and “her constituents” all while serving the community and state “admirably for decades.”

“I considered her a friend and sister in the struggle for human and civil rights,” Adams said in a statement. “She did for others and was always on the right side of the issues. Our community will miss her sweet spirit and charming personality. We are all better because of the life she lived and shared with so many.”

In a statement, Mecklenburg County officials called Scarborough “a pillar” in the community.

“Working with Commissioner Scarborough ... opened my eyes to new perspectives on how to help our community,” County Manager Dena Diorio said in the statement. “She had a boundless desire to serve, demonstrated every day since childhood by her commitment to neighbors and fellow residents, especially communities of color and women.”

County board Chairman George Dunlap said Scarborough’s “passion was limitless and her loss is immeasurable.”

“Our prayers go out to her family, friends and the entire Mecklenburg County community that is a better place today due to her dedication,” he said.

Laura Meier, county commissioner for District 5, called Scarborough “a force.”

“Trailblazer, public servant, dedicated, a force, legend — all words that describe Commissioner Ella Scarborough,” Meier said in a tweet. “Much love to her family. May she Rest In Peace.”

Mark Jerrell, county commissioner for District 4, said he was “heartbroken” over Scarborough’s death and credited her for paving the way for him to serve.

“I stand on the shoulders of giants!” Jerrell tweeted.

Victoria Watlington, City Council member representing District 3, said Scarborough began her “history making tenure” on the council in 1987 — her birth year.

“We are now poised to elect six Black women to the same body,” Watlington said in a tweet. “We honor her legacy today.”

Former N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory, who defeated Scarborough in the 2001 race for mayor, said her ”energy, laughter, courage, and especially her soul will truly be missed.”

“Although we were often political adversaries and opponents, one could never question Ella Scarborough’s commitment to public service and her love for our community,” McCrory said in a tweet. “It was an honor to serve with her.”