By Brad Hicks
Outspoken. Respected. Friend.
These were among the words local officials used to describe Erwin Alderwoman Sue Jean Wilson, who died unexpectedly on Monday, Nov. 28, due to a massive heart attack, according to Erwin Mayor Doris Hensley.
Hensley said she received word of Wilson’s death at around 12:10 p.m. Monday, news that Hensley said came as a shock.
“It’s going to be a terrific loss for our community,” Hensley said.
Hensley said it is her understanding that Wilson contacted 911 at around 10 a.m. Monday to request medical assistance. MedicOne Medical Response responded to Wilson’s home to transport her to Unicoi County Memorial Hospital. Hensley said Erwin Police Chief Regan Tilson assisted with the transport, driving the ambulance to the hospitals as medics worked on Wilson.
Hensley said medical personnel were unable to save Wilson at UCMH.
Along with her service on several local governing bodies, Wilson was well-known to many in the community for her many years as an educator within the Unicoi County Schools system. She worked for 17 years as a teacher and 10 years as an administrator within the local school system.
Wilson was a lifetime member of the Unicoi County Education Association, Tennessee Education Association and National Education Association. She served five years as president of the local association, as well as a term as its secretary and treasurer.
During her career in education, Wilson also served for three years as the First Congressional representative on the Tennessee Education Association’s board of directors.
It wasn’t long after her retirement that Wilson sought to serve the public through government. In 2006, Wilson ran for and won a seat on the Unicoi County Commission, representing the county’s 2nd District. Although she had never held office before, Wilson was the leading vote-getter among 2nd District candidates in that year’s race.
Wilson won her second four-year term on the County Commission in 2010. It was following that year’s election that Wilson was chosen by her fellow commissioners to chair the Unicoi County Commission. She served as the panel’s chairwoman for multiple sessions and, to Unicoi County Mayor Greg Lynch’s knowledge, was the first female to chair the County Commission.
“She was very outspoken in her beliefs in what she thought was right for the county and, of course, her district when she was a county commissioner,” Lynch said of Wilson. “I think that she was one, from the mayor’s perspective, who would hold your feet to the fire to make sure that things were followed through with, and she was good about checking on different issues and things like that that would come before the County Commission.”
But Wilson’s kindness also stood out to Lynch. He said around the holidays, Wilson would bring small gifts for the staff working in his office, continuing to do so after completing her second and final term on the Unicoi County Commission.
“She was a good person in that way,” Lynch said.
Lynch said Wilson was well-respected in every position she held, was interested in what was going on in the community and how it impacted local citizens, had “the pulse of the community in mind” as she took on various issues facing county government, and was trusted by Unicoi Countians due to her dedication.
“She’s been a good public servant and a good friend to a lot of people, and she certainly is going to be missed,” he said.
Along with her two terms on the Unicoi County Commission, serving from 2006 to 2014, and service on other boards and committees, Wilson also served one full term on the Erwin Board of Mayor and Aldermen, first elected to that panel in 2012. On Nov. 8, Wilson was reelected to her second term on Erwin’s governing body and was set to be sworn in this Thursday.
“She was very interested in things going on in our community,” said Erwin Alderman Virgil Moore, who had served alongside Wilson on the Board of Mayor and Alderman since his appointment in February 2014. “She always spoke out. She didn’t keep anything back in her serving, and she was so faithful to her job and to the things that are here in our city.”
Like Hensley, Moore said he was shocked by word of Wilson’s passing. Moore further described Wilson as knowledgeable, dedicated, and someone who loved the town she represented. He added Wilson will be “greatly missed.”
“She was just a wonderful lady to work with,” Moore said.
In the hours after her death, Wilson remained on the minds of local officials. Monday’s meeting of the Unicoi County Commission opened with a moment of silence in honor of Wilson. Hensley said Monday’s meeting of the Erwin Board of Mayor and Aldermen was canceled out of respect for Wilson and her family.
“I think we’re still in shock,” Hensley said. “I think the community has lost a friend, a champion of the Town of Erwin, especially, and all of Unicoi County.”
Hensley said it will be up to the Erwin Board of Mayor and Aldermen to fill Wilson’s seat on the panel.
“I hope to have a recommendation by Dec. 12, our next meeting, but that’s not in stone yet,” Hensley said. “We’ll just have to give some thought to it.”