A mayor’s enthusiasm
The mayor of Hillsborough doesn’t need to wear the derby hat or the off-white hat with the black stripe to be recognized as mayor of this gem of a southern town. More noticeable is his enthusiasm for leading a community of goodness.
Since 2005, Mayor Tom Stevens has guided and been part of the ever-evolving growth of Hillsborough. “What distinguishes us is our character; both the rough and the polished,” Stevens says. It is 90 degrees on King Street, where a few people are walking leisurely on a Sunday afternoon, just as Stevens did on his way from his house to downtown, and the occasional breeze ushers past the historic and present face of this town.
“I feel lucky to be part of the history of this place,” Stevens says. A UNC graduate and with a master’s in social work from UNC, Stevens came to know this part of the county after having lived north of town in the Schley community. “The more we came to town we just realized this is where we wanted to be,” says Stevens of eventually moving to where he and his wife call home. From his house, Stevens owns Esquare Leadership LLC, a consulting business with a passion for leadership and organizational development.
“My wife describes me as serial obsessive,” he said. “If I am teaching leadership or attending to the needs of the town or any of my hobbies, I become obsessive about it.” Of his role as mayor, Stevens says that his experiences as an educator, counselor and his work with the Association for Corporate Growth Raleigh-Durham Chapter, which he serves as president, has prepared and continues to prepare him to lead as mayor.
“I work with great people who are passionate about their jobs as town leaders and workers,” Stevens says.
While one might believe that a southern mayor might have an elaborate and well-crafted description of his role as town leader, Stevens best describes the role of mayor through his description of his job, when he guest-reads at local schools. “I tell school kids that being mayor is about getting people to share,” he sayd. “Really, our town is comprised of some really talented and resourceful citizens and staff and my role, our role as town leaders and town-people, is to facilitate sharing.”
Stevens grins in describing his favorite places and activities.
“The river walk is so wonderful, I’ve been on the trail every day but one, since it opened,” he says. “And, we have some really wonderful restaurants downtown and around town that make dining here such a wonderful and diverse experience.”
On a warm Saturday night, Stevens is seen on the wooden benches outside the Wooden Nickel. A few evenings before, he is in Radius Pizzeria, having just come from a reception at Cup-A-Joe where his paintings are on display through July. “There is no denying that I like to be out and get a feel for what’s on the mind of our community,” says Stevens. “I walk the sidewalks and I make efforts to visit different places and to make sure people know that I am easily reached.”
He says that an appeal of the town, “the character trait that separates us from anywhere else, is that there is a general consensus that people participate here; people embody the town and are generally proud to call this place home.”
History will be the best evaluator of the past, for Hillsborough and how it grows and changes in decades to come. During his tenure, Stevens recognizes that the one element of the town that will hopefully never change, is the character that is exclusive to Hillsborough. The emotion of this town is the present and the past, the rough and the polished, the historic and the new, and recognizing the mayor with and without a favorite hat.
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