Town of Clayton leaders and staff are mourning the passing of former Planning Director James “Skip” Browder. According to reports from family and friends, Browder, 72, was driving to Oak Island Thursday just before 11 a.m. to meet friends for a game of golf, when he suffered a medical emergency and crashed his car on N.C. 17 just outside of Leland, N.C.
Browder first joined the Town in 1993, and served not only the Town’s Planning Director, but he served as Assistant Town Manager and twice as Acting Town Manager. Browder left the Town of Clayton at the end of 2000, and returned from 2003 through 2010.
Mayor Jody McLeod remembered Browder for his dedication, leadership and expertise, but mostly for his love of Clayton.
“Browder worked hard for Clayton, because he loved Clayton,” Mayor McLeod said. “That’s the kind of legacy he left behind. He wasn’t the first planner to say, ‘No you can’t do that,’ but he was Clayton’s first planner to turn around and say, ‘But here’s what we CAN do!’ And that was the turning point that helped Clayton develop – he began to find ways to work with people and pave the way for the growth we’re seeing today.”
Clayton was a sleepy Southern town when Browder first joined us, but by the time he retired in 2010, Browder had helped Clayton earn BusinessWeek magazine’s ranking as the No. 10 place in the country to live for affordability and quality of schools.
“When I came here, there were 4,000 people in Clayton and now look at us,” Skip said at his last Town Council meeting in December 2010. “I’m just glad to have been a part of it. I’m going to relax for a while, play some golf, then try to figure out what to do next.”
What he did next in retirement was to continue championing greenways throughout Clayton, especially the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, and he served on county and state committees that worked to make that project a reality. Long-time Parks & Recreation Advisory Board member and Town Councilman Butch Lawter said Browder’s tireless and quiet campaigning for greenways spanned decades.
“Skip was one of the most humble public servants that I have ever worked with,” said Councilman Lawter. “His dedication to building the Mountains-to-Sea Trail was the prime example. No matter how much praise he rightfully deserved for the many success stories he helped write in Clayton, he always diverted the praise and directed it to others.”
Browder continued to serve as a volunteer on the Clayton Parks & Recreation Advisory Board after his retirement. He would frequently visit Town Hall to check in on past and current Town staff and to follow development issues in his community, giving out hugs and smiles everywhere he went. Just this past week, he came by the Clayton Community Center to drop off a $300 for prizes to give away at the Town’s traditional July 4th celebration, a donation he made yearly for this popular community event.
“I was always told, growing up, to leave things a little bit better than I find them,” Skip said at his retirement, “And I hope I’ve done that. I want to say ‘thanks’ for all the help, support and friendship. Some of the finest people in the world work for the Town of Clayton, and I’m proud to have been among them.”
At the close of Browder’s final Town Council meeting in 2010, Skip waved his hand in the air. Mayor McLeod called on him for one last report, but he didn’t have one. “I’m just waving goodbye,” he said.
Browder is survived by his son and daughter and several grandchildren. Memorial arrangements are still pending. (Town of Clayton News Release)