It’s hard to find anything in Cary that Bill Coleman didn’t help build.
Coleman oversaw unprecedented growth during his time as Cary town manager from 1994 to 2008.
His friendly and professional nature made him so popular that he worked under four mayors and many Town Councils with vastly different agendas and governing styles.
Those were among the reasons that friends and former colleagues were mourning Wednesday, when Coleman died from pancreatic cancer at age 63.
“Nobody has done more for the town of Cary than Bill has,” said former Cary Mayor Koka Booth, who hired Coleman as town manager.
“We owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to him for leading Town staff in helping create the Cary we love today by expertly and tirelessly bringing to reality the Council’s vision for this great place he and we call home,” Mayor Harold Weinbrecht wrote in a statement.
Coleman was a Red Springs native who earned a degree in political science from Wake Forest University and a master’s degree in public affairs from N.C. State University.
He worked as town manager of Pittsboro and Southern Pines before becoming Chatham County’s manager in 1978.
Cary hired him as an assistant town manager in 1988 after he built a reputation as a diligent straight shooter who was also selfless.
His former Chatham County colleagues told The News & Observer in 1994 that Coleman was known for arriving early at the municipal building to clear snow from the sidewalks.
He was still known for his work ethic in 2003 when Ernie McAlister, a former banker, succeeded anti-growth Glen Lang as mayor. McAlister described Coleman as a master problem solver and team builder.
“He really instilled a culture of service that ran throughout the town,” McAlister said. “It was his mastery of being able to move things along that got those things built.”
Cary built eight new parks, more than 30 miles of greenways, a wastewater treatment plant, Koka Booth Amphitheatre, the Cary Senior Center and several other amenities that helped Cary gain national attention under Coleman’s direction.
“His fingerprints were on everything good that has happened for the town,” McAlister said.
The town’s population also doubled during Coleman’s tenure, growing from 61,000 in 1994 to more than 127,000 in 2008.
And he remained ever detail-oriented.
One of his last acts as Cary town manager was to replace welcome signs that said “Cary City Limits” with signs that said “Cary Town Limit.”
“He trained us all to say ‘No, we’re a town,’ if someone called us the City of Cary,” said Scott Fogleman, Cary’s former budget director.
“(Coleman) deserves thanks from every citizen in Cary because he made sure everything happened the way it was supposed to,” Fogleman said.
Coleman hired many of Cary’s current department directors, including Planning Director Jeff Ulma.
Ulma said Coleman was Town Hall’s stabilizing force whenever Cary went through growing pains.
Ulma, who last saw Coleman about a month ago, said the former town manager was just as calm and confident in days when he was ailing.
“Just like his work life, he accepted his circumstances and took them in stride,” Ulma said.
“He just said, ‘Everybody’s time comes,’” he recalled. “It’s pretty awesome, when you think about it.”