In a town that’s existed for 150 years, Clayton eulogized former town manager Steve Biggs on Tuesday as if he were a founding father.
Twenty years ago, a young, boney Biggs took over the broke town and gave it a future, Clayton Mayor Jody McLeod said at Tuesday’s public memorial service. Through skillful hiring, careful budgeting and a vision of better times, Biggs carved out a legacy in the town that will never be forgotten, McLeod said.
“We’re just so thankful for the legacy he has allowed Clayton to inherit,” McLeod said. “If you can inherit hundreds of millions of dollars, what do you have? Hundreds of millions of dollars. But if you inherit a legacy, that lives forever, that people buy into and nurture and grow.”
Biggs died April 12 in a Roanoke, Va., hospital from a self-inflicted gunshot wound the day before. Last year Biggs, left Clayton after 19 years as the town manager to take the same job in Christiansburg, Va., a town of roughly the same size about 230 miles from the Triangle.
Tuesday’s memorial service was in the Clayton Center auditorium – a building the town helped save from the rubble during Biggs’ tenure. Nearly a decade ago, Biggs helped find the donors and companies willing to provide the funds and work to turn two dilapidated schools into the new town hall and arts center.
While he was a small-town manager, Biggs’ negotiating skills helped land the $2 billion Novo Nordisk expansion currently under construction just outside of Clayton, McLeod said. That project and the 700 jobs it promises help prop up western Johnston County as more than a bedroom community for Raleigh. In the past two years, the town approved hundreds of new housing lots in and around town, and Biggs spent his last days as the Clayton manager planning elaborate parks projects in town and along the Neuse River that could cost more than $20 million.
Once you create a spark, somebody has to blow life into that fire to keep it going. That’s what Steve Biggs was amazing at. We are all the better for having known Steve Biggs.
Clayton Mayor Jody McLeod
“When Steve Biggs came to Clayton he put out a lot of fires, but as Steve Biggs moved through his career he created a lot of sparks, a lot of new ideas,” McLeod said. “You know, a spark is one thing, a fire is another. Once you create a spark, somebody has to blow life into that fire to keep it going. That’s what Steve Biggs was amazing at. We are all the better for having known Steve Biggs.”
Christiansburg Mayor Michael Barber said Biggs was the first of six candidates the council interviewed for the job last year, but that he knew then the search was over.
“I thought, well we don’t need to see anyone else, this is the guy,” Barber said. In hiring Biggs, Barber said Christiansburg was looking to replicate a lot of the trends in Clayton, particularly a downtown where people want to be.
“Christiansburg is not dissimilar from Clayton; (Clayton) has what we wanted,” Barber said. “We were just getting to know each other. We only had Steve for 10 months. But we had already seen in him his strong character. He was kind. He loved his family.”
In family photos and stories of vacations, eldest daughter and middle child Everett Biggs, a freshman at Liberty University, painted a seldom-seen softer side of Biggs, one that was goofy and clumsy. She said the top man in town hall was ready to strike a pose to make people laugh and could be driven into a panic attack out of fear he may never escape from an ill-fitting sweater in a Dick’s Sporting Goods.
“I know if you worked with him you probably didn’t see this side, so it might be funny for you because you saw him as the boss or something, but I’m glad I could share this with you,” Everett Biggs said. “I hope you got to see who he was for me. He was really awesome, and I’m glad I got to honor him.”
McLeod called Biggs “brilliant” and “articulate” but said his best quality was his leadership.
“He was our leader, he was a champion of people,” McLeod said. “He was our champion.”
Ray Lines, the family ministries pastor at Quest Fellowship in Garner and the leader of Tuesday’s memorial service, set up a GoFundMe site collecting money for the Biggs family’s expenses. The site says funds will be used for funeral costs, mortgage and utility payments and other bills. In four days it raised more than $14,000. For more information, or to donate, visit www.gofundme.com/biggs-family-funeral-expenses.
Drew Jackson; 919-603-4943; @jdrewjackson