Raleigh council member’s story of a neighbor and a dog makes city leaders cry

Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane announces she will not seek re-election

Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane posted this video on social media March 12, 2019, announcing she will not seek a fifth term as the Oak City’s top elected official. McFarlane was a booster of Dorothea Dix Park, affordable housing and public transit.
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Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane posted this video on social media March 12, 2019, announcing she will not seek a fifth term as the Oak City’s top elected official. McFarlane was a booster of Dorothea Dix Park, affordable housing and public transit.

Dickie Thompson told a story Friday that made some of his fellow Raleigh City Council members cry.

It happened at the city’s planning retreat.

Each member had eight minutes to talk about anything he or she wanted. The retreat facilitator jotted down their talking points for city staff to study on a giant white notepad: affordable housing, better community outreach, job training for young adults.

At first, Thompson said, he didn’t know what he wanted to tell his fellow council members. But he said he prayed about it and wanted to tell them a story.

“Some of it I’m not very proud about,” he said.

When he and his wife built their home in Raleigh, Thompson said, he had a “rocky relationship” with a neighbor. Part of the problem was that Thompson had a dog he didn’t pen in — that part of Raleigh was still the county then — and it roamed the neighborhood.

The dog, a black lab mix named Webster, was loved by everyone, Thompson said.

Except by his neighbor.

“Things got worse,” Thompson said. “And to say the man didn’t like me would — well, I would say he hated me. This went on for a long time. I’d say at least five years. I felt like God had hardened his heart against me like He had hardened Pharaoh’s against Moses.”

Thompson tried to win his favor, but it wasn’t until reading Matthew 22:39 that he said he realized what was wrong.

“It said ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’” Thompson said. “And I realized then that it was me. I wasn’t loving my neighbor. I didn’t love him. I was angry at him because he was angry at me.”

Thompson went to his neighbor, confessed he hadn’t been a good neighbor and apologized.

“He looked at me and thought about it for a few minutes,” he said. “Then he looked at me and said ‘There were just too many things.’ And he turned and walked away.”

Thompson paused as he told the story. The room was silent.

A month later, Thompson said, he and Webster went for a walk. The dog had run off before coming back with a hat in his mouth.

Thompson recognized it as his neighbor’s hat and he wanted to return it.

A Raleigh staff member let out a low whistle, and others shook their heads, expecting an outburst from the neighbor.

But Thompson found his neighbor near his driveway at a drainage ditch.

“He was bleeding on his head,” Thompson said. “He had fallen, and he could not get up.”

“So I went over and when I leaned over to get him, he put his arms around my neck and my whole body got warm. Because I knew God had answered my prayers at that very moment. I got him back to his house, got him cleaned up, and our relationship changed forever.”

Thompson learned the man struggled with alcohol and that his wife had Alzheimer’s. He’d had to put his wife in a nursing home, and he was alone in his home.

They became friends, and the man would look after Webster while Thompson went to work.

“He’d spend most of his day in his garage in his lawn chair,” he said. “He had a little piece of carpet for Webster to lay on beside him. He’d play the radio all day.”

Thompson called their friendship “a blessing.”

They remained friends for years, but he said one morning his wife went out to the mailbox and found their neighbor lying in his driveway. He’d had a heart attack and died.

‘All neighbors here’

A small collection of sighs escaped those listening to the council member’s story. Tears that had remained pooled up started to spill.

“We’re all neighbors here,” Thompson said. ”We all need to try and love each other.”

“And I know with politics like it is, social media, the media and all the things, I know it is easy to say things sometimes,” he continued. “And we hurt each other. We don’t really need to do that. Because we all want the same things, and that’s what’s best for our city.”

The Raleigh City Council has become increasingly fractured this past year. The retreat came just two weeks after Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane announced she wouldn’t run for re-election, in part, because of social media attacks aimed at her and her “loved ones.”

“I think it’s what we’ve been saying,” McFarlane said after the retreat. “We have to put our differences aside. No matter how far apart we think we are on things really, fundamentally, we want the same thing. It’s the betterment of the city. It’s just a matter of how we get there.”

With all eight seats up this election, Thompson said he hopes council members can put aside their differences and “continue to work together.”

“I think a lot of people in the city see the City Council as fragmented,” he said. “And I guess I wanted to send a message that we can get a lot more done showing more love to one another.”

At his neighbor’s funeral, the casket was open.

On the man’s chest was a picture of the man and Thompson’s dog.

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