Guilford County just lost one of its great citizens and leaders: Former three-time Chairman of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners Bob Landreth has passed away at the age of 82.
Landreth, a Democrat who had the impressive distinction of serving as a Guilford County commissioner in four different decades – and who made a lot of friends during that time – is being remembered fondly by his family, friends and fellow county officials, including both current and former commissioners.
Landreth, a resident of Guilford County who owned and farmed land just outside the Greensboro city limits, served on the Board of Commissioners from 1974 to 1978, from 1986 to 1988, and from 1992 to 2004. In 2004, the very popular Landreth decided not to run for reelection.
Landreth was a Greensboro native who graduated from Greensboro Senior High School and later from UNC-Chapel Hill, where he earned a degree in business. He served for two decades in the North Carolina National Guard and reached the rank of major before settling down and farming in eastern Guilford County.
Landreth enjoyed collecting things. One former county official said Landreth had collected a set of lapel pins from every county in North Carolina that had one. He also was known for his extensive collection of tobacco tins.
While some county commissioners fight over who has the largest commissioners office, Landreth always asked for the smallest commissioner office the county had.
Former Republican Guilford County Commissioner Linda Shaw said that, though she and Landreth often fought political battles, they got along very well.
“I liked old Bob,” Shaw said. “He was 110 percent Democrat, and he told me one time I was the only Republican that he knew that he liked.”
“We worked together on some things,” she added.
The Guilford County Board of Commissioners is now drafting a resolution to honor the life and public service of the highly regarded long-serving former commissioner. Funeral services for Landreth will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 29 at West Market Street United Methodist Church – which is just across the street from the Old Guilford County Court House where Landreth served for so many years.
Landreth – an apartment landlord as well as a farmer – was very much a man of the people and was a strong representative for the county’s citizens, especially those in rural areas who lived in districts such as his.
His election signs were illustrated with pictures of cows and Landreth could sometimes be seen riding his tractor down the road on the way to mow the grass at the apartments he owned. Landreth was also known for making birdhouses in his spare time and giving them to friends.
He was a very responsive commissioner who listened intently to citizens, took their concerns very seriously, and became known as a financial conservative who pursued commonsense solutions to solve problems.
Many times when the Rhino Times wrote about issues in Guilford County, Landreth would call or come by the newspaper’s office seeking more details so that he could do something to help resolve the issue.
Marie Stanley, after her husband died from medical complications, came to just about every commissioners meeting for years and spoke on the county’s need for a “mobile medical unit” so that the county’s health workers could provide care to patients who had trouble getting to the hospital or their doctor’s office. As one of his last acts as a commissioner, Landreth convinced the board to put money into the county budget for that purpose.
County Commissioner Skip Alston – who went on to chair the Board of Commissioners five times – said he owed a great deal to Landreth.
“If it weren’t for him, I don’t know that I would have run for chairman,” Alston said.
He said that, in 2001, Landreth told him that he would support him for chairman – a job Alston won a year later.
“He helped me become the first African-American chairman of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners,” Alston said. “His support was something that really meant a lot to me.”
Alston said it’s hard to underestimate the importance of Landreth to Guilford County government over the last half century.
“He was constantly one of the calmest commissioners on board,” Alston said. “Since he was a senior member that made sense.”
In recent years the Guilford County Board of Commissioners has calmed down and become a very civil board. However, it’s important to realize that during many of Landreth’s years on the board, there was a great deal of acrimony and fighting and Landreth was constantly acting as the peacemaker – both while he was chairing meetings and behind the scenes when he’d talk in private with warring parties.
Alston said Landreth often opened his house on Ward Road to commissioners and county staff where a lot of county business got done in small group discussions.
Alston also said that Landreth had a great deal of integrity.
“I will say that he was a man of his word,” Alston said. “When he told me he was going to do something, he would do it.”
Guilford County Register of Deeds Jeff Thigpen served as a Democratic Guilford County commissioner before being elected in 2004 to run the deeds office. When Thigpen was a young whippersnapper on the board, Landreth was the old gun Democrat who took Thigpen under his wing and showed him the ropes. Thigpen said he’s very grateful for all Landreth did for him and for the county and he added that it was difficult to take the news this week that Landreth had passed away.
“This one really hurts,” Thigpen said. “It’s tough to lose somebody like him.”
Thigpen said that, when he, Thigpen, ran his campaign to win a seat on the board, he didn’t talk to Landreth during the campaign. After Thigpen won, however, Thigpen asked for a meeting with the long-time commissioner.
“I said, ‘I’ve just got one question for you – do you want to be chairman?’”
Landreth smiled and said he in fact might be interested in that.
Thigpen said Landreth’s dog hated him, Thigpen, and said Landreth delighted in that fact that the dog was always growling or barking at Thigpen. Even when Thigpen became register of deeds Landreth would not let Thigpen escape the dog. Landreth would bring the dog to the deeds office.
“I always knew Bob was there because I heard the dog barking,” Thigpen said.
He said that one time he looked out of his office window and the dog was in the car looking straight at him and barking up a storm. Thigpen said that, at another time, Landreth convinced him to get near the dog while it was in the car, and the dog nearly came out the window after Thigpen. That greatly amused Landreth.
Landreth could often be seen driving a blue Mustang convertible and Thigpen said the Mustang was a regular in the Greensboro holiday parade. Thigpen often road in it with Guilford County Commissioner Carolyn Coleman.
“I loved that car,” Thigpen said.
Thigpen said Landreth really knew how to play the game of politics. Thigpen said that, in the late ’90s, when the Republican majority on the board didn’t have the votes to pass a budget – because former Republican Guilford County Commissioner Steve Arnold refused to vote for it – Landreth agreed to vote for the budget if all the Democrats on the board got some things they wanted.
“He said, ‘I have four friends,” Thigpen said of Landreth when approached for that budget vote.
Thigpen said that, often over beers, he learned a great deal from listening to informal talks between Landreth and the late Guilford County Manager Roger Cotten. Thigpen said that the two men had a vast knowledge of the history of Guilford County government.
Former Guilford County Commissioner Paul Gibson said that, he knew Landreth while the two were growing up and he said that they were “thick as thieves.”
“Bob was a good guy,” Gibson said. “He was a public servant.”
Gibson said Landreth truly aspired to use the Board of Commissioners for “a higher cause,” and said that Landreth was extremely focused on serving the citizens of Guilford County.