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Walser steps down from a life of public service

By David Bodenheimer
The Dispatch
Published: Friday, November 26, 2010 at 5:00 a.m.

Sitting on his couch, just one day from retirement, Dr. Max Walser said he has no reservations about his decision.

The chairman of the Davidson County Board of Commissioners and former superintendent of Davidson County Schools hung up his public service cap Tuesday night with the adjournment of his last meeting on the county board.

Walser woke up Wednesday with no agenda. It was the first time in 48 years the Davidson County native could say that for himself.

“I really don't have any plans at all,” Walser said. “What I hope and pray is that I can find more inner peace for myself, instead of waking up every morning and trying to figure out how I can make this thing or that thing happen.”

Peace shouldn't be hard to find at the Walser residence. On his 20-acre farm, a restored, natural log cabin turned library seems prime to serve as Walser's new go-to spot. The cabin is like a trophy for him — it's stocked with thousands of books and an original card catalog system references them all.

“I want to read every book in here,” he said, “and maybe even do some writing.”

Walser said publicly in February he wasn't going to seek re-election as a commissioner. It was a decision he mulled over for some time.

“It takes a certain amount of ego to be a superintendent of a school system, or to be a county commissioner,” he said. “It's a positive thing in the sense that it does drive you to do things, but I don't need that ego fed anymore.”

Walser left his superintendent seat in 1997, after 12 years. He spent 11 years prior serving as deputy superintendent. Similar to his reason for not seeking re-election, Walser left that position on his own terms, perhaps even premature.

“I felt like it was enough,” he said. “I left, frankly, on top of things. My board tried to give me another contract, but I knew it was time for somebody else to take over.”

Walser seems to have a good idea of when his tenure will run it's course. In taking the superintendency, he admitted he told his wife, Peggy, he would be in that position for 12 years. Five years later, when he ran for commissioner, again, he told his family, eight years would be all he needed. And he is prepared to leave again, right on time.

“I feel like it's similar in this case,” said Walser. “I felt like after being elected chairman, it was probably time to go ahead and leave, essentially leaving on top again.”

Hearing Walser talk about his time as a commissioner, it's hard to believe he is stepping aside.

“I have come to believe there is no more important position in terms of what the average citizen stands to gain than being a county commissioner,” he said. “It affects 160,000 people in this county directly ... those decisions have such an impact.”

Some personal highlights for Walser start with social issues. Earlier this year, Walser had a small idea that could benefit hundreds of citizens in the county. He chaired the Community Assistance Resource Committee that worked for nearly three months to produce brochures to act as a guide to county assistance programs. Those brochures are now available all over the county. In 2005, he, along with commissioners Fred McClure, Larry Potts and Sam Watford, collected school supplies and clothes, packed an 18-wheeler and delivered them to victims of Hurricane Katrina. Four schools were also constructed over the past eight years, much to the contentment of Walser.

But all of these personal celebrations for Walser aren't meant to underscore some of the bigger political fights Walser found himself in. He has been an advocate of preserving the Wil-Cox bridge; he made several trips to Washington, D.C., pleading the case for a new bridge over the Yadkin River (which is now under construction); and has publicly called out Alcoa Corp. about High Rock Lake.

His passion is respected by his fellow commissioners, regardless of their stance on the same issues.

“He's honest and straightforward, you always knew where he stood,” said Watford, who came on the board the same time as Walser. “It surprised me when he said he was not going to serve another term. He definitely would have been elected, there would have been no question about that. It's been an honor to serve with him. He's definitely been an asset to the county and the board of commissioners. He's an educated man. I can't say anything negative about him.”

Davidson County Manager Robert Hyatt, who has worked with Walser the past eight years, said his services to the county will certainly be missed.

“I've had the good fortune since I've been in Davidson County to work with several chairmen,” said Hyatt, who has worked in that capacity for 11 years. “I've been very fortunate that all of them have understood the role of a chairman and Max has carried on that very fine tradition. He's done a really good job engaging the board, to respect everyone's opinion and then moved to the point of trying to make decisions.”

At his last meeting Tuesday, Walser thanked the board for electing him as chairman during his last year and also introduced much of his family, who attended the meeting.

“I'm going to go home and let all of this stuff go, finally,” said Walser. “I've never been able to do that, but I'm going to try. Some of you out there have stood at the polls for me; if I say do that again, you run as hard as you can.”

With his last slam of a gavel as chairman, adjourning a meeting in which the board approved funding for another new county school, Walser's attention will no longer be consumed by monthly meetings and special appearances. Instead, he will focus on his family and friends.

“I've neglected my friends and I want to spend more time with my grandkids,” Walser said. “I'm looking forward to some quality time with some people that I value. I'm ready to move on.”

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