Exiting Sylva town board member Harold Hensley, right, welcomes newly elected Ben Guiney to the board.

By Dave Russell


A longtime member of the Sylva town board retired and three members were sworn in at the Dec. 12 meeting at Municipal Hall.

Harold Hensley, 82, first elected to the board in 2005, shook hands with newcomer Ben Guiney as Guiney took his seat behind the long table in the town hall meeting room. Hensley retired in 1999 as maintenance supervisor for Jackson County Schools. He was born and raised in Sylva and has lived here most of his life.

Hensley lost his re-election bid in 2009, but was appointed in 2010 to finish the term of Sarah Graham, who moved out of the city limits. He won re-election in 2011 and 2015.

Mayor Lynda Sossamon presented Hensley with a plaque, and he gave a short speech.

“It has been a good ride,” Hensley said. “Not everybody up here appreciated me all the time, but if everybody agrees 100 percent of the time then you only need one board member. If there’s something you don’t agree with, you have to speak up.”

Several in attendance offered accolades.

“We didn’t always totally agree on things,” fellow board member Barbara Hamilton said. “But like Harold always told me, we can always set that aside after the meeting and go out and have a cup of coffee.”

“I’d like to say I’ve really enjoyed your time on the board and working with you,” town Manager Paige Dowling said. “I’ve always appreciated not only your support but the perspective that you brought. We’ll miss you.”

“Harold inspired me to run for town board,” Mary Gelbaugh said. “He came knocking on my door before I ever thought I wanted to be on the board.”

Hensley really helped balance the board, Sossamon said.

“You have to have different perspectives on everything and that way you can come to one better agreement when you have that,” she said. “So thank you.”

Former Mayor Brenda Oliver said she probably served with Hensley longer than anybody.

“We had a few rough run-ins, but I straightened him out,” she said.

“Harold, you’ve really been an asset to the town and you have really stood up for the people of Sylva,” she said to Hensley.

Newly elected Ben Guiney, an Emergency Department doctor at Harris Regional Hospital, took the oath of office first. His family – wife Melissa Madrona, and 5-year-old daughter Vivian – were unable to attend, so he set a photo of them on the board table.

Judge Monica Leslie swore in Guiney and incumbents David Nestler and Greg McPherson.

Neslter’s mother, Vickie Davis, stood with him while he took the oath. McPherson’s wife, Jenny, did the same for him.

Refreshments and birthday cake – Gelbaugh brought her daughter, Wren, in to celebrate her third birthday – were offered after the meeting.