Rob Gandy, Southport’s longest-serving city manager, died on December 24 in South Carolina. A relative stated Gandy, who was 65 years old, had an aneurysm and did not suffer.
Gandy had recently retired to the Lake Wateree, South Carolina, area after a long career in public service. He was described by those who worked with and knew him as thoughtful, kind and adept at solving problems.
Born in Ridley Park, Pennsylvania, Gandy grew up in Selma, North Carolina, and graduated from Smithfield-Selma Senior High School in 1972. He attended Johnston County Community College and Widener College in Chester, Pennsylvania, before earning a Bachelor of Science degree and an MPA in Public Management and Policy in 1985 at Appalachian State University.
He worked in Plymouth, North Carolina, before becoming City Manager of Southport in 1993, a time of significant growth and a real estate boom. The pressures on the city were numerous and sometimes conflicting, but staff from that time said that, no matter what was going on, Gandy kept his office door open at the old town hall.
“He was a dedicated public servant and a good fellow,” said former mayor and police chief Jerry Dove. “He was always accessible, willing to help and a tremendous morale builder. Rob always looked on the brighter side.”
Southport Fire Chief Charles Drew recalled that Gandy’s first day on the job was during the unnamed Nor’easter in March 1993. Gandy arrived during hurricane force winds and by the end of the day it was snowing.
“We learned quickly that Rob was a secure anchor in the time of the storm,” Drew said. “He helped to calm many storms from that day forward in his career as city manager.
“I always found Rob Gandy to be fair, compassionate, and helpful,” Drew said. “He would never ask you to do anything that he would not do. The city hall employees and staff bonded with Rob, he became family to all of us. There were times we laughed together, like one time when a citizen was complaining about his electric bill, and was talking very loud in Rob’s face and I heard Rob say, ‘Damn, Frank back up, you spit in my eye.’
“And we cried together, at the loss of employees and citizens alike. Family is exactly what we were, and it was very evident that Rob Gandy was made for Southport: he wasn’t born here, but he belonged here.”
Gandy quickly learned the finer points of “big boat” sailing after moving to Southport, and shared his passion for the water with others. After leaving his position with the city in 2008, he served as harbormaster at Deep Point Marina for a couple of years.
Gandy also had a quiet way of helping people, as former Oak Island public works director George Napier learned.
“I met Rob in the mid 1990s,” said Napier. “We were both in our early 40s - me, a cocky Northerner who knew everything and Rob a proud Southerner. We never came to fisticuffs but there were several times family and friends had to separate us from serious wrestling, pushing and shoving.
“As the years went by, we discovered our mutual passion for music, spending many nights playing guitar and singing Bluegrass songs,” said Napier, who retired to take up music full-time.
“Eventually, when I moved south I applied for a job in municipal government. I asked Rob to be a reference. It wasn’t until years later I learned he personally called the town manager and recommended me for the position. Rob never did tell me that.
“He was about as kind as they come, a great leader, vocalist and most importantly a friend,” Napier added. “I’ll surely miss him.”
While great at being in charge, Gandy would at times be uncomfortable with the reins of power.
“If I said ‘boss,’ he would correct me,” said former Southport Town Clerk Regina White Alexander. “I am not your boss, we are colleagues.
“His ethics and integrity were above reproach. He was considerate, smart and compassionate. Rob genuinely cared about people and loved Southport. Oftentimes when situations would arise while working side-by-side, we would discuss the issues. He believed that there was the law and the spirit of the law: most often his decisions were based on the spirit of the law. That is why he was very successful and respected … He did not ask anything of anyone that he was not willing to do himself.”
Gandy was also there when needed, even after “retiring.”
In 2013, he served as Southport’s interim manager after a manager who had been on the job for one year decided to step down. Then in mid-2016 he stepped in as co-manager, along with Town Clerk Lisa Stites, to briefly run Oak Island after the abrupt departure of its previous manager.
He also hired now-Caswell Beach Town Administrator Chad Hicks in 2006. Hicks said it was a great experience to work with Gandy as his manager during one of “the most explosive periods of growth and change in Southport.”
“He taught us all how to manage change and serve the community like true professionals,” Hicks said. “Rob was always eager to teach and help prepare us as we grew in our careers. I learned more from Rob about city management on the porch of the Southport City Hall than I could have ever learned in college. I was fortunate to have Rob as a mentor, he was always proud when he talked to me after his retirement about my career. He knew that the experiences I gained while working with him helped me to become a town manager myself. He would never say so, but he knew.”
Gandy taught city employees to do whatever was needed, from picking up litter and running errands to typing memos when other employees were out, Drew recalled.
“Rob Gandy loved Southport, and Southport loved Rob Gandy,” Drew said. “I will cherish the years I worked with him, value the lessons he taught me, and I will miss our phone chats since he retired that always produced a laugh and a story about old times.”
Former city finance director Bonnie Bray said Gandy taught her the “Southport style” of congenial management.
“Rob managed by soliciting - and receiving - cooperation equally from everyone with a stake in municipal affairs: employees, elected officials, business owners, service providers, utility customers,” Bray said. “It was a delight to watch every day and the power of it has stuck with me ever since.
Southport was fortunate to be loved by Rob so well.”
Gandy’s family plans to hold celebration of life services in both Southport and South Carolina in the near future.
Memorials may be made to any of the following: Make-A-Wish Foundation, Danny & Ron’s Rescue of Camden, SC, and The American Heart Association.