HOLLY SPRINGS, N.C. (WNCN) – A former Holly Springs mayor who served the town for 20 years has died. Town officials said Dick Sears had cancer.

“Dick Sears was one of our town’s greatest champions and influential leaders shaping Holly Springs into the amazing community we have today,” said Randy Harrington, Town Manager. “He advocated fiercely for kids, strong healthcare options, public safety, parks and greenways, new infrastructure, and economic development that created new jobs and grew the town’s tax base. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to work with former Mayor Sears. He will be greatly missed.”

The family tells CBS 17 they will hold a Celebration of Life in October at the Church of Christ in Holly Springs. Details have not been finalized.

In his obituary, Sears’ family described him as a lifelong volunteer and talented artist.

“His legacy is vast and he will be greatly missed by so many, but none so much as the family that loved him.”

Sears led the town as it exploded to a town of 46,000. He’s remembered as someone who envisioned the town as a place could live, work, and play without needing to go out of town for most services – while also preserving its “small town feel.”

Holly Springs Mayor Pro Tem Daniel Berry said Sears advocated for more than a decade to build a hospital in the town.

“And even as he finished up his service, that achievement for him was very important and he was very proud to see that come to fruition during his tenure,” Berry said.

UNC Rex Holly Springs Hospital opened in 2021.

Roy Tempke, chief operating officer of the UNC Health Rex Holly Springs Hospital responded to the news of Sears’s death.

“Mayor Dick Sears was an unwavering advocate for Holly Springs and the health of its residents,” Tempke said. “His commitment to building a hospital for his town was instrumental in the 10-year effort that led to the opening of UNC Health Rex’s Holly Springs hospital last November. Mayor Sears was one of a kind. He will be greatly missed but his legacy will live on. Our condolences go out to his wife, Mollie, and the rest of his family and friends.”

Under his leadership, Sears saw new investments from major bio-tech companies come to Holly Springs.

“Mayor Dick Sears helped lead the efforts for significant economic development that will bring great jobs and money in the pockets of Holly Springs families for decades to come. He made a real difference and he will be sorely missed.” Governor Roy Cooper said in a statement.

Sears was raised in Indiana, spent his professional career in New York and Chicago before moving to Holly Springs in 1995.

Sears first ran for office in 2001 as a Town Council member. He was re-elected three more times. The Town said throughout his campaign’s his motto was, “If it’s good for the kids, it’s good for Holly Springs.”

“Former Mayor Sears had such a tremendous influence on our community,” said Mayor Sean Mayefskie. “He was a model for mayors to come. Not only did he shape Holly Springs when it came to big issues, including transportation, healthcare, and economic development. Former Mayor Sears developed countless genuine connections with so many people in our community. He always had time to sit with anyone who wanted to talk about any issue in his office. His deep and genuine care for Holly Springs will be felt for years to come.”

Dick and his wife Mollie were married for more than 60 years and have three children, 13 grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren.

Sears also founded the Mayor’s Youth Advisory Board and the Mayor’s Anti-Bullying Committee.