'Mr. Carthage' Lapping Dies
The man known as "Mr. Carthage" has died.
Longtime Town Commissioner Sherwood Lapping, 83, died Thursday night at UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill. He had been in a coma for a week.
A small artery ruptured during surgery to remove a benign pituitary tumor. The bleeding went unnoticed at the time. There was no sign during the operation that anything had gone wrong, according to his family -- but when he failed to come out of anesthesia, an MRI showed the bleeding.
Lapping was rushed back to the operating room so a drain could be inserted to relieve pressure on his brain.
"He died peacefully," said his son, Steve Lapping,
Sherwood Lapping came to Carthage in 1975 upon retiring as a colonel in the U.S. Air Force after 32 years' active duty. His record of national and local service included time as a bombardier flying 20 missions in a B-29 over Japan during World War II. The military sent him to the prestigious Command and General Staff College, then made him base commander in England.
After a stint in the Pentagon as chief of survival training, Lapping served on the faculty of the Air War College. He returned to war service in Vietnam, teaching escape and evasion. He then became chief of Military Assistance Command Vietnam. After his return from assignment as chief of long-range plans in Germany, Lapping retired and went to law school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
"Dad didn't need to do anything when he retired from the Air Force," Steve Lapping said. "He could sit on the porch or play golf."
After earning his law degree, he and his son opened their law practice, Lapping and Lapping, in Carthage. His first town service was on the Planning Board. He was elected to the town Board of Commissioners in 1991. Whenever he ran for re-election, Lapping refused to put out signs, print bumper stickers or make stump speeches.
"I have never campaigned," Lapping said in 2000 after filing for yet another term. "I don't intend to. I prefer to stand on my record."
Lapping said he was proudest of the board supporting his idea to annex historically excluded black sections of Carthage, Needmore, Dowd Street and other sections.
"Dad was that type that believed in long-term planning," his son said. "He wouldn't settle for the short-term fix, but always asked how we could do what was needed in stages."
When Lapping joined the Town Board, he thought Carthage had become a sleepy little town with no sense of its future.
"Our Police Department only owned one coat," he said. "When one officer came off duty, he took the coat off and gave it to the next one. This town was going downhill if we didn't do something about it."
During Lapping's time as a commissioner, the town bought Little River Farms, built a golf course, then sold it to a developer at a profit. With help from matching grants, Carthage built a new water plant and a park. The town made boundary agreements with neighboring Pinehurst and Southern Pines.
Lapping saw that as progress, and said he wanted to keep it going. He wanted to finish the job of bringing Carthage into the 21st century.
"Dad started every day in his exercise room," his son said. "He worked out. One of the technicians doing his MRI said, 'That guy is 83?' He was in great physical shape, always walked to the jail, walked to court or to Rotary -- unless it was snowing or pouring down rain."
Town Manager Carol Sparks had been hoping confidently that Lapping would recover and come out of the coma, even though there had been little sign of neurological activity.
"If there is any man in this world who could do it, that man is Sherwood Lapping," she said. "I always thought he was indestructible."
County Commissioner Larry Caddell, a former mayor of Carthage, drove to Chapel Hill Thursday night to see his old friend.
"People always underestimated the value of Sherwood Lapping in Carthage," Caddell said. "He was a dreamer. I don't think he ever made a decision that was not in the best interest of Carthage. There are a lot of people that can be replaced in an organization. This will be the toughest. His successor will step into a large pair of shoes.
"Whenever he and Steve went to lunch, he'd always make sure they took time to check on developments around town. The man we depended on for so many years to look after Carthage did it in such grand fashion. We loved him, too."
Lapping had two brothers.
"He was in the middle," Steve Lapping said. "His older brother, Boris, was killed during World War II in Italy when his B-24 crashed. His younger brother, Geoff, died last year."
Lapping was the son of a newspaper editor. His father, Edward C. Lapping, managing editor of The Detroit Times, started what became a 61-year career in journalism without finishing grade school.
Sherwood Lapping was better educated than his father. In addition to his law degree, he had a master's degree in business administration from Auburn University, a master's degree in international affairs from George Washington University and a bachelor's degree from the University of Nebraska.
In addition to his years on the Town Board, Lapping also served as chairman of the Carthage Council of the Sandhills Area Chamber of Commerce and as a member of the Carthage Rotary Club.
He championed the idea of preserving the night skies of northern Moore County from light pollution as a "Dark Park," bought theater seats for Carthage to use for a town theater, and founded a nonprofit "Arts in the Park" corporation when the town got its first park.
"He did things he was passionate about," Steve Lapping said. "Dad was committed to making things better, literally by his own blood, sweat and tears."
Contact John Chappell at 783-5841 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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