The longtime Englewood resident died on Dec. 4 at age 79. In recent years, he developed a form of Parkinson’s Disease and was being cared for in an assisted living facility, where he contracted COVID-19, said Esther Horton, his wife of 51 years.
Horton served on the Englewood Water District board, was on the Charlotte County School Board for 12 years, was a county commissioner for eight years and ended his career in 2008 as Charlotte’s supervisor of elections.
The Mac Horton West County Annex opened last December on San Casa Drive in Englewood. The Winchester Boulevard extension, a 3-mile-long, four-lane road that connects Placida residents with River Road, was named in honor of Horton when it opened in 2015.
He was the first to drive on the road, and news photos show him tooling down Winchester Boulevard as a passenger in a white Jeep.
“It makes me feel like I may be important, and that I did something important,” Horton said during the dedication ceremony covered by the Herald-Tribune. “It’s amazing to me what can be done when citizens and elected officials get together for a common cause.”
He worked with Sarasota County Commissioner Shannon Staub to complete the long-awaited $17.4 million hurricane evacuation route that serves residents of both counties.
“Shannon and Mac were a team when it came to Englewood,” Esther Horton said.
Staub said the two first met while campaigning for their first terms in 1996 and vowed to work together. Most of their efforts centered on Englewood, the Gulf-front community that straddles the county line and often gets neglected by both counties.
Intercounty cooperation on the Winchester Boulevard project was unprecedented, because the land was in Sarasota County, but Horton persuaded fellow Charlotte commissioners to spend the money to finish the badly needed hurricane evacuation route that connects the Placida area to River Road and Interstate 75.
“It worked out beautifully,” Staub said. “We set the tone to help bring the two counties together to look at things as a region, not just as two counties separately. We worked as a unit together for Englewood but also for the two counties.”
She said she will miss her old friend and still treasures a photo of the two dressed as Mr. and Mrs. Claus at an Englewood holiday function.
“He was a wonderful person. He stood for what he believed in,” Staub said. “He had the interests of both counties in mind to do the right thing. You can’t beat that.”
Esther and Mac met when he was working at an Englewood grocery store owned by her father, L.A. Ainger. Tributes have been pouring in from friends and colleagues since last week.
“He will be remembered as a nice person and a decent human being,” she said. “I can tell you that although he spent a lot of years in the field of politics, it was never about politics for him. It was about getting a job done right. He was there to serve and he was serious about serving, and he tried to do what he felt was the best thing for the county and the citizens. He made himself available anytime. He always did it with a smile on his face.”
Former Charlotte County Commissioner Adam Cummings said Horton’s legacy was as a consensus builder who worked across county and district lines to get things done.
“Mac was all about legacy,” Cummings said. “If he had two defining traits, it would be legacy and consensus. He wanted to bring people together.”
Horton often wore bright red suspenders to commission meetings and sported an amiable Southern gentleman demeanor to go along with his silver hair and beard.
“He had a tendency to ‘aw shucks’ you,” Cummings said, adding that his friend and mentor had a keen mind and a devotion to building “bricks and sticks” to leave a tangible government record behind. “He was a very sharp guy. He was very intelligent, grasping nuances that not many of us do. He was a caring public servant and my friend, colleague and mentor.”
Retired Herald-Tribune columnist and longtime Englewood resident Eric Ernst said Horton’s “good-old-boy” demeanor often put people at ease.
“Mac was a true original in local politics,” Ernst wrote in an email. “One minute he’d talk about issuing sanitary sewer bonds; the next, he’d offer a tip for boiling peanuts (‘Always the green ones, Eric.’).
“Of the many local elected offices he held, Mac may have done his best work on the Charlotte County Commission. At meetings, he'd often have a folksy expression to put people at ease in the midst of controversy. Whether you were a constituent, a journalist or a peer on the dais, Mac had a way of making you feel special, as if your opinion really mattered.”
When he was the county’s supervisor of elections, he led an effort to save the historic Charlotte courthouse, which was built in 1928 in Punta Gorda. At the time, it was an unpopular cause, but Horton’s respect for history spurred him to lead efforts to save the yellow-brick building that had fallen into disrepair.
Horton moved his supervisor of elections office into the building, only to lose a reelection bid in 2008.
Mac V. Horton was born in Fitzgerald, Georgia, on April 23, 1941. Arrangements are being handled by Lemon Bay Funeral Home & Cremation Services. A memorial service and celebration of Horton’s life will be held later, “when it’s safe to gather,” Esther said.
Reprinted from the Herald Tribune
Remembering Mac Horton
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