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Memorial tree-planting ceremony planned to honor Commissioner Deb Hays


Next week, New Hanover County will help celebrate the life of Commissioner Deb Hays, who passed away unexpectedly on Saturday. 

New Hanover County will host a tree planting dedication and community gathering at Airlie Gardens on Wednesday, April 5 at 1 p.m., to celebrate the life of Commissioner Deb Hays and honor her service to the citizens of New Hanover County.

“This will be a chance for our community to come together to reflect and honor the life and work of Deb, and to dedicate a live oak tree that will grow, plant roots, and forever be a symbol of her love for this community. We hope that those who knew Deb can attend for fellowship, sharing of memories, and reflecting on Deb’s life of service,” Board Chair Bill Rivenbark said in a statement.

According to the county, the rain-or-shine event will begin with brief remarks, followed by a ceremonial tree planting and blessing on the Bradley Creek Lawn at Airlie Gardens.

The county is inviting all who knew the late commissioner to attend, but expects parking to be limited, and asks those that can carpool to do so.

The county also shared Deb Hay’s obituary, which appears below. The obituary notes that, “in lieu of flowers, contributions can be made via Ever Loved to start the Deb Hays Foundation, with a mission to support community projects in the greater New Hanover county area, and if you have a mother please call her and tell her you love her.”

Donations can be made here.

Debra Hulse Hays, 64, surrounded by her cherished family, passed away suddenly March 25, 2023.

Deb was born and raised in Louisville, KY, to Frank Bennett Hulse Jr. and Carolyn Hays Hulse, on December 20, 1958. While she was born and raised in Louisville, her pride for Wilmington was unparalleled, and will always be her home.

Deb was a dedicated public servant, following in the footsteps of her father and mother. Before becoming a county commissioner, Deb served her community in any way she could, serving as both the chair of the Wilmington Planning Commission and as a member of the Wilmington Comprehensive Plan Steering Committee. In addition to her public service roles, she was also involved with Lump to Laughter, the Airlie Gardens Foundation, the NC Azalea Festival, the Wilmington Airport Authority, the Community Leaders Task Force, Habitat for Humanity, and the Wilmington Area Rebuilding Ministry (WARM). Serving as County Commissioner for New Hanover County brought her incredible joy and pride. Her love and passion for her community was contagious, and her life was dedicated to making New Hanover County the best place possible to live.

Her love for her babies was equally unrivaled. She treasured the time she spent with her beloved daughter Morgan Hays Tucker and was “Gamma” to her three grandchildren who were the light of her life: Colette Gwendolyn Tucker, Clara Brighton Tucker, and Bennett Caldwell Tucker. Her love for her family was vibrantly warm and encompassing, and we are so thankful each of her babies were able to build a special bond with their Gamma.

Anyone who knew Deb knows she was the life of the party. She brought energy and enthusiasm to everything she pursued. She worked to bring love to everyone she touched, and those who were closest to her were blessed and inspired to see what a giving and dedicated social servant she was. For Deb, all of her endeavors she pursued in her life were connected with the common thread of helping others and in her final act of service, she was an organ donor.

She was preceded in death by her mother Carolyn and her father Bennett, the namesake of her grandson. Her father was a Methodist minister, and her faith was incredibly important to her, and she frequently attended services at Wrightsville Beach Methodist Church.

She is survived by her daughter Morgan, her husband Andrew and their three kids Colette, Clara, and Bennett, her Sister Dee McDonald and her Husband Tom, her brother David Hulse and his wife Lauren, and his daughter Kathryn and son Kevin.

Deb is also survived by her friends Jane Dodd, Jeff and Jeanne Hovis, and Debi Causey, who were her Wilmington family. Deb had so many cherished friends and causes, and while we wish we could mention them all by name, please know you held a special place in her heart.

In lieu of flowers, contributions can be made via Ever Loved to start the Deb Hays Foundation, with a mission to support community projects in the greater New Hanover county area, and if you have a mother please call her and tell her you love her.