Slow, cumbersome, and operable only in fair weather, hot air balloons aren’t the sort of conveyance one would naturally choose to go from Point A to Point B. But when the skies are clear and the wind blows just right, the humble balloon basket can reach breathtaking heights in the hands of a licensed balloon pilot like John Paisley, Jr.
A long-time Burlington resident and an attorney by trade, Paisley hasn’t had much of an opportunity for his avocation as a balloonist since the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic. But even though circumstances have sucked the air out of his hobby, a new vista has opened up for Paisley on Alamance County’s board of commissioners, thanks to a successful bid he made in this month’s general election.
One of three Republicans who swept the board’s available seats in the election, Paisley is the only one of the incoming commissioners with any previous experience on the county’s governing board. Paisley had briefly served on the board in 2014 when the GOP’s local leadership appointed him to replace a fellow Republican who had resigned earlier that year. Paisley’s tenure was ultimately cut short after he lost that year’s Republican primary to outgoing commissioner Eddie Boswell, who at the time was a recent Democratic defector.
The prevailing winds nevertheless turned in Paisley’s favor during this year’s primary when he placed second in a seven-way race for three available seats on the board of commissioners. The amateur balloonist continued his political ascent in this month’s general election, where he led the field with 44,460 votes – nearly 1,000 more than the second leading contender.
Now, as Paisley prepares to resume his place on the dais, his focus has shifted from the erstwhile competition to the need for greater cooperation within county government as well as the community at large.
“We have a major division in the county that was not present in 2014, and I think that division is in part because of outside interference…My goal is to bring everybody back together. As opposed to talking about divisions, let’s talk about our common goals.” – incoming county commissioner John Paisley, Jr.
The 72-year-old incoming commissioner concedes that the county’s unity has been sorely tested in recent years due to ongoing rifts over race relations, police reforms, and a Confederate monument that stands at the north entrance to Alamance County’s courthouse.
“We have a major division in the county that was not present in 2014,” Paisley acknowledged in an interview since his election, “and I think that division is in part because of outside interference.
“My goal,” he added, “is to bring everybody back together. As opposed to talking about divisions, let’s talk about our common goals.”
Paisley insists that the disputes which have recently riven the county have diverted attention from issues that have much more of an impact on area residents. He added that these bread-and-butter concerns should be the priority for him and the other incoming commissioners – not to mention the two veteran board members whose seats didn’t appear on the ballot this year.
“I think we have many issues that are much more important than the monument,” he said. “I think it will be a challenge to keep a responsible budget and keep taxes in check while, at the same time, providing for the county’s needs.”
Paisley said that, for his money, the preservation of public safety is one of the county’s foremost commitments. He added that the county’s responsibilities in this area extend beyond law enforcement and emergency services to include the work that goes on at the departments of health and social services.
Paisley also emphasized the importance of the county’s financial commitment to public education.
“I think it’s extremely important to fund public education – both the school system and ACC,” the incoming commissioner said. “But as Reagan said we must ‘trust but verify,’” he added, echoing Ronald Reagan’s stance toward the nation’s international nemesis – the Soviet Union.
The themes of education and public service have been verifiably central to Paisley’s own life since he came to Alamance County nearly five decades ago.
The commissioner-elect had just earned his law degree from Wake Forest University when he first moved to the area in 1973. That same year, Paisley wed his wife Joyce, who subsequently taught at Broadview Middle School for 42 years before she retired.
The Paisleys went on to raise four children who all graduated from the local school system before they set off for college and embarked on their respective careers. Currently, the couple’s eldest, Janet, is employed at Corning, while her younger sister Susan holds a position at Cone Health. In the meantime, Paisley’s son and namesake, John, has become an international accountant while the couple’s youngest, Beth, obtained her PhD and now holds a position at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The Paisleys also have seven grandchildren whose ages range from less than a month to 23 years.
In addition to his brief stint on the board of commissioners in 2014, Paisley has held a number of public appointments over the years. He has served as the chairman of Alamance County’s board of elections as well as a delegate to North Carolina’s association of county election boards. Paisley has also received appointments to two facility committees with the local school system, and he once held the chairmanship of the county’s now-defunct mental health authority.
Paisley’s newly-won position on the board of commissioners is the first elected office that he has held in his already considerable public service career. But the top vote getter from this year’s commissioners’ race insists that he’ll continue to comport himself as a public servant after he’s sworn into office on December 7.
“I’m very, very grateful for all the people who supported me and who voted for me,” he said. “But my goal is to help all citizens and do the best job I can for this county.”