Edith Wiggins, a community treasure who dedicated her life to public service and serving the Chapel Hill community, died on Easter morning, April 4.
Wiggins, UNC’s first African American vice chancellor and dean of student affairs and the former director of the Campus Y, attended UNC-Greensboro for her undergraduate degree and was one of five Black women admitted in her class. Wiggins came to Chapel Hill to pursue her graduate degree in social work.
“She was a very soft spoken, very insightful and very caring human being,” Lillian Lee, a lifelong friend of Wiggins, said. “And very dedicated to making things better for those around her and her family and her friends.”
Wiggins was deeply involved with both UNC and the Chapel Hill community.
She served on the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board of Education from 1979 to 1987. In 1996, she became the second African American woman to be elected to the Town Council, where she served until 2005.
During her time on the council, Wiggins was focused on the treatment and compensation for Town employees.
“I always advocated for the best experience possible for our employees,” Wiggins said in a December 2005 Daily Tar Heel article about her exit from the Town Council. “They determine the quality of life in Chapel Hill.”
Council member Allen Buansi said when he made his decision to run for Town Council, Wiggins was one of the first people he talked to.
"She was so incredibly supportive, so encouraging and really brought me up to speed on the history of Town politics — things to be aware of, things to look out for,” she said.
Former Chapel Hill Mayor Howard Lee, who is Lillian Lee's husband, said Wiggins was deeply involved with bridging the gap between UNC and the Town of Chapel Hill.
“She was very committed to ensuring that the community services would be fairly and equitably spread throughout Chapel Hill in all sections of the town,” Howard Lee said.
When debates were ongoing about the renaming of Airport Road, Wiggins pushed for its name to be changed to Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard — and in May 2005, it was.
In 2018, Wiggins was named a “Community Treasure” by the Chapel Hill Historical Society. The community treasures program recognizes individuals for their contributions to Chapel Hill and the surrounding community.
“Our community is diminished because of the death of this ‘town treasure,’ but our community wouldn’t be what it is today without the gifts and graces of Edith Wiggins shared so generously to us all,” Marcus McFaul, pastor at Binkley Baptist Church, said in an email.
McFaul said Wiggins was a trailblazer in every office where she served.
“Edith, without question, was exceptional in so many ways,” he said. "As her Pastor I can tell you that no one deserves more praise for their contributions to civic and spiritual life than Edith Wiggins.”
Wiggins was a member of Binkley Baptist Church since around 1960.
In her passing, her family asks that instead of flowers, donations be made toward the Martin Luther King Jr./Edith Wiggins Scholarship Fund.
The scholarship fund was renamed in January to include her name and honor her long service on the Board of Directors, Bishop Gene Hatley said at a January MLK Memorial Celebration event.
Despite her great number of accomplishments, her son, David Elliott, has been most impressed by a different aspect of her life.
“Being a parent now and sharing duties with my wife, I think back to what my mother had to do both personally to raise my brother and I — for all the basketball practices, all the games — and to still have a career and one that was dedicated to public service,” Elliott said. “I don’t know if that’s her greatest accomplishment, but I’m in awe of that probably more than anything else.”
Wiggins is survived by her husband of 37 years, Sheldon Wiggins, her sons Balaam and David, her daughter-in-law Kim and her grandchildren Sarah, Erin and Grant.
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.