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Remembering Lynn Weis, the unofficial “Mayor of Fourth Ward”

Remembering Lynn Weis, the unofficial “Mayor of Fourth Ward” 

By Ken Garfield 

Lynn Weis was the unofficial mayor of Fourth Ward, and he didn’t need an election to win that title in a landslide. 

By the force of his personality, he shared his love of this special corner of the world. He waxed eloquently about the old homes and new condos. He talked city officials into whatever needed doing, whether preserving parking or ensuring the preservation and restoration of the historic Elmwood/Pinewood and Settlers cemeteries. When he wasn’t savoring his two afternoon glasses of Sauvignon blanc at Alexander Michael’s (“That was long enough to have a good conversation,” noted Al Mike’s owner Steve Casner), he was cleaning headstones with the city’s cemeteries director Bill Bibby. “He had no family there, no nothing,” Bibby says, “but he loved that cemetery.” 

With every Fourth Ward moment, he was experiencing what he helped make special about life in these parts. 

“He made Fourth Ward a community,” says Jim Shannonhouse, his friend and neighbor. “He was an urban pioneer.” 

Lynn Weis’ formal obituary says he passed away on May 27 from complications arising from overindulgence and laughter. True, though please note that a sudden illness took him at age 77. His passing stirred friends and neighbors to tell stories about Lynn. Bill Bibby, the cemeteries guy, did one better. He stopped by Al Mike’s to toast his friend with a bourbon on the rocks. 

Lynn grew up in Kansas City and came to Charlotte and the Fourth Ward some 30 years ago. He believed in public schools and worked for the N.C. Association of Educators until retirement. Wherever life took him, from Lawrence, Kan., to Park Rapids, Minn., to Charlotte, he also believed in close-knit neighborhoods and bars where everybody knows your name. 

Lynn was a great dad to Dr. Zak Weis. When his son needed a high school chemistry tutor, Lynn sold his collection of Coke memorabilia to pay for it. Great dads come in all forms. Zak was 10 when his father taught him how to make a gin and tonic (for Lynn!) Zak, 53, lives with his wife, Melodie, and their 12-year-old daughter, Olivia, in Boulder, Colo. Lynn and Olivia spoke weekly by phone or FaceTime. Lynn didn’t linger. He’d tell Olivia, “I gotta go.” He had stuff going on. 

That “stuff to do” often revolved around the neighborhood that began to blossom in the 1970s. “He was 100 percent Fourth Ward,” said friend and former neighbor, Ellison Clary, with whom he regularly shared oysters on the half shell and a beverage of choice. Lynn served for several years as president of Friends of Fourth Ward. For more than a decade, he managed the popular holiday home tour, when those fine, old, refurbished Victorian homes were aglow in lights. He’d repair benches for people waiting for the bus. He’d tell city leaders what needed tending to — parking for example. He’d tell anyone who would listen about the special bond that connects those who chose to put down roots in the shadow of skyscrapers. He helped clean headstones at Elmwood/Pinewood on West Sixth Street. Even though he had no loved ones buried there, he was enthralled by the silent history. 

“I lost a good friend,” said Bill Bibby, the city’s cemeteries director. “It hurts.” 

Lynn lost his wife, Mary, to illness in 2010. His friendship with Laura Yaeger started a year later over dinner and deepened. They wrestled with the news quiz each Saturday morning in The New York Times. They traveled together. He walked her dog, Georgia. They were there for each other even if he lived on the sixth floor at 400 North Church and she lived on the seventh. They never had to argue over décor, she says. 

Over the last decade of Lynn’s life, Laura came to appreciate what Fourth Ward meant to him. It went far deeper than fine old homes, pretty parks, historic cemeteries, and proximity to the center of the city. Lynn was an only child. His only child, Zak, and his family live in Colorado. 

Where could a man go to quench his thirst for connection (and an afternoon’s pour)? 

“Fourth Ward was family to him,” Laura says. “He was creating family by creating community.” 

A version of this story appeared in The Charlotte Ledger’s Ways of Life newsletter. Ken Garfield, a former Observer reporter and columnist, is a freelance writer/editor in Charlotte.