Flint, MI– Over nearly 40 years, Woodrow Stanley held several political titles in Flint and in Michigan–city councilman, mayor, county commissioner, and state representative. 

Stanley died Feb. 16 at the age of 71, and Flint lost not just a politician, but a “great leader,” a “passionate public servant,” and a “mentor.”

“Woodrow Stanley was a lifelong resident of the City of Flint and cared deeply for his community,” his family stated in a press release. “He was a devoted public servant throughout his life.”

Stanley began serving on the Flint City Council in 1983 as a representative of the 2nd Ward. Less than ten years later he was elected as mayor of Flint–a position he was re-elected to twice. 

Although he was recalled in 2002, Stanley continued his political career as a Genesee County Commissioner in 2004. He was then sworn in as a state representative for the 34th district, serving until 2015.

“He did a great job when he was mayor, when he was on the city council, as well as when he served as a state representative,” said City Clerk Inez Brown. “In addition to that, he did a great job in terms of assisting from a legislative standpoint in Washington, D.C … he was a great leader and a great public servant.”

Former Mayor Karen Weaver had a close relationship with Stanley. She called him her “church brother,” but also a mentor and friend. 

“We talked a lot. We talked frequently about issues facing Flint, and facing the community. And even when I was in office, he talked to me about so many things, and he visited me frequently, and I just really appreciated that,” she said. “That meant a lot to me, because it’s a difficult place to be, and you need somebody that understands what you’re dealing with, and what you’re going through, to have those kinds of conversations with you and just guide you.”

Woodrow Stanley comforts Former Mayor Karen Weaver after she won the recall election in 2017. (Courtesy photo | Karen Weaver)

Weaver said his guidance wasn’t just for her, but for the community.

“I was a servant, and he was a servant. So he was helping me to be a better servant for this community, and that meant a lot to me,” she said.

Chair of the Genesee Democratic Black Caucus Royce Stephens said Stanley had been a mentor to young people looking to run for office.

“I’ve had some people that asked me about running for office, and I was like, ‘Well, you know you need to talk to Mr. Stanley.’ And when I reached out, he would always be willing to talk to people,” Stephens said. “You know, I think he was a good resource. … He could give them the insight that I didn’t have, and he was willing to share that information with people.”

Stephens remembers Stanley for his calm demeanor, and his ability to bring different people together. 

He recalls one redistricting meeting from last summer with people of all different backgrounds and beliefs. The meeting began to get off track, and Stephens was frustrated that it wasn’t going as he planned.

“But then, Mr. Stanley kind of stepped in and smoothed everything out and kept the meeting going,” Stephens said. “And at that point, I was really in awe of how he held his composure. He didn’t choose sides. He got everybody to buy in to keep everything going, and continue the discussion and make sure that discussion was positive.”

Woodrow Stanley participated in the 2019 Genesee County Democratic Party Black Caucus’s Town Hall. (Courtesy of Al Berry II/ 4th Down Films)

Weaver said bringing people together and listening to different ideas was important to Stanley. She remembers he used to host forums of Black leaders to come together and talk about different issues. 

“We could all learn from each other young and old, and I mean young in age or young in a position,” Weaver said. “And so that was important to him to bring people together and have those kinds of conversations on how do we move our community forward?”

She said he believed that you needed to listen to others in order to learn and resolve problems. 

“That was why he did that. It was for us to bring ideas and thoughts and suggestions,” Weaver said. “But you know when you’re sharing opinions, you’re not always agreeing on things. But if we weren’t going to have those kinds of conversations, he knew that you couldn’t move forward.”

Stephens said he recently told himself he wanted to learn more from Stanley about being a leader. 

“I told myself I need to really get closer to him, and I didn’t take advantage of it,” he said. “I feel like I missed the opportunity.”

Weaver said this is a loss for the whole city.

“So he is Black history legacy, and he’s one of the true leaders in our community,” she said. “And we’ve lost. This community has lost.”

Congressman Dan Kildee said Stanley would be “missed by Flint and our community.”

“I am saddened to learn of Woodrow Stanley’s passing. …Throughout his time in elected office, Woodrow was a passionate public servant and a mentor for young people throughout our community,” Kildee said in a press release.

Mayor Sheldon Neeley announced that flags at Flint City Hall and Genesee County buildings will be lowered to half-staff for the week of Feb. 21, “in remembrance of a true Flintstone.”

Amy Diaz

Amy Diaz is a journalist hailing from St. Petersburg, FL. She has written for multiple local newspapers in her hometown before becoming a full-time reporter for Flint Beat. When she’s not writing you...