Breaking down barriers
While Bev Perdue was pursuing a doctoral degree in education administration at the University of Florida, she assumed her career would be in academics. Now, 32 years later, she is a veteran of public service who will become North Carolina’s first woman governor on Jan. 10.
Even when Perdue embarked on her political career, her ambitions stopped before they reached the North Carolina Executive Mansion.
“The insiders all told me that a woman could never win in my eastern North Carolina district, so running for governor never crossed my mind at the time,” she stated in an e-mail interview. “Times have changed dramatically, but I’ve never given up the drive to break down those barriers.”
Before attending UF, Perdue taught ninth grade at Highlands Junior High School in Jacksonville and 12th grade at Vanguard High School in Ocala. After she earned her doctoral degree, she moved to North Carolina where she worked in health care before becoming the first woman elected to the state House of Representatives from her district.
“I was running the senior services program at a community hospital in New Bern, North Carolina, and grew frustrated with how bureaucracy treated people in need,” Perdue said. “That frustration first prompted me to run for office.”
During her 14 years in the North Carolina Legislature and the eight years she was lieutenant governor, she worked to keep her state’s military bases from closing and championed her pet cause: education.
She campaigned for governor on a platform of health care and education. Once in office, she plans to focus on early childhood education and make community college more affordable for North Carolina residents, although she said her first priority will be the economy.
She said her experience at UF helped her understand how public policy affects everyday people. She even credits one of her former professors, Harold Stahmer, with teaching her the value of public service. Although she did not know it at the time, her education prepared her for politics.
“I learned that the decisions we make on Election Day truly do make a difference—the policies they enact have real impact on people’s lives,” she said. “I also learned that not every good idea comes from politicians—there are some very bright people with great ideas in academics, in professional settings, and in our own neighborhoods.”