Local Politics

Perdue built political career on bucking tradition

Posted October 15, 2008 4:17 p.m. EDT
Updated October 15, 2008 6:31 p.m. EDT

— Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue has beaten the odds in her political career, becoming the first woman elected to state office from Craven County and North Carolina's first female lieutenant governor.

The Democratic candidate for governor, she hopes to continue the trend and move into the governor's office after the November election.

"I don't let folks tell me no. No's an unacceptable word in my vocabulary," she said. "I'd learned early on to fight for myself and the world, and don't let anybody say, 'You can't.'"

Perdue said she first learned that lesson as a child in Grundy, Va., where her father owned a coal mine. She excelled at school and later was an elementary school teacher before earning a master's degree and doctorate in education administration.

After moving to New Bern, she was hired to administer elderly-care programs for area governments in the mid-1970s.

"(I liked) her personality, her intelligence, just everything about her. Her whole make-up just jumps out at you. It did me," said Roy Fogle, who hired her for the position. "You don't have to draw her a picture."

Perdue continued her career while having a family. In 1986, while working at Craven Medical Center, she decided to run for a state House seat after becoming frustrated by inefficient elder-care policies.

One of the first people Perdue went to see about seeking office was local Democrat Lonnie Pridgen.

"Go home and take care of the babies," Pridgen recalled telling her.

Despite the rejection from New Bern's power brokers, Perdue persisted.

"I went out and sold myself and told people what I could do for them, and folks in this eastern North Carolina district elected me as the first woman they'd ever elected," she said.

Local voters sent her to the House for four years and the state Senate for another 10 years. Much of that time, she was a chief budget writer, and area officials said her influence helped obtain funding for the Neuse River Bridge and improvements at Craven Community College and Tryon Palace

Pridgen said her balance of a hard-charging personality with charm wins over many people.

"She handles herself well in the world of men," he said. "I've been with her at nursing homes. It amazes me how she can work with the elderly."

Despite her political clout, some people in Craven County said she's a big part of an unpopular government establishment.

"She is, you know, probably one of the coveted good ole guys, good ole girls in this state," Republican activist Bob Jones said.

For the past eight years, Perdue has served as lieutenant governor, focusing on health issues and protecting North Carolina military installations from realignment.

Fogle said he thinks the office won't be the end of the line for her.

"I was predicting that some day she would be the first female governor of North Carolina," he said.