Gracie Wells Chamblee is a single mother, breast cancer survivor and recent master’s degree recipient. She works for the City of Durham and has been featured in Women’s World Magazine.
Q: Where are you from, Ms. Chamblee?
Originally from Duplin County, a little place called Teachey. I’ve been in the Clayton area since 1989. I worked in Raleigh as a 911 dispatcher and my ex-husband worked in Garner. We wanted to get somewhere close, but not too close. Now I’m a program administrator for the Transit Administration of the City of Durham issuing driver permits and vehicle permits.
Q: Where did you go to school?
I got my undergraduate degree from North Carolina Wesleyan and I attended East Carolina University. My degrees are in criminal justice and public policy. At ECU I studied political science. My master’s degree is from Pfeiffer University. My master’s degree is in leadership. It’s called “Leadership and Organizational Change.” Basically it’s human resources with some business classes.
Q: Have you always had an interest in politics?
Yes. I wanted to make a difference in the community.
Q: Do you have political aspirations?
I do. After I retire and have more free time I would like to run for County Commissioner.
Q: Why the County Commission?
They are the people in the county who make the decisions on where the money goes. I don’t feel like schools are getting their fair share.
Q: Obviously education is really important to you. Why did you go back to school to get your master’s degree?
As a single parent (Chamblee and her husband divorced 11 years ago) it was a struggle trying to make ends meet. Even though I always had a full time job I always had to have a part time job too. I’ve worked for the City of Durham for 13 years, but I had to hustle. I’ve worked side jobs as a dispatcher for elderly folks: “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up,” and worked at different department stores. Anything to make ends meet. I decided if I could get a little more education maybe I could get a step ahead.
Q: How long did it take to get since you were working full time?
Two years. I started in 2009 and finished last year. I took classes two nights a week. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. In 1997 I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I had to have a lumpectomy and radiation. Fortunately I caught it very early. My cancer was re-diagnosed in June of 2009 and I had just started graduate school in May. That was a tremendous blow and very scary. Again, we found it early – it was the size of a pea – but it was a more aggressive type of cancer.
I had to decide if I was going to continue with school, or go through treatments to try to save my breasts. In the end I decided to have a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery. Then I returned to school. Because of the double mastectomy I didn’t have to have chemo or radiation; just reconstruction.
I guess the moral of the story is don’t give up. God has been good to me and with me through it all.
Q: How were you able to juggle your job, illness and children?
I have tremendous support from my family in Wake County and a sister in Greenville. When the boys were younger my family helped out all the time.
Q: Has getting your master’s degree helped you progress in your career?
The City of Durham doesn’t make any promises about where your career will go after getting your master’s, but they do encourage you to further your education and reimburse a portion of the cost of the tuition.
I received some notoriety from my supervisor. They put my story on the City of Durham Spotlight. I hope to get a developmental position or something like that. I’m hopeful.
I’m on the professional development committee at work now.
Q: You were featured in “Women’s World Magazine.” How did that come about?
I received a partial scholarship from the LGFCU (Local Government Federal Credit Union). They wrote a story about me to appear in their monthly magazine about my receipt of the scholarship. That was really what started this 15 minutes of fame. The credit union article was picked up by the people at Pfeiffer University. They featured me because I work full time, am a single parent and a cancer survivor. Then the people at “Women’s World Magazine” saw that and put me in their magazine.
Q: Has it been a good experience?
Yes. It has reminded me to believe in myself and remember what I have overcome. I hope it has inspired my sons, Josh who is 17 and Zach who is 12. Josh is the athlete of the house. He’s a wrestler. He’s been a big help to mom. Zachary is the musician of the family. He plays the drums and the tenor saxophone. They both do very well academically. I hope I’ve rubbed off on them.
Q: In what other community activities do you participate?
I’m active with Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority. We have an interest group here. We do a lot of service projects for the community. We’ve had health fairs in Clayton and Smithfield. I’ve also registered people to vote through my sorority.
I’m a member of the Johnston County Branch of the NAACP. With that organization I’ve been the youth advisor and scholarship chair. We gave our first scholarship last year to a young lady who is attending Pembroke.
I don’t want to talk politics, but I’m a member of the Democratic Women of Johnston County, too. I’m a member of the youth ministry of the First Missionary Baptist Church of Clayton. We took a group of five to 18 years old to the State Fair last year. That was an adventure.
I think it is important to be active with your community.
Q: You’re so busy, but when you have some down time what do you like to do for fun?
I love to walk. I love to listen to music, gospel and jazz. I love to read, too.
Correspondent Holly Lock