By B.J. Drye, Editor
Wednesday, March 13, 2013 —
She was the original “Pick Pickler.”
Janet Pickler, who is the only woman to have ever been elected to serve in the N.C. House from Stanly County, died Friday night after a lengthy battle with ALS. She was 78.
Her husband, Gene, spoke at length about his wife and her many endeavors during an interview at his home Sunday afternoon with The Stanly News & Press.
Following a failed attempt at a spot on the county commission in the early 1970s, Janet Pickler increased her activism for the Democratic Party.
“I really don’t know why, but she decided to do so,” Gene Pickler said, about her initial interest in politics.
After Lane Brown stepped down from his House seat to pursue other interests, Pickler said his wife made it known of her interest for the spot.
“She got active with the party and helped the candidates that were running,” Pickler said.
“I’m sure that’s the reason she was appointed.”
She finished Brown’s term and successfully defeated attorney Bill Tucker in 1976 (9,620 votes to 8,165) to become the first woman from Stanly elected to the House. That election included a slogan, Pickler said, along the lines of “Vote Jim, Jimmy, Jim and Janet,” in reference to Jim Hunt, Jimmy Carter, Jim Garrison and Janet Pickler, all of whom won that year.
“She worked hard that election,” Pickler said.
Janet was defeated in 1978 by Otha Carter following what Gene Pickler considered a dirty campaign. She lost with 7,474 votes to Carter's 7,692.
The key issue, he said, was a House vote on an alcohol referendum that would allow citizens to decide on the choice of whether to allow alcohol in cities or counties.
Pickler said his wife voted against the issue one day, knowing many in a conservative county would be against it. However, on a recalled vote the next day, she switched to the “yes” side, believing residents should be allowed the choice to decide.
This launched a barrage of calls against Pickler and campaign ads from churches and other entities expressing their opinions and what they saw as God’s beliefs against alcohol.
Following a narrow defeat, she unsuccessfully ran in 1980, her last venture for the House.
A recipient of the state’s highest civilian honor, the Order of the Long Leaf Pine in 1981, she remained active in politics, serving from 1993-2011 on the Stanly County Board of Elections, eight years of that as chairwoman.
Les Young, a current board member, served four years with Pickler.
“Janet Pickler was my leader and mentor on the Stanly County Board of Elections,” he said.
“Janet’s integrity and sense of fair-mindedness were evident on each issue considered and decision taken. She set the standard for me, our board of elections staff and other board members to follow.”
Elections Board Director Kim Wilson said Janet will be greatly missed.
“I greatly enjoyed working with and learning from Ms. Pickler. She had the best interest of the people at heart and was fair and responsive to the needs of voters, candidates and staff,” she said.
Sherrill Smith said Pickler was a friend not only to him, but Stanly County as a whole.
“She did everything she could to help Stanly County in the governmental process from the time she served in Raleigh to the time she served on the board of elections,” Smith said.
But there was so much more to Janet Pickler than her political side, from her teaching career to her love of playing bridge at the Stanly County Senior Center to her artistic side of creating stained glass works.
She was a professor of speech for 35 years at Pfeiffer College, retiring in 1996.
Besides classes in public speaking and other nature, she oversaw the cultural program at the college.
History professor Juanita Kruse has known Pickler since she joined the institution 30 years ago.
“She did a good job for us, was dedicated to bring a lot of activities,” Kruse said.
“She brought in speakers, politicians, musical groups, orchestras, writers to hold writing workshops, academic speakers — so our students would be exposed to a bunch of things.
“She had a big influence on the cultural program and still does today.”
Stanly County Concert Association President Charlotte Maness said before the Stanly County Agri-Civic Center was built in 1989, Pfeiffer was host to many community concerts and other events on the Misenheimer campus.
Maness, whose late husband Dr. Horace Maness became head of the Pfeiffer religion department in the mid-1960s, came to know the Picklers through their careers and the activities of their respective children at Richfield Elementary and North Stanly High School.
“Janet was a good friend of mine from Pfeiffer over all these years and I had great respect for her,” Maness said.
Yet it is her efforts through politics that will keep her name in the Stanly County history books for years to come.
Former Gov. Jim Hunt and Gene Pickler were in college together at N.C. State and kept in touch throughout the years, Pickler said.
“Janet was a wonderful person, a great leader and a true public servant,” Hunt said in a statement.
“As a member of the Legislature, she was a strong supporter of education and a tireless advocate for Stanly County. I am grateful for her service to our state and send my deepest sympathies to her entire family.”
To submit story ideas, contact B.J. Drye at email@example.com or (704) 982-2121 ext. 25.