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WOMEN’S SPOTLIGHT: ‘You smile when she comes into a room’

Although writers typically use a subject’s last name when referring to them, like Cher and Madonna, most individuals know this woman by her first name: Dee.

At 42, Dee Pankey Thompson has seen her share of ups and downs, but she says each moment has helped make her the woman she is today.

Several women, and a few men, are part of Dee’s story.

She was raised by her maternal grandmother, who was known as Mrs. Tot.

“She was a short, spitfire, homemaker who pulled no punches, but her heart was genuine,” Dee said.

While they were low-income, “dirt poor,” as Dee says, Tot made sure she attended church and “that I was surrounded by diverse people who would show me that life was so much more.”

“She told me I could do and be anything,” Dee said. “Everything I do is in hopes that I continue to make her proud. She taught me life lessons that have shaped and molded me into the woman I am today.”

After graduating from North Stanly High School, Dee received a bachelor of arts degree in computer information systems from Catawba College.

It was during these years that she began working at Group Homes for the Autistic, now known as GHA Autism Supports.

“I became very involved with our individuals and thoroughly enjoyed helping our individuals with autism become as successful as possible in their current living environment,” Dee said.

Thanks to obtaining a master of arts in leadership and organizational change, as well as GHA’s continued growth, she transitioned into other roles. Now she is chief quality officer and a member of the executive leadership. “I also train our staff in professionalism, cultural diversity and leadership initiatives,” said Dee, who has been with the organization for 21 years.

She says seeing the individuals GHA supports “accomplish life measures and goals” is the most rewarding part of her job.

“Dee is a critical part of our management team at GHA Autism Supports,” GHA CEO Dawn Allen said. “Her passion for individuals with autism, and for people in general, is evident through her contributions in our workplace and throughout the community.”

Outside of work, Dee is involved in many civic areas.

She recently joined the Albemarle Rotary Club, is treasurer of the Albemarle Middle School Parent Teacher Organization, is a member of the cultural diversity subcommittee for Cardinal Innovations and raises awareness about breast cancer with Levine Cancer Center. She previously was an ambassador for the Stanly County Chamber of Commerce, helping spread good news about business openings and expansions.

She is also involved in Living Truth Ministries and sings with Shawn Dykes and Spirit of Praise.

One other agency which has helped her through the years is the Stanly County Family YMCA.

She has been involved with the YMCA for more than 15 years, through the prayer breakfast, membership drives and the Strong Communities campaign.

She is nearing the end of her final term as YMCA board president.

“The YMCA is more than just a gym or a facility,” she said. “The Y promotes youth development, healthy living and social responsibility and accountability. The Y is a place for all.”

YMCA CEO George Crooker said the board president “provides leadership for the board and staff.”

“She has been great for the Y as far as introducing positive energy. She has a can-do attitude,” Crooker said. “The best thing about her is you smile when she comes into a room.”

Dee’s family uses the Y as well, and it has received the organization’s support.

“When my husband Marcus passed, along with close family and friends, the YMCA was a stable, safe place for my children while I was dealing with necessary life matters,” Dee said. “I knew they were in great care and learning important faith-based life lessons with staff who treated them as family.”

Dee and Marcus, who were married for 10 years and together for 19, had two children.

Imani Pankey, 20, is a nursing student at Winston Salem State University. When home on breaks, she works at Albemarle Pediatrics.

Rossi Gabrielle Pankey, 13, is a high honor roll student and band member at Albemarle Middle School.

Mrs. Tot and Marcus died within months of each other.

Rossi, who was 4 at that time, is one of the miracles that helped strengthen Dee’s faith.

Rossi was born with several physical ailments, such as atresia of her left ear and hemi-facial microsomia.

“She has overcome so many odds,” Dee said. “I have encountered too much not to be thankful, grateful and happy.”

Besides her children and extended family, plus her faith in God, Dee said she was helped by her GHA family and “an awesome support circle of friends” during her time of grief.

“I really try to focus on the positive things in life and I place my energy into being a happy person,” she said.

Dee’s story could have ended there with two children, family and lots of friends.

But into her life comes Robert Thompson.

Dee Pankey Thompson, left, is joined by her daughters, Rossi and Imani Pankey, and her husband, Robert.

Her family knew of his family, as he is from Badin. The couple married in August 2017.

Dee describes Robert as a kind, genuine, caring man who showed she and her girls love from the beginning.

Since Robert did not have children, the couple decided they wanted a child of their own.

“As many women have placed their careers first, family and children goals seem to occur later when life seems to be more stable,” Dee said. “There is definitely an increased trend of women deciding to become mothers over the age of 35.”

Dee said health is important and appointments are necessary at all stages of life, including screenings and preventative care.

The latest addition to the family is 1-year-old Rylan Jameson “Big Dude” Thompson (above). “I would have never imagined having a baby at 40, yet it was one of the best decisions I ever made,” Dee said.

Rylan Jameson Thompson — known to many as Big Dude — is “an intelligent, rambunctious 1-year-old who is an absolute joy,” Dee said.

“I would have never imagined having a baby at 40, yet it was one of the best decisions I ever made,” Dee said. “I have a greater appreciation of motherhood and it reminded me of just how precious life truly is.”

For anyone wondering how Dee does it all, she replies: “My motto is to love and live this life. Somehow, I just find a way to make time and have fun while doing so. The best is yet to come.”

Have a story idea? Contact B.J. Drye at 704-982-2123, bj.drye@stanlynewspress.com or follow bjdrye1 on Twitter.