Hometown mayor strives to improve lives
Ambition and passion for serving her community drive Carol Burdette, mayor of Pendleton.
Burdette, a 1982 Southern Wesleyan University graduate, has a broad smile that emerges when she talks about her political career.
“We are very privileged people to live in America,” she said. “I don’t think it’s fair to take from the community without giving back.” Burdette has lived in Pendleton area her whole life – growing up just outside the city limits.
“As a child growing up in this town, I would never, ever, ever have dreamed I would be mayor,” she said. “When an opportunity arises, I try to take advantage of what God is offering.”
In 1987, Burdette’s roommate told her that a seat on the town council was going to be vacant. The opportunity to serve on the Pendleton Town Council intrigued Burdette, she said.
“I was convinced that no one else was running for the seat,” she said. However, the day after Burdette decided to run for office, another person announced their candidacy and she had a political race on her hands.“I take things very seriously. If I’m going to run, I’m going to make every effort to win,” she said.
Burdette decided to knock on every door in town, introducing herself and asking people to vote for her. The day before the election, she finished her goal of visiting every house.
Her opponent did not choose to campaign, she said.
“I won by five votes,” she said with a laugh. “But I fell in love with the whole idea of serving folks in town, so I stuck with it,” she said. She has served 10 years on the town council and an additional nine years as Pendleton’s mayor.
“I’m pleased to be able to share the talents God has blessed me with. I get a lot of joy from it,” she said.
Many of Burdette’s experiences have helped her develop public service skills.
“My grandmother was a very special person in my life,” she said. Burdette was age 14 when her mother passed away.
“My persistence and tenacity, I inherited from my grandmother. She wanted me to succeed,” she said. “I’m extremely ambitious. I have aspirations to a state- or national-level office.”
Burdette recalls being very shy as a girl. She worked at the drug store in Pendleton, but was too shy to ask people their names when they charged something to the store. So, with practice, she learned the names and faces of all of the drug store’s customers. The skill of name recollection has been helpful in her political career, she said. She is also thankful to her Pendleton High School teachers for their guidance when she was a student there, especially her French teacher, Laura Dowis, and English teacher, Claire Warren.
Burdette earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology at Southern Wesleyan University and had considered becoming a guidance counselor. Her first job was with the South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism and all of her jobs have been in government or public service.
“That knowledge has been helpful,” she said. Burdette now works for the United Way of Anderson County.
"Politics is all about people," Burdette said.
“I take great pride in helping people who can’t help themselves,” such as families who can’t provide Christmas celebrations for their children, she said. “I have a soft spot for children.”
And Burdette believes the government’s job is to serve people.
“If it’s not illegal or unethical and we can do it for someone, we need to do it,” she said. The items on Burdette’s “to do” list for Pendleton include updating the town’s water system, equipment and vehicles.
“I’m a planner at heart,” she said. “We have a huge growth spurt that’s about to happen in Pendleton.” she said.
But while it’s important to enhance Pendleton’s downtown area, Burdette wants to maintain the town’s small, historic town feeling, protecting the town’s trees and creating a pedestrian-friendly environment.
Burdette enjoys volunteering, reading and spending time with her Boykin spaniel, John C. Calhoun, or “J.C.” for short.
“I love to do hands-on volunteering,” she said. Burdette works on litter pick-ups, marathon fund-raisers and home repair projects for the needy.
As a college student, Burdette was attracted to the Christian environment at Southern Wesleyan University, she said.
“I met wonderful people there,” she said. “I think going to school there helped keep me in this area.
“I think staying in Pendleton has been a good thing for me and I hope it’s been good for the community.”