‘She raised the glass ceiling’ — Jamima DeMarcus, a pioneer for women in county, dies at age 85

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 1, 2009

By Mark Wineka
CHINA GROVE ó Jamima P. DeMarcus, a trailblazer for women in numerous state and local activities, especially politics, died Thursday at age 85.
DeMarcus won election in 1982 as the first woman Rowan County commissioner, a job she held for 12 years when local government confronted some of its toughest issues.
In 1975, she also became the first woman elected to the China Grove Board of Aldermen.
But those local government positions only touched the surface of her civic and political involvement.
DeMarcus stayed active with Girl Scouting for more than 50 years. She led efforts to establish the county’s first tourism authority. She was a strong voice for women in the Methodist Church, and N.C. governors ó particularly Gov. Jim Hunt ó appointed her to many state panels and study commissions.
On the political side, DeMarcus was former chairman of the Rowan County Democratic Party and a onetime member of the state Democratic Executive Committee. She served as a delegate to the 1972 Democratic National Convention in Miami and attended the 1977 inauguration of President Jimmy Carter.
She played strong roles in China Grove, Rowan County and state beautification efforts, and served on the board of Keep North Carolina Beautiful Inc. DeMarcus won a national award for her work with the South Rowan YMCA, besides numerous honors from other organizations.
“She was a pioneer in several different fields,” said Hall Steele, who served with DeMarcus on the Rowan County Board of Commissioners and was a longtime friend. “She was absolutely wonderful ó a county person all the way and very progressive.”
DeMarcus voiced strong support for land-use planning, tourism and recycling in the 1980s, when those issues weren’t exactly Rowan County priorities.
Speaking at the annual Salisbury-Rowan Chamber of Commerce retreat at Myrtle Beach in 1986, DeMarcus called on the need for land-use planning and countywide zoning.
Then, the county’s population was 103,500, but DeMarcus correctly warned of a population boom that would warrant planning for growth and farmland preservation.
“What are we going to do to ensure good, balanced growth ó with land-use planning that can accommodate agriculture, new industry and housing?” she asked.
DeMarcus led the ticket in 1976 when she won election to the China Grove Board of Aldermen. She served on the town board for six years before running for the Rowan County Board of Commissioners. She won ó and often led the voting ó in three different general elections for the county board and served from 1982 through 1994.
In that time, commissioners dealt with controversial items such as the merger of city and county schools, the siting of a new landfill on Campbell Road, the state’s attempt to put a hazardous waste incinerator in western Rowan, the building of a new jail, the establishment of an emergency services department and promotion of bond issues.
“I have nothing but the greatest admiration for her,” said Granite Quarry’s Harry Sifford, a fellow Democrat on the Board of Commissioners in the early 1980s. “I remember Jamima always being ready.”
Known for her painstaking preparation, DeMarcus often wrote guest articles for the Post, laying out her views on numerous subjects of the day. She became a leading voice against the hazardous waste incinerator, which opponents successfully kept out of the county.
Whenever the Post carried stories about women in government and politics, it usually turned to DeMarcus first for a quote.
“She raised the glass ceiling, so to speak,” said Democratic friend Charlie Peacock of Salisbury. “I can’t say enough about her. She was a sure-fire pioneer.”
DeMarcus recalled in 1992 her first days as a China Grove alderman 17 years earlier.
“I think they were afraid of me as much as I was afraid of them,” DeMarcus said of her male colleagues on the board. “But it was only a few weeks before I felt more comfortable, and they felt more comfortable with me.”
As she prepared to launch her first run for county commissioner in 1982, Demarcus reflected on the progress of women in politics.
“We are more than half the population, and women have learned that what happens in government from the local to national scene affects them and their families,” DeMarcus said. “People are looking for qualified candidates now, whether they’re male or female.”
DeMarcus often mentioned that her feet grew by a whole shoe size in 1982 as she campaigned across the county.
An interior designer by training, she owned Marcus Home Interiors for more than 30 years.
She died Thursday at CMC-Northeast Medical Center.
Besides her long role as commissioner, DeMarcus served on the Rowan Historic Properties Commission and the Rowan County Board of Health
In 1981, DeMarcus was grand marshal of the South Rowan Christmas Parade. In 1987, she was one of 15 to receive the “Women of Distinction” honor from the N.C. Council of Women’s Organizations.
Her husband, John, died in 1996. Her daughter, Gigi Bringle, survives along with two grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held at 3 p.m. Sunday at First United Methodist Church in China Grove.