By Anna-Rhesa Versola | Photo by John Michael Simpson
Senator, North Carolina General Assembly
Valerie was born the eldest of six siblings in Chapel Hill. She and her high school sweetheart, Stanley Foushee, live in Hillsborough and will celebrate their 44th anniversary this year. The couple has two adult sons, Stanley II and Terrence – an English teacher at Northwood High School – and a 5-year-old grandson, Stanley III, who goes by Trey. Some of her favorite activities in the Chatham part of her district include the county fair and Main Street Pittsboro’s First Sunday events. When not working or volunteering, Valerie enjoys traveling with Stan and spending time with her large extended family.
The thing about public service is that it’s not about you,” Valerie Paige Foushee says.
Wearing a mask and pearls, she pats her necklace as she speaks to the experiences that affirmed her commitment to helping others. “It’s about the people, and particularly people who don’t feel they have an advocate, or people who feel like they’re not being heard, or people who just don’t know how to navigate a system.”
Valerie worked as an administrator for the Chapel Hill Police Department for two decades before entering politics. She volunteered in her sons’ schools and took her involvement to the next level in 1997 when she was elected to the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board of Education. In 2004, she became the first African American woman elected to the Orange County Board of Commissioners, serving as its chair from 2008 to 2010. In 2012, she was elected to the state General Assembly representing Orange and Durham counties in District 50. This year marks her fifth term as a state legislator, now serving Orange and Chatham counties in District 23.
“If there’s any lesson that has carried me throughout my life, it is the fact that everybody wants to be respected,” Valerie says. “I was taught that you treat people the way you want to be treated.”
Valerie was born in 1956, a time when Chapel Hill’s neighborhoods, schools and churches were still segregated by race. She grew up in Pine Knolls, where her family lived for three generations.
After two years at UNC, Valerie left to marry Stan, now a retired fire marshal for the Town of Carrboro. Years later, Valerie knew she had to model the importance of education and finish what she started at Carolina. Two months after retiring from the Chapel Hill Police Department in 2008, Valerie graduated with her bachelor’s.
Valerie’s acumen for politics began at First Baptist Church in Chapel Hill where she honed skills she would need to work with people and for people. “You have to network, just like in politics,” Valerie says. “You have to have a message, just like in politics. You have to be able to identify a base for any position that you get in church. So I learned politics – the good, the bad and the ugly – in church.”
Valerie is a relentless worker, and often works 12-hour-plus days when the state legislature is in session, tackling issues surrounding education, the environment, the economy and equality. In Chatham County, specifically, Valerie hopes to avoid pitfalls of rapid development and attract investors to the 1,800-acre advanced manufacturing site near Siler City and another 2,500-acre megasite in Moncure.
As a public servant, Valerie addresses a long checklist of policies and tasks for the greater good. Though when asked about her greatest accomplishment, the answer is familiar to most parents – her kids. “Bless their hearts, they’re so much like their Dad,” she says, then pauses before continuing, “and praise God, not so much.”
With that, she pulls her hand away from her pearls, her smile widening behind her mask.