Pam Fulk worked in the nonprofit world for over 45 years, helping to “birth” more than a dozen organizations
By Renee Ambroso | Photography by John Michael Simpson
Whenever Pam Fulk had a difficult day at work, she stepped outside her office at Carolina Tiger Rescue to admire the view of bobcats, tigers and lions lounging in their habitats.
“You’re reminded of what’s important, and it turns into a good day,” Pam says. She recently said goodbye to the scenic landscapes, retiring as executive director of the nonprofit wildlife sanctuary on March 1, and handed over the reins to incoming executive director Kris Marino.
Pam first joined the rescue on April 1, 2003, as development director and helped transform its physical and fiscal landscape. “I often had people ask me, ‘Why on Earth would you go there?’” she recalls. But Pam saw something in the sanctuary that others couldn’t. At the time, the organization was known as the Carnivore Preservation Trust and was on the verge of bankruptcy while home to 150 big cats.
“I could see potential everywhere I looked,” she insists. “What I saw was, we could be free to create [something new].”
The hardships facing the organization didn’t hinder Pam’s expansive vision. “I knew we could build a tour; I knew we could build the gift shop,” she says. “There were just so many ways we could grow this organization while focusing on [the] mission.”
In nearly two decades at the helm, Pam led efforts to provide high-quality animal care, build a robust educational program and engage in national advocacy work while obtaining accreditation through the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries. The rescue’s full-time staff grew to 25, and they formed a small army of volunteers to help host tours and summer camps.
The job also solidified a new path for Pam at a time when she needed it. The Indiana native had been advocating for human survivors of domestic and sexual abuse. “It drove me for 25 years,” Pam says. But over time, she’d become dejected with the minimal ability to enact change and the overwhelming apathy of others.
“I was continually frustrated with the fact that the legal system just did not get it,” Pam says. “I left because of the system.” She closed the door on that chapter of her career, leaving behind a nonprofit that she co-founded which would later become the Indiana Coalition to End Sexual Assault and Human Trafficking and having served as president of the Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
Pam’s singular focus on a mission – whether it’s providing human services or sanctuary for wild animals – has been the enduring, driving force behind her work.
“I’ve been in the nonprofit world for most of my adult life – over 45 years,” Pam reflects. She’s helped “birth” more than a dozen organizations, including the Durham-based Piedmont Wildlife Center, and in her most recent role, she’s relished the work of shaping the tiger rescue alongside dedicated staff.
“I am someone who loves to build, and building this nonprofit has just been so much fun,” Pam says. “I get bored easily and, let me tell you, I’ve never had a boring day here.”
Now a month into retirement, she keeps busy with presidential duties for the Pittsboro Business Association and consulting remotely for burgeoning nonprofits.
Pam says she will keep showing up at the rescue – trading financials and fundraising for a pair of gloves and shears as a volunteer gardener. And she’ll take advantage of her free time to frequent her favorite eateries like Al’s Diner and Mi Cancun, and will spend quality time with her rescue dog, Moe, and her (house-sized) cat, a 9-year-old tabby named Piper.