Friday, May 24, 2024

Pam Cashwell


Growing up in eastern North Carolina, Pam Cashwell spent summers picking cucumbers and toiling in tobacco fields at her grandmother’s Sampson County farm. “My parents made sure that my siblings and I knew what it was all about to work hard,” says Cashwell, who is secretary of the N.C. Department of Administration.

Hot, sweaty summers in the fields also served as a motivator, she says. “I think that my parents’ objective was for us to know that we needed to get an education and make a better way, ” says Cashwell, who went to high school in Fayetteville, then earned undergraduate and law degrees from UNC Chapel Hill. “It definitely created in me a strong work ethic.”

Cashwell also credits her mother, Gertie Brewington, now 93 and living in Fayetteville, with inspiring her career in public service. As a teenager, Cashwell often tagged along with her mom, who worked for the  North Carolina Commission of Indian Affairs, a division in the agency Cashwell now leads.

Her mother went into mostly rural North Carolina communities to help establish food banks, literacy programs and other services. “Traveling with my mom, I was able to see the impact of one person going out into a community,” says Cashwell.

Gov. Roy Cooper made Cashwell the first American Indian woman to head a state cabinet department in April 2021. She had previously held several state and federal government jobs, including stints with the N.C. Department of Public Safety, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and a U.S. Attorney’s Office in Virginia

The 520-employee Department of Administration acts as a business manager for state government, with a focus on aiding underserved communities. Among many other things, it offers grants to curb domestic violence and support shelters for those who have been sexually assaulted.

“When you can go into work every single day and know there’s something you can do to make North Carolina a better place to work, live and raise a family, it’s hard to beat that.”

Cashwell’s parents were born in the 1930s and as members of the Coharie and Lumbee tribes, they attended the East Carolina American Indian school in Sampson County. It was the only option for Indigenous kids in that area.

“My mom had to travel from Fayetteville to Sampson County. It all worked out,” she says, noting that her parents met at the school

Her father, Samuel Brewington, who died in 2013, was an independent truck driver and her mother owned a beauty salon and dress shop. Owning small businesses “was their way to avoid the kinds of discrimination they would have faced,” she says. “It was very difficult getting into the private sector in anything other than an entry-level job, so they started their own businesses and did very well.”

Her mom would often work long days in the beauty salon, charging women $5 for a process that took hours to complete. A desire to have more time with her family pushed Cashwell to take a different career path. Cashwell and her husband live in Wake County. They have two sons, one in high school and the other in college.

Her state post could end after the 2024 election cycle with the election of a new governor, but she hasn’t thought much about what’s next. “I’m sure God’s got a plan for me,” she says. “We will see.”


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