WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Judy Cromer clearly remembers the day she first met Rep. Sue Myrick. At the time, though, she says she had no idea who she was talking with.
It was the fall of 1999, soon after Hurricane Floyd struck Eastern North Carolina and flooded thousands of homes. A little tiny lady with her cell phone to her ear walked into the Volunteer Center in Pender County where Cromer served as director.
Hi. My name is Sue and I am a volunteer. What can I do to help? Cromer recalls Myrick saying.
Looking at the small woman, with no clue she was a member of Congress, an exasperated Cromer sarcastically blurted out she needed a ton of money, a ton of volunteers and homes for these people.
Within months, Myrick rounded up millions in private cash donations, more than a thousand Mennonite volunteers, and more than 40 mobile homes (donated anonymously by a bank) to be given to the neediest families in Pender and Duplin Counties, said Cromer.
Cromer eventually learned of the congresswomans identity, and Myrick attended weekly meetings with Cromer and families who described their needs.
She put on her baseball hat and sat in the back, Cromer said. The only thing she asked in return was that I did not tell anybody she was doing this.
The image of Myrick in a ball cap at the back of room secretly trying to help residents who lived more than 200 miles from her Charlotte-area Congressional district is much different than her public life as a politician. In the public arena, she has been at the center of heated debates on controversial issues including immigration and terrorism. But the image of her working on behalf of vulnerable North Carolina families is exactly what friends and colleagues say defines her the best.
Im not sure people realized how hard she worked and how much she cared for people and did things behind the scenes, said her longtime chief of staff Hal Weatherman, who now works for her son, N.C. Lt. Gov.-elect Dan Forest.
Myrick, 71, announced in February that she would not seek a 10th term in Congress. She gave no reason for her decision and has declined multiple requests for interviews. She used her Facebook account to publicize her decision.
Im grateful for the privilege of serving you. We have all been blessed by staff members who truly care and delight in helping to solve problems for everyone in the district. Thanks for the trust you have placed in us all these years, she wrote.
Friends and colleagues say she and her husband, Ed, plan to travel. She will be replaced by Robert Pittenger, a former Republican N.C. senator, who defeated then-County Commissioner Jennifer Roberts, a Democrat, in the November election.
She just said, I had enough, said Jim Pendergraph, who is both a former Mecklenburg County commissioner and the former sheriff. Pendergraph is a longtime friend who unsuccessfully ran in the Republican primary to replace Myrick. She said I want to spend time with my family. I spent too much time away from my husband.
Myrick will receive a pension of approximately $48,000 annually, according to estimates by Peter Sepp, executive vice president of the Alexandria, Va.-based National Taxpayers Union.
A former advertising executive, Myrick was an elected official for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg community across three decades. She joined the Charlotte City Council in 1983. Four years later, she became the citys first female mayor.