HAMLET — Marchell David says she’s ready to move on.
After serving as Hamlet’s city manager for 21 years, she’s taking a leap of faith and a new position as assistant city manager for community in Raleigh — a job David said seems to be made for her.
A Hamlet native, David was raised with strong family and community values that shaped her vision of the future when she was younger and continue to be the stable foundation of all aspects of her life.
“I came from humble beginnings,” David said. “I came from a family that taught me the importance of being true to yourself, being true to your word and upholding your family’s name. I tend to gauge my actions and reactions by ‘What would my grandparents think?’”
David said her grandfather is her mentor and hero, and since losing her father six years ago, he is now also like her dad. She looks up to him for his wisdom. Formally educated only through the third grade, David’s grandfather is “far smarter than I will ever be,” she said.
“He always said that regardless of what you have in life, you have your word and your name, and if you stand by both of those you can go far,” she said. “Because if you do what you say you’re going to do, people trust and respect you. And if you work hard and pay your bills on time, you’ll be able to get what you want. If you do things the right way, it carries you far in life.”
David, one of four sisters raised by her parents, said she grew up in a “house of rambunctious girls” who were fairly close in age. What she witnessed through observing her parents’ ways of demonstrating responsibility molded the way she would live her life and also had a significant impact on her leadership skills.
When she was in first grade, she had 11 living grandparents. David added that they were all “full grandparents, not steps, not halves. Needless to say, people in my family live a long time. The women do. Out of all of those grandparents, I’ve only known one grandfather.”
Family is essential to David, but she said her extended family in Richmond County includes members of all kinds.
“I have extended family, friends here who I count as family,” she said. “And they don’t all look like me. But they are family.”
RESPONSIBILITY, WORK ETHIC
“I saw my parents get up every day and go to work,” David said. “And there were things we couldn’t afford that we didn’t get. We didn’t always get what we wanted, but we always got what we needed. It gave me a strong work ethic.”
David began working as a teenager, babysitting, as many young girls do. Then she worked at Shoney’s on the breakfast bar line. Proud of any work she ever did, David only left Shoney’s for a job at Roses after a late-night realization that her hours nearly jeopardized her dreams of earning a college education due to a 2 a.m. closing schedule the night before she took the SAT exam.
“Education is important to me,” David said. “I tell my girls that I push them, but I only push them because I know what they are capable of. There’s something to be learned from every experience. There’s something to be learned from every challenge and every struggle, and if you don’t learn something from them, then you’re missing part of God’s plan for your life.”
David and her husband Brian’s youngest daughter, now only 6 years old, was a surprise to the couple. David was 38, and says that at the time, all her friends believed she planned it that way because all three girls are six years apart.
Asked whether it was a challenge being the mother of a newborn again later in life, David smiled and said, “If God takes you to it, he will bring you through it. I think this was God’s way of showing us who is really in charge of our lives. It’s not us. It’s him.”
LOVE OF LEARNING
Brian and Marchell David raised their three daughters to be strong spiritually, intellectually and physically. The girls, Brianna, Kiersten and Kennedy, enjoyed a home blessed with faith and firm values with the belief that they could do anything they wanted in life if they worked hard and pursued higher education.
Their oldest daughter, Brianna, received some joyful news on a sorrowful winter’s day in January that would mark a turning point in all of their lives.
Brianna had applied to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and in January, she waited to hear whether she would be accepted. She’d been told that those accepted would be informed by the end of January, and it was already the 30th day of the month.
“That morning, I came in to work. Brian was home, and my daughter called me and said, ‘Mama, I’m taking Daddy to the hospital. He’s not feeling good.’ I said, ‘Let me talk to him.’ And he got on the phone and I asked if he was hurting anywhere and he said no, he was just having a little shortness of breath. It turned out he had two clots in his lungs.”
David said Brian’s mother, a nurse at the hospital, was on her way home but returned to work upon learning of her son’s plight.
At the same time, Brianna, unaware of the seriousness of her dad’s illness, approached her mother and said, “I finally heard from Chapel Hill. I didn’t get in. I can apply again in two years.”
“She was only playing around,” David said. “She told me she was playing and she really did get in. I just remember telling her, ‘This is not the day for playing.’ I had to explain to her what was going on.”
The morning wore on and Brian’s condition worsened. He was going to be airlifted to a hospital in Charlotte that could possibly help him more and was being prepared for the trip when he died. The couple had been high-school sweethearts, had known each other for 28 years and were married for 18 years.
GOD IN CONTROL
David said the experience, while painful, ultimately strengthened her faith.
“From a purely spiritual perspective, it’s ‘If you’re going to lean on me (God), then lean on me and trust me to take care of it for you.’ I think my walk in faith has been heightened as a result of that loss and all the other challenges of the last year or so, and I can just feel the love and support, not only from him but from my family and friends helping me get through. It’s been trying.
“I mean, how do you explain to a 5-year-old who says ‘I smell my daddy. Did he come see us today?’ And you know I’ve always heard and believed that, you know, you can see and hear people. Don’t think I’m crazy. I responded, ‘Yes, maybe he did come see us today. Maybe he was here.’
“And she’d say, ‘In my room, it smells just like my daddy.’ And I’d say, ‘Well, he’s just coming to check and make sure you’re keeping your room nice and clean and doing a good job on your homework, and minding your manners and not being hard-headed.’ And she looked at me and said, ‘That’s what you do.’ I just told her that’s going to be his job now.”
Now, Brianna David is enjoying her last few weeks at home before moving off to college while Marchell David and her other two girls explore possible places to live in Raleigh. David has some, though not as many, relatives in and around that part of the state and knows she will continue to grow her “extended family” of people who may or may not look like her.
It’s a step up in terms of money, she said, and a chance to do even more of what she does best — building community, strengthening relationships and bringing her values to a larger city.
She said she plans to be just who she is and she trusts that God has opened this door. Now, she’s walking through.
Reach reporter Melonie Flomer at 910-817-2673.