ROCKINGHAM — Martha Vance Brown knew something was up when her husband drove her to work at the Richmond County Partnership for Children at lunchtime Tuesday.
Too many cars were in the parking lot — and they all belonged to friends. And inside, the smell of catered meatballs wafted up from the meeting room belowstairs.
Brown’s colleagues and friends had gathered to surprise her with a party celebrating her birthday — which actually was Saturday — and her upcoming retirement as director at month’s end.
But Brown, even knowing something was up, took her sweet time making an appearance downstairs. And once she got there, she continued to deflect attention from herself, at one point presenting a thank-you plaque for his service to former board vice chair John Massey.
“She’s like a mom,” Partnership Mamie LeGrand said tearfully of Brown once the crowd of about 20 managed to rein her in. “We’re not losing a supervisor. We’re losing a mother (who gave) us the freedom to do what we love to do.”
“Now, we can’t have any tears,” Brown chided LeGrand, whom she hired one year after joining the Partnership in 2006.
“I don’t plan to be sitting down (long enough) to let rust start accumulating,” she said, listing all the things that would keep her busy: travel, gardening, swimming and — if her orthopedist OKs it — swinging a golf club.
“She has made tremendous strides in bringing the Partnership forward,” said County Health Director Dr. Tommy Jarrell, who attended the gathering. “Financially, the Partnership is in real good shape” — something it hasn’t always been — and Brown has hired “a well-seasoned staff.”
“She’s going to leave the partnership in very good order, (and) it’s time for her to enjoy herself.”
Board chair Allison Duckworth said Brown had “pulled together a really strong team and kept everyone focused. The organization has seen tremendous improvement in growth and in terms of outcomes.”
The North Carolina Partnership for Children boasts that its work has helped increase the percentage of children in four- and five-star child-care facilities from 33 percent in 2001 to 74 percent in 2016.
In Richmond County, the Partnership’s most prominent presence has been in early literacy programs, placing children’s reading materials in local pediatricians’ offices and the county Health Department, and coordinating with the Dolly Parton Imagination Library to send books each month to children who have not yet started elementary school.
Richmond County’s Partnership for Children is one of 75 in North Carolina’s 100 counties. As do all Partnerships, it works to improve local child care, as well as reading and educational readiness. It also provides health-related programs for families in need.
Each local Partnership is independent and nonprofit, using data from state and federal sources to assess and improve child well-being in its area.
“Martha has been great to work with,” said Massey, Rockingham assistant city manager, city planner and recent plaque recipient. “She’s been a good leader. They’re losing an asset.”
Reach Christine Carroll at 910-817-2673 or [email protected]