A little over two years ago, this leading lady came out of her local government leadership retirement and rejoined the Hamlet City Council on March 10, 2020.
Longtime community leader Abbie Covington has championed a variety of leadership roles in her illustrious 41 years of combined service in Richmond County and made history as the first female mayor elected for the City of Hamlet in 1989 after serving as a member of the Hamlet City Council for 12 years.
Covington attended Hamlet schools and graduated from Hamlet High School before earning a bachelor’s degree from St. Andrews College and a master’s degree from Appalachian State University in finance and economics with a major in accounting.
In 1970, she began her career at Richmond Community College, which culminated with her leading the business division. During her tenure at the college, she also took the reins of the accounting department, as the department head before being promoted to direct the business division.
Being the first female elected as mayor was the initial historic aspect of Covington’s mayoral career, but it was far from being the only.
The year 1990, when she was formally instituted as the mayor, was filled with historic highs for the small railroad community.
The movie “Billy Bathgate,” starring Dustin Hoffman, was filming on Main Street in downtown Hamlet and Covington accepted the All-America City award on Hamlet’s behalf that summer in the White House Rose Garden.
Unfortunately, the extreme excitement of 1990 was soon eclipsed by the tragedies of 1991.
Prominent community member, funeral home director and mortician, and the first black man to be elected to the Richmond County Board of Education and Board of Commissioners, Maceo McEachern and his mother, Vela, were murdered in April and on Sept. 3, 1991, tragedy struck again with the Imperial Food Products plant fire, which took the lives of 25 people.
Up until the string of heartache in Hamlet, the mayor position typically involved 10 or so hours a week, but in the wake of the tragedies, Covington was thrown into continuous national coverage. Her perseverance, poise, strength, resilience, and calm was the beacon that guided Hamlet through the most tragic times in the community. She patiently answered reporters’ questions and worked with the state to advocate and ensure victims received monetary compensation, counseling, and other services. While being the public face for Hamlet leading the city’s response to the tragedy, Covington continued to maintain her other duties of teaching at RCC and at home, as a wife and mother of two.
Though the pain of that September day and the tragic loss of the 25 victims will always be felt in the community, Covington, along with other community leaders and members, and many of the loved ones of the victims made history and changed workplace safety practices through their tireless advocacy in 1994 when agreement was signed between the U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service to prevent the conditions that led to the Imperial fire.
Thirty-plus years later, Covington continues to be just as dedicated and tireless in serving our community as she was in the hardest times of 1991. In addition to her current seat on the City Council of Hamlet, she serves on the FirstHealth Richmond Board, as the finance chair of First Methodist Church in Hamlet, and as the treasurer of Richmond County Mental Health and Hamlet Soup Kitchen.
Previously, she served on the Richmond County Board of Health as a member, vice chair, and chair. During her tenure on the board, numerous programs that benefited the residents of Richmond County were implemented.
Join us today in celebrating her unrelenting dedication, her lifelong commitment to public service, and for paving the way for female leadership.
Meghann Lambeth is executive director of the Richmond County Tourism Development Authority. Republished from visitrichmondcounty.com. Throughout March, Visit Richmond County will feature a local leading lady in honor of Women’s History Month.