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Council member and civic activist Patsy Kinsey named 2013 Woman of the Year

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Jeff Siner - jsiner@charlotteobserver.com
Patsy Kinsey, center, has held a number of government and civic roles, including interim mayor of Charlotte. Above, she is sworn in as mayor in July by Judge Regan A. Miller, left, at the Government Center.

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  • The file on Patsy Kinsey

    Hometown: Born and raised in Charlotte.

    Age: 72.

    Education: Two years of college (at what is now UNC Greensboro) and courses at Central Piedmont Community College.

    Occupation: Retired from Pease Associates Inc. as director of business development and public relations.

    Family: Sons Charles and David Kinsey, daughter Betsy Muse. Three grandchildren: Katie Muse, Emily Muse and Cooper Kinsey.

    Political experience: Charlotte City Council (2003-present); Charlotte mayor (July 1-Dec. 2, 2013); Mecklenburg County commissioner (1990-1994; vice chair 1992-1994).

    You might not know: Kinsey is an avid gardener, throws pottery (“on a wheel and not at objects or people”), makes baskets and has traveled to Russia, China, Tibet, Australia, New Zealand, East Germany before the Berlin Wall came down, and other European countries.


  • A Woman’s Place 2014

    Patsy Kinsey will be honored as 2013 Charlotte Woman of the Year at the annual A Woman’s Place program from 7-9 p.m. on March 19 in the Wells Fargo Playhouse at ImaginOn. Tickets are free, but must be reserved by calling 704-333-1887, ext. 250, or RSVPing at www.A-Womans-Place-2014.eventbrite.com. N.C. Secretary of Commerce Sharon Decker, the 1998 Woman of the Year, will be the featured speaker.



In her 72 years, Patsy Kinsey has held many titles.

A few:

She was mayor of Charlotte for five months last year, completing the term of former Mayor Anthony Foxx after he was named U.S. transportation secretary. Now she’s back in the District 1 seat on the Charlotte City Council that she’s held for 11 years.

She’s a former Mecklenburg County commissioner.

She was president of the YWCA, the Charlotte Symphony and the Mecklenburg Historical Association. And she’s chaired the Mint Museum Antiques Show, the Youth Symphony of the Carolinas and was a founder of Citizens for Preservation Inc., which pushed to revitalize uptown’s Fourth Ward in the early 1970s.

Now add 2013 Charlotte Woman of the Year.

Kinsey joins a roster of 66 women whose selfless service has helped make Charlotte a more caring city – chosen by a committee of former winners . The award will be presented to Kinsey on March 19 at the annual A Woman’s Place program at ImaginOn.

She was moved by the recognition.

“I was fortunate enough to have the time to be involved with so many meaningful community activities that I don’t think of that as being extraordinary,” said Kinsey, a Charlotte native. “I just did what I enjoyed doing. But I am very honored to be included on a list of such amazing women.”

Her selection wasn’t based solely on elected functions, but her advocacy over the years of the arts and historic preservation and using the mayor’s office to advocate for such issues as gay rights, said Woman of the Year spokeswoman Sis Kaplan.

Kaplan said Kinsey as mayor was resolute that the city maintain control of Charlotte Douglas International Airport as state legislators attempted to assign it to a regional authority. She pushed for a task force to examine immigration issues.

The group also praised Kinsey for being the first mayor to issue a “Charlotte Pride Weekend” proclamation and ride in the LGBT Pride Parade. She was Charlotte’s first mayor to join the “Mayor’s Freedom to Marry” movement.

“Patsy has championed issues that are not always ones that make everyone smile and feel happy,” Kaplan said. “ She’s been a friend of historic preservation and the arts. She walked into a mess with the airport issue and handled it very well with insightful leadership.

“Her stand on the LGBT issue showed a lot of courage.”

Kinsey made the stand because: “It was the right thing to do.”

Grandfather was big influence

That’s the way she was brought up.

She was born at Presbyterian Hospital and grew up in a house on Central Avenue. Her father, Charles “Speedy” Barnett, drove a truck for Concrete Supply. Her mother, Lorena, stayed at home raising Patsy and her sister, Carolyn, but after Speedy died when Patsy was 19 she went to work as a receptionist at Barnhardt Manufacturing Co.

Lorena always made sure there was music in her daughters’ lives and took them to art shows or the library, anywhere “we could improve our minds.” Music and reading remained important to Kinsey – as a church organist and a member of the Myers Park Baptist choir for the past 40 years.

Besides her mother, her grandfather, Charles Livingston Barnett, a former Huntersville mayor, was perhaps Kinsey’s greatest influence, particularly on her life in politics. As a girl, she tagged along with the mayor as he ran errands in Huntersville.

“Everywhere we’d go, people would say ‘there’s Mr. Charlie,’ or ‘oh, she’s Mr. Charlie’s granddaughter,’ ” Kinsey recalled. “I realized early on that those in elected office were important and could make a difference in people’s lives.”

From her grandfather, she got an early lesson in leadership, which came in handy years later at Central High.

In 1957, a 16-year-old black student named Gus Roberts integrated the school. Sheila Dohrman, Kinsey’s friend since they were 12, recalls a white boy intentionally bumping into Roberts and knocking books out of his hand.

“Patsy saw it happen and she told that boy: ‘You pick those books up right now and apologize to him,’ ” Dohrman said. “That’s just who she was, and who she’s been all these years.”

At Central, Kinsey was a cheerleader and played viola in the school orchestra.Her class of 1959 was the last to graduate at Central. That year, her classmates voted her “most cheerful.”

‘We’re all the same’

After two years at what is now UNC Greensboro, she got married and left school to begin a family.

When her two sons and daughter were old enough, Kinsey briefly managed the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra in the early 1980s. In 1995, she went to work at the architecture firm Pease Associates Inc. as director of business development and public relations.

Yet she’s always volunteered. She remembers carting her children along as she poked around Fourth Ward or pursued support for the symphony or public art. Daughter Betsy Muse recalls sitting in lobbies while her mother met with “important people” in conference rooms. The family house was a center for fundraisers for the symphony or the Mint, or a political race. Lessons from her grandfather led her into politics.

“Government has always been fascinating to me,” Kinsey said. “When it works, it’s a neat thing to be involved with.”

As her children grew older, she forever preached to them – and later to her three grandchildren – to give back and to understand that they were no better than anyone else.

History has always been important, but so has equal treatment.

“There’s been no evolution to mom,” Muse said. “That’s how it’s always been. She’s always been a big believer in fairness.That the same rules apply to everyone no matter what color skin you have, or how much money you have – or where you’re from.”

Kinsey likes to tell a story about grandson Cooper Kinsey, a high school senior who is biracial. When he was young, he climbed into his grandmother’s lap.

“Grandma, I’m tan and you’re white,” Kinsey recalls him saying.

“No Cooper, I believe we’re all the same,” she responded. “We’re both tan. You’re just a little darker than I am.”

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