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Political pioneer Liz Hair fondly recalled at funeral

By Dannye Romine Powell
dpowell@charlotteobserver.com

It couldn’t have been a more fitting tribute to the courageous and inspiring life of Charlotte political pioneer Liz Hair.

At the conclusion of the funeral service Saturday at Myers Park Presbyterian Church, members of the Wellesley College Choir encircled the sanctuary and lifted their strong, young voices to the words of “To Alma Mater,” written for the daughters of the college where Hair graduated.

As the women of the choir, who happened to be in Charlotte for their spring tour, filed out in their long, black dresses, you could almost hear Hair congratulating them. “Well done, women. Now go out into the world and share your talents and your education gladly and generously.”

Hair was the first woman elected to the MecklenburgBoard of County Commissioners. She died Wednesday at age 94.

Hair was born Elisabeth Green in St. Louis in 1920.

Hair joined Myers Park Presbyterian in 1949, not long after she and husband Sam Hair moved here from St. Louis. The Rev. Von Clemans said the church had been an anchor that steadied Hair in the face of life’s challenges.

By 1972, when she became a county commissioner, the 5-foot-9 Hair became known as the most powerful woman in Charlotte. She was elected commissioners chair in 1974 and served on the board for eight years.

This staunch Democrat was also the mother of four daughters. One of them said at the service that her mother was a woman who baked 2,000 cookies at Christmas and sent them around the country to family members and former classmates. A woman who insisted on draping the icicles one by one on the Christmas tree “so it will look perfect,” and dressing her girls in identical frocks.

Later, she was the grandmother of six. Later still, the great-grandmother of six more.

Granddaughter Kathleen DeMarse recalled that when she was young, she was afraid to make eye contact with her grandmother.

“Her gaze was fierce and intense,” she said through tears. “Looking into her eyes was like staring into the sun. And you can’t do that for long.”

DeMarse shared what her grandmother always told her:If you want to be the best at something, you should strive to be the best. But Hair warned her that if she did, people would call her conceited.

“Make no apologies,” she said her grandmother told her. “Stand up for yourself.”

Hair’s daughter, Elisabeth DeMarse of Manhattan, called her mother “indefatigable” and “wise.”

“She told us to marry someone funny because he will always make you laugh, and to marry someone handsome because you’ll have to look at him at breakfast every day,” she said.

DeMarse described her mother as “accident prone” and given to numerous “fender benders.”

Her advice to her daughters, on the other hand, was never accidental.

“She told us to be open to all possibilities and not to be afraid,” DeMarse said.

Grandson James Bain remembered how his grandmother enjoyed sitting and watching the grandchildren play.

“And before we left her house,” he said, “she would call us each one to her side and tell us a little story that directly related to us.”

Betty Chafin Rash, a longtime friend of Hair’s and her campaign manager when she ran for commissioner, said Hair had been “a veritable icon for 45 years,” and to her personally, “a second mother, an older sister, a mentor and a confidante.”

Rash recalled that when Hair would tell her a secret, she would warn, “Now Betty, that’s graveyard.”

She praised Hair for being “a champion for quality education for all children, for clean water, for clean air and for alternative modes of transportation.”

“Liz was a powerhouse,” Rash said. “Tough-minded to the core, always generous and gracious.”

Trevor Fuller, chairman of the Board of County Commissioners, presented Hair’s family a proclamation declaring that Hair was “a true inspiration to a generation of public servants.”

Mayor Patrick Cannon, who said Hair had once described him as “green as a blade of summer grass,” presented the family a resolution declaring Elisabeth Green Hair “an inspiration to us all.”

Powell: 704-358-5230
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