Kathy A. Taft was an educator, policy maker, and community volunteer who had a lifelong passion for the democratizing impact of public education on society. Over the course of her distinguished lifetime, she served as the longest serving member of the North Carolina State Board of Education, a founding member of Pitt County Communities in Schools, a member of the Board of Governor’s of the Governor’s Schools of North Carolina, and vice-chair of the Pitt County Board of Education. Her professional work involved serving as a public health dental hygienist for the Pitt County Health Department, which included working in public school classrooms educating children about proper dental hygiene. Affectionately known as “The Tooth Lady” by the students she served, she went on to serve as a teaching assistant in the Health Education Department at East Carolina University while also teaching radiology at the Eastern Area Health Education Center.
While serving on the North Carolina State Board of Education, Kathy kept a personal desk box containing items which reminded her of what was important to her, focusing her on her calling and passion. The box included a book on women’s financial freedom written by one of her dear friends, a cross, a $2 bill, tissues, and a small rubber school bus. As a child, Kathy would often play “teacher”, recruiting neighbors and siblings as students. She would make class lists in her books and gave check marks for good behavior; she even had a few letter grades recorded.
Even when Kathy was not working she never gave up her commitment to quality public education. As her children went through the public school system, Kathy served as a classroom parent, PTA president, and as a member of the Board of Education. In the words of one of her daughters, Kathy was simple, faithful, goal-driven, cost-conscious, and always focused on education. Kathy was inducted into the East Carolina University Educators Hall of Fame in 2003 and passed away in 2010. Her legacy for excellence and leadership in education lives on through the Kathy A. Taft Award for Leadership presented annually by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Public Policy Institute, the Kathy A. Taft Memorial Scholarship at East Carolina University for non-traditional graduate students in reading education, and the Kathy Taft Center for Excellence and Leadership in Education in Pitt County Schools.