In 1965, despite operating for six years under a federal mandate to desegregate the public schools of Virginia, over 223,000 of the 235,000 black students in Virginia still attended segregated schools. That year, Peggy Choate enrolled in the first grade in a school in Pulaski, Virginia. She was the only black student in the entire school. Peggy’s mother explained to her that, “Times are changing; it’s time we change too.” Peggy’s father reinforced this notion of equality. A minister, he often pointed out that regardless of a person’s background or skin color, “People are people.”
Respect for others; the fortitude to make the hard, right choice; the ability to adapt and change; and recognizing opportunities when they present themselves. Those values that formed the foundation of Peggy’s life.
Some years later, Peggy attended a church service with a friend. She looked over the group and spied Alleghany County native, Jack Choate. Peggy turned to her friend and said, “There is my future husband.” Peggy and Jack were introduced and began dating. After a brief courtship of a few months they were married and settled down in Alleghany County.
Peggy had graduated from New River Community College with a degree in secretarial science. In Alleghany, the job market was somewhat limited so she soon found herself working in a textile sewing plant. Sometime later, she switched over to the Hanes plant where she continued to sew for eight years.
As the Hanes plant transitioned to new ownership under Sara Lee, Peggy was promoted to supervisor and team trainer. She describes those years as ones of substantial professional development for her. She learned the value of honest performance feedback and how to lead a team of diverse individuals toward accomplishing a common purpose. She learned the principles of conflict resolution and problem solving. And though there were sometimes personality conflicts that came into play, she recalled her father’s words to respect others because “people are people” regardless of their differences.
The plant underwent one final change when Spring Ford Industries took over the Sara Lee operations. Peggy continued to climb through the supervisory ranks to become the plant manager. The plant closed around 2000 and Peggy was offered a job in a Spring Ford plant in Mexico. She turned down that opportunity – Alleghany County was home.
While working at Spring Ford, Peggy enrolled in Gardner Webb University’s GOAL (Greater Opportunities for Adult Learners) Program to study accounting. Her layoff allowed her to focus on her studies and to spend time volunteering at Glade Creek Elementary School. She says the school provided a great educational experience for her two sons and she wanted “give back” to that community.
In 2002, Peggy was hired by the Blue Ridge Business Development Center. Patrick Woodie was just getting the organization off the ground and brought Peggy on as the general manager. In late 2005, she took her current position with the Town of Sparta as the clerk/finance officer.
Conversation with Peggy seems to always circle back to her family. She describes a trip a few years back when they took her 101 year old grandmother (she lived to 106) to Maine to visit her son – Peggy’s uncle. She talks with pride about her husband Jack who is a self-employed building contractor. And of course she is a proud mother and grandmother.
Family values, persistence when faced with adversity, and strong community ties. Peggy Choate lives those values every day in a way that is Absolutely Alleghany.