By Joel Hall
After starting out in Clayton County as a concerned citizen and PTA mom, Gail Hambrick, 58, has become the county's newest commissioner.
On Jan. 1, Hambrick assumed the role of District 2 Commissioner on the Clayton County Board of Commissioners. She replaces Virginia Gray, who vacated her seat to run for commission chairman.
In the July 15 Democratic Primary, Hambrick won in a landslide, with 60 percent of the vote.
She said the decision to run for the office "was easy" because of her passion for the county. "I want to work hard, so Clayton County can be a place that people can be proud to call home," she said.
"Together we stand, divided we fall; I really believe in that," she said. "The majority of the people standing together ... that's how we are going to see some progress. I want to get everyone under one umbrella to really get the county cleaned up."
While Hambrick has lived in Clayton since the early 1980s, she has been a lifelong resident of the Southern Crescent. Born and raised in McDonough, she graduated from Henry County Training School (now referred to as Henry County High School) in 1967. After high school, she attended Ft. Valley State University, an historically black college, now university, in middle Georgia. She graduated in 1971 with a bachelor's degree in sociology.
Hambrick stayed with the university for another year after graduation to earn a master's in guidance and counseling. She moved to Clayton County in the early 1980s, where her two young daughters, now grown, attended E.W. Oliver Elementary School in Riverdale.
Hambrick's activity in the Oliver Elementary PTA eventually evolved into an interest in county politics.
"We didn't have many blacks here at the time," she said. "I didn't know anything about the county government, and I got a note in the mail to find out a little bit more about the county government. The person who called me back was [former state representative] Wade Starr, so that's how I got involved."
Hambrick became an active member of the Clayton County NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) shortly after the chapter was formed in the 1980s. At the time, she said, the group was led by James Jackson (now deceased) and was primarily involved in advocating for the promotion of local, black, public safety officials.
Keeping with her passion for the school system, Hambrick got involved in the early 1990s with the Concerned Citizens of North Clayton, a group which worked to get more African Americans involved in county politics. In addition, Hambrick said she helped form the Clayton County Coalition for Quality Education, after the school system's accreditation was threatened for the first time in 2003. The group pushed feverishly for the national search which brought Barbara Pulliam to the school system as its superintendent.
Prior to running for the board of commissioners seat, Hambrick held positions on several county boards. She also had a long career working for the state government. In 2007, she retired from the state with 34 years of experience, 18 of those spent working for the Governor's Office of Consumer Affairs.
In the early 1990s, she spent four years working for Tim Ryles, former insurance commissioner, and finished her career working for the Georgia Department of Human Resources.
Hambrick knew the job of becoming a commissioner would be difficult before it began, she said. On Jan. 6, the night of her first official meeting as a voting member of the board, she had to make tough decisions on several important issues, including: Having the board back a $40.2 million bond for Southern Regional Medical Center; creating a new board finance committee; the cutting of several key, county-government positions; and the creation of several new positions.
However, she is up for the challenge, she said.
"I love a challenge, especially if it is something I love and something I feel passionate about," said Hambrick. "I will put in whatever time and effort it takes. I am proud to be from Clayton County, and I want everybody to be able to say that."