‘People loved her’

Published 10:40 am Friday, August 5, 2016

Juanita Tharpe Hamlett, mayor of Drakes Branch from 1986-2002 and a town council member from 2002-2014, died Monday at the age of 81.

Her son, Garland Hamlett Jr., who also served on Drakes Branch Town Council before being elected to the Charlotte County Board of Supervisors, said his mother enjoyed meeting everyone.

“Oh, golly, yeah — she loved people,” Hamlett Jr. said.

“There’s nobody she didn’t know. I mean nobody. I told somebody she knew everybody in 14 counties and 10 cities. She could just talk to anybody. She never met a stranger. She knew everybody and everybody knew her, the black folks, white … People loved her.”

Hamlett Jr. said his mother was the first female mayor in Drakes Branch.

“I think she probably realized she had enough as mayor and wanted somebody else,” he said of her stepping down as mayor in 2002, “and, about that time … she had a couple of knee operations. I guess she just felt like she just didn’t want to be mayor anymore.”

He said he learned a lot from his mother about public service, adding “She was quite a lady.”

Current Drakes Branch Mayor Denise Pridgen said they were elected at the same time — Ms. Hamlett as the town’s first female mayor and Pridgen as the first female council member.

“We’ve known each other since I moved here in 1978,” said Pridgen, originally from Philadelphia. “She worked for The Charlotte Gazette and she would be there to greet you if you had anything to put in the paper.”

Ms. Hamlett appointed Pridgen as vice mayor. They then ran again, with Ms. Hamlett winning a council seat and Pridgen being elected mayor.

“She urged me to run for mayor; we just switched places,” Pridgen said.

The mayor said the thing she respected most about Ms. Hamlett was how she treated all people the same.

“It was kind of her thing, to be fair to everyone. I’ve tried to continue that,” Pridgen said.

According to her obituary, Ms. Hamlett was born Oct. 11, 1934, the eldest daughter of Charlie Marion and Eleanor Tharpe. Her husband, Garland H. Hamlett Sr.; and her sister, Beatty Beatty; predeceased her. Among survivors are her son and his wife, Julie; her daughters, Rhita H. Reebles and Gwendolyn H. Pillows; and sister, Becky Lenhart.

Visitation takes place Wednesday from 7 to 8:30 p.m. and other times at the home of Butch and Julie Hamlett. Funeral services will take place Thursday at 2 p.m. at Browning Funeral Home with interment in Drakes Branch Presbyterian Cemetery.