Local activist honored for her tireless work

Shirley Washburn doesn’t live the quiet life.

This year’s N.C. Citizens for a Sound Economy Activist of the Year, the 68-year-old is a driving force behind the organization’s fund-raising efforts, not to mention its stance on private property rights and tax issues.

Washburn, one of 30,000 CSE members in North Carolina, got the title on June 18 but her community activism predates the McDowell native’s affiliation with the organization.

In the 1970s, she and a group of residents fought zoning restrictions in the county.

She had a hand in persuading the county to lease the Woodlawn State Park property instead of letting the state close it down completely.

She got involved at the state level in fighting a watershed protection bill.

She helped form the Upper Catawba River Landowner’s Alliance and kept buffers off waterways in the county.

Last year, Washburn organized a group from McDowell to lobby in Washington, D.C. for the president’s Healthy Forest Initiative.

She even helped bring a rally for the president’s plan to McDowell.

Today, in a wheelchair from a broken hip and injured knee, she doesn’t miss an opportunity to rail against stormwater runoff legislation the state House is considering now.

“I’ve just been a person that wants to stand for property rights and people being treated right,” said Washburn, who won her award earlier this year but had to miss the ceremony in May because she broke her hip.

Getting the recognition earlier this month came as a complete surprise to the unlikely activist, who lives in rural Crooked Creek, just three miles from where she was born and where much of her family still resides.

Rep. Mitch Gillespie, on hand at the ceremony to honor Washburn, said this hometown woman had lasting effects on the county.

“I know of no other person in this county that has had more impact on local issues, private property issues than Shirley,” he said.

The two have been working together on different projects for close to 20 years.

For much of that, Washburn was a registered Democrat and Gillespie a Republican.

She never let that get in the way of getting anything accomplished, said Gillespie.

CSE volunteer Steve Henson of Haywood County was also present for the ceremony Friday.

He said Washburn is the epitome of what he considers an activist.

“She doesn’t just talk about it. She doesn’t just think about. She does something about it,” he said.

Contact Ragan Robinson at 652-3313 or e-mail rrobinson@mcdowellnews.com.