Lydia Lavelle, Like the Town She Represents, Goes to the Beat of Her Own Drum


By Laurie Paolicelli

Carrboro Mayor Lydia Lavelle and her wife Alicia Stemper.

Later this month, Lydia Lavelle will no longer be mayor of Carrboro, a position she has occupied since 2013. She’s been in public service for 14 years, and has served this town of 21,000 well. She’s leaving on her own terms, too, excited to discover what comes next with her wife, Alicia Stemper, and through her role as law professor at NC Central.

She’s done so much. Under Lavelle’s leadership, the Town of Carrboro took steps to push back against the controversial House Bill 2 until it was repealed. She led the state in passing non-discrimination ordinances protecting LGBTQ+ community members. During her tenure, she has promoted racial equity and progressive environmental policies to address climate change.

Mayor Lydia Lavelle and Alicia Stemper with Senator Val Foushee and Her Husband Stan Foushee.

Lavelle also presided over several economic development projects. Some have been completed, like the construction of the South Green complex and the Interfaith Council Commons building, Others are unfinished but approved, such as the future Orange County southern branch public library (203 Project), the Shoppes at Lloyd Farm, and the future home of an energizing new ArtsCenter.

She served on the Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitors Bureau, ushering in new tourism amenities to help Carrboro host the growing flock of visitors to Orange County. She also helped the County’s Visitors Bureau launch a national advertising campaign reminding travelers that Carrboro welcomed LGBTQ+ travelers.

Yes, Carrboro is changing. It’s growing. Lavelle is justly proud that she’s been able to ally preservation with that growth. She has been champion of historic architecture, safeguarding the many mill houses that line the streets, and she has worked to protect greenspace, sidewalks, and accessibility.

“Mayor Lavelle’s capacity for work is matched by her appreciation for history, culture, music, and fun,” said Cathy Dorando, who has served as Town Clerk during Lavelle’s tenure. “She organized many creative projects out of the Mayor’s Office. One that stands out is Carrboro’s annual community reading of Frederick Douglass’s speech, “What the 4th of July means to the Negro.”

Carrboro Resident Bruce Thomas, also Known as “Dancing Bruce,” Practicing His Headstand on a Bench in the Weaver Street Lawn.

And even though this funky, free-spirited Orange County town was once thought of as a little sister to Chapel Hill and the university, these days it stands on its own.

A little history. In 1882, Chapel Hill officials decided to build a new train station. They picked a spot directly to the west, just one mile from the University of North Carolina, far enough away that the noise wouldn’t disturb the privileged few on campus. But the area known as West End soon carved out its own identity as a mill town, and academia spilled over the railroad tracks, bringing new growth.

Although the neighboring towns share a common collegiate thread, today their personalities diverge. If Chapel Hill is your classy, argyle sweater-wearing professor, Carrboro is your coolest, quirkiest friend wearing a band T-shirt. Here, live music venues attract national acts and award-winning restaurants entice out-of-town foodies.

Steel String Brewery, Carrboro.

You’ll often see Lavelle and her wife at an outdoor concert or special event, dancing, smiling, and greeting locals and guests.

Although Lavelle didn’t create the feel of this town, sometimes it feels as if she perfected it.

But as Lavelle prepares to exist her role, she will be remembered, most of all, simply for being a nice person. Maybe it’s her Midwest Ohio upbringing. Maybe it’s her Atticus Finch-like legal eagle mind. Or maybe it’s her gentle smile, her inclusiveness, her steadfast commitment to fairness. She is like the town itself: friendly, kind, funky and fun, and full of hope for the future, for the town she used to lead and for herself.

Here are a few ways you can explore and enjoy the Carrboro Lavelle has led for the last seven years. Just a few – the list is long!

Food Ideas

Acme Food & Beverage Co. serves up some damn good food.

Locally grown and nationally known, Carrboro Farmers’ Market is home to many of the most talented growers and artisans in the region.

Pizzeria Mercato, was voted one of the three best new pizza joints in America by Bon Appétit!

Tom Robinson’s Seafood is named after Carrboro’s iconic fishmonger, the late Tom Robinson. The team sells fresh catches from the NC coast every weekend.

Venable Bistro will amaze you. After a delicious meal, head to Venable’s B-Side Lounge – Carrboro’s best kept secret – for some drinks!

Present Day on Main, Open Eye Café, and Steel String Brewery and ideal spots to rest your loafers. For a light lunch, try Glasshalfull or Neil’s Deli

Be sure to share & enjoy our 2021 Winter Solstice Blend! Available online at, our Flagship Cafes: @CaffeDriade3, @OpenEyeCafe#Perennial, or from our wholesale partners! This blend is a unique feature of three different Farmer Direct Relationship Coffees

Start your day with Carrboro Coffee Roasters. Finish off your day with some drinks at the Orange County Social Club OCSC.

Carrburritos is a family-owned Mexican taqueria that uses fresh and flavorful ingredients. Linger over a long lunch with chips and salsa on the beautiful, flower-filled patio.

Yung Nay, IZA Whiskey & Eats.

IZA Whiskey & Eats opened at the beginning of COVID-19. It was created as part of a lifelong dream of Yung Nay who has traveled all over the world, savoring a variety of cuisines and pairings to bring visitors an upscale Japanese fusion experience.

Hampton Inn and Suites is Located in Downtown Carrboro Near Shops, Music and Restaurants.

Oh: have a great night’s sleep at the Hampton Inn, wake up and begin your exploration again. There is so much more to this unique enclave of cool, Carrboro. Feel Free.

Laurie Paolicelli is the Executive Director of the Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitors Bureau.

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