Valerie Foushee is a lifelong resident of Chapel Hill. She is a former Chair of the Orange County Board of Commissioners and served for 10-years in the NC General Assembly, in both the House and Senate. Now Foushee is in Washington, D.C. proudly serving as representative of the 4th Congressional District in the House of Representatives.
She is both the first woman and the first Black representative to do so. Her life is full of “firsts,” though it’s nothing she would ever grandstand about. As Chapel Hill resident and former School Board member and County Commissioner Mia Burroughs says, “Valerie is a strong leader because she has a deep understanding of human nature. She combines that with hard work, a passion for public service, and, possibly most important, humility.”
In many ways, Valerie’s history parallels the history of Chapel Hill and the South itself. She attended segregated Northside and Frank Porter Graham Elementary Schools, and Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools which gradually desegregated during her middle school years. Living through one of our nation’s most tumultuous eras contributed to her empathy for all people, which is so evident in her world view to this day.
She left UNC as a sophomore to marry her childhood sweetheart, Stan Foushee, and for 21 years served as an administrator at the Chapel Hill Police Department. Toward the end of her tenure there she returned to college and completed her bachelor’s degree in 2008 – a full-time student with a full-time job.
“Education meant a lot to my parents because they didn’t get an education, and because of what they were relegated to do in terms of employment, they wanted to see to it that their children didn’t have to either be domestics or cooks, or taxicab drivers,” she has said. “Not that there’s anything wrong with those, but they knew that we would need to do something more.”
And she has done something more, much more. She succeeded Rep. David E. Price to represent the 4th district, who had held that position for over 30 years. Price said of her: “I couldn’t be more pleased and proud with my successor.” Her constituents feel the same.
Valerie Paige Foushee was born the eldest of six siblings in Chapel Hill. She and her husband live in Hillsborough. They have been married for nearly half a century. The couple has two adult sons, Stanley II and Terrence, and a grandson, Stanley III, who goes by Trey.
As Mia Burroughs says, Valerie is known for her work ethic and humility. She credits her parents with imparting to her these characteristics, through what they said and how they lived their lives.
“My parents were very, very good parents, hardworking, both working two jobs until they died. We didn’t know we were poor until we were told we were poor, and we weren’t told we were poor by our parents.”
Valerie’s acumen for politics began, of all places, at First Baptist Church in Chapel Hill. It was here she honed the skills she would need to work with and for people. In church, she says, “you have to network, just like in politics. You have to have a message, just like in politics. You have to be able to identify a base for any position that you get in church. So I learned politics – the good, the bad and the ugly – in church.
“I’ve dedicated my entire life to public service. The thing about public service is that it’s not about you. It’s about the people, and particularly people who don’t feel they have an advocate, or people who feel like they’re not being heard, or people who just don’t know how to navigate a system.”
She’s a champion of human rights – not just for some – but for everybody, supporting legislation ensuring civil rights, equality, and freedom are accessible for every person.
Moses Carey, Orange County leader and former Chair of the Orange County Commissioners, echoes this. “She’s a champion of sound education for ALL kids, housing for ALL, and balancing tradition with economic development so that we can leave future generations more opportunities.”
“Children aren’t born racist,” Valerie says, “and children aren’t born with racist attitudes. We are all products of our environment. That’s very sad to me, because I know how you can move from here, starting out in a segregated environment, and how that change evolves, and what the end result can be. Then there’s a period of time where everything is fine, and then it goes back to the beginning. That kind of regression is depressing.” As far as we have come, she says, there’s still so much to be done in achieving equality for all of us. That’s why she does what she does, and that’s why we are so pleased and proud that she is lending her voice, which is our voice, too, to the Congress of the United States of America.