Martha Clampitt McKay

May 16, 1920 - December 14, 2009
Martha Clampitt McKay

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Martha Clampitt McKay, feminist, human rights activist, teacher, and Democratic Party advocate, died December 14, 2009. She was born on May 16, 1920 in Winchester, Massachusetts. Shortly, thereafter, her family relocated to St. Petersburg, Florida, where she was raised. Marthaís accomplishments started at an early age. At age 11, she won a Shetland pony for designing a poster in the national Phoenix Hosiery design contest.

During the late 1930s, McKay transferred from a Florida junior college to the University of North Carolina. McKay was involved in campus politics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill from 1939 to 1941. During these years, she was the first woman to serve on the University Party steering committee, first formed a friendship and political alliance with Terry Sanford, and wrote a column for the Daily Tar Heel. In 1941, McKay graduated with a degree in economics from UNC where she was a member of the Alpha Delta Pi sorority.

In 1941, she married Herbert Stacy McKay. She and her husband worked for the North Carolina Shipbuilding Company in Wilmington, North Carolina, during World War II. At the end of the war, they settled in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where they had three children, Alex, Bryan, and Katherine. Along with being a homemaker, she became increasingly involved in political activities.

In 1959, she became involved in social issues when the gubernatorial candidate Terry Sanford asked her to chair his womenís committee as well as his steering committee. After Sanfordís election, Sanford appointed her to the Democratic National Committee. McKay was instrumental in persuading him in 1963 to establish a state Council on the Status of Women. During the mid-1960ís she traveled the South monitoring compliance with the Civil Right Act and community cooperation with the federal governmentís Office of Economic Opportunity.

McKay led the way in giving Tar Heel women a clearer and more insistent voice in state politics. In 1972, she became the first chair of the North Carolina Women’s Political Caucus (NCWPC) and co-chair of the National Womenís Political Caucus; in these positions she became a prominent activist, working for the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. Though unsuccessful in this endeavor, McKay was prominent in other actions to serve the cause of womenís rights and to solidify gains that accompanied the womenís movement. In 1976, she helped found the Womenís Forum of NC, a career mentoring and empowerment organization. After 30 years, the forum has been instrumental in preparing women to lead statewide.

For an even longer time, McKay was engaged in demonstrating to women, and their employers, the benefits of recruiting, training, and utilizing women in responsible leadership positions. Her management consulting firm, McKay and Associates (1970 ñ 1980), specialized in developing community profiles for corporations, training, minority economic development, and creative problem solving. She pioneered ìwomanagementî, the first comprehensive study of corporate women managers and their supervisors. During this same period of time (1971 ñ 1985), McKay was also a director of the Public Affairs Council, a group based in Washington D.C., that included a broad range of public affairs officers and she also taught at Dukeís graduate business school.

In 1979, Governor Jim Hunt appointed McKay manager of the State Personnel Officeís affirmative action program; in 1981, she became assistant secretary of the NC Department of Administration.

Leaving state government in 1985, McKay served as an organization development consultant until she joined Terry Sanfordís campaign for the US Senate in 1986; when Sanford won, she worked for him in Washington as a special assistant handling minority, seniors, and womenís issues.

After retiring in 1995, McKay moved to St. Petersburg, Florida. In 1996, Martha was presented with one of the highest civilian awards bestowed by the state of NC, the North Carolina Award for Public Service.

In 1997, McKay returned to North Carolina residing in Raleigh, Asheville, and Hendersonville.

Martha is survived by her daughter, Katherine McKay; granddaughter, Alix McKay Powell and husband Shon, and their children, Sydney, Nicolas, and Ava Powell; granddaughter, Dallas Blue Thompson; daughter-in-law, Betty Caton McKay; niece, Lisa Clampitt and her husband Frank Burbrink, and their son Hawkeye Clampitt; nephew, Bryan Clampitt; sister-in-law, Susan Clampitt; sister-in-law, Ruthanne Clampitt, nieces, Cynthia Clampitt and Darch Clampitt. She was predeceased by husband, Herbert McKay; sons, Alexander McKay and Brian McKay; and brothers, Robert Clampitt and John Clampitt.

Services will be held at 2 PM on January 5, 2010 at the Chapel of the Cross in Chapel Hill, NC.

Memorial contributions may be made to the charity of oneís choice.


Tuesday, January 5, 2010
12:00 AM

Chapel of the Cross in Chapel Hill - Directions
304 East Franklin Street
Chapel Hill, NC 27514

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  • January 03, 2010
    Allison T. Harden says:
    1/03/10 Remembering Martha McKay fondly. She inspired many during her lifetime and achieved more than many women of her generation (or men!) What a great lady. I will always be thankful for getting to know her a bit in the 1970's. She helped me plot a positive course for my life. Love to Kat. Allison