By Chris Berendt Staff Writer
January 26, 2014
Don’t let Sue Lee’s small stature fool you. She is a force.
A native of Sampson County and a product of Clinton City Schools, Lee is a local business woman with a great deal of faith, a massive love for her family and friends and a strong will to help her community. In a recent interview, Lee said she wants to bring her unique perspective to the Sampson County Board of Commissioners as its new District 3 representative.
If she were to win, Lee would be the first woman to hold a position on the county board.
Jefferson Strickland announced earlier this week he would be stepping down from the District 3 seat at the end of this term.
When she was first approached to run for the seat, Clinton resident Lee said she had a wealth of doubts. However, she thought a great deal about the prospect, prayed on it and talked to others, who offered their help along the way.
“I thought ‘I can do this’ and I would like to make a difference for the county,” said Lee, a Republican. “I feel like I have a unique talent to share by having grown up in the county, having run a business in the county and loving the county. There have been tremendous challenges with the economy, and I’ve had to work through that with our business.”
The perspective of someone who has owned and operated a local business for the past three decades, struggling with the same budgetary hardships the county has, while also being a mother of two — and now a grandmother of two more — could be a useful one, she noted.
Lee said she looked forward to the possibilities.
“If I am elected, I promise to give it my best shot — listening to everybody, analyzing problems, thinking about them and making the best decisions possible,” said Lee. “I think we have a good district and I’m open to listening to what everyone has to say. I think we need a good representative. Mr. Strickland has been a very good representative and those will be tough shoes to fill. He has been great with his community service and his dedication to the people and his job. That will be a tough act to follow.”
However, Lee said she is up for the challenge and said her family, including husband Tart, is behind her “100 percent.”
The couple owns and operates Precision Tool & Stamping, Inc., which incorporated in April 1980 and currently employs some 30 workers, along with 14 temporary employees. Lee said she and her husband are glad to have contributed to the local economy through the years.
“It’s been a real blessing to both of us,” she said. “We’ve worked real hard and it’s been our baby.”
Sue and Tart, a Sampson County Schools product, have two sons, Brandon and Justin, both of whom graduated from Clinton City Schools and then studied mechanical engineering at N.C. State before coming back home to work for the family business. Sue worked as a general accountant for Sampson Regional Medical Center for 10 years prior to Precision Tool’s beginnings, while her husband worked for Hamilton Beach.
For the past 34 years, from Precision’s humble beginnings to today, the couple have worked together and eaten breakfast, lunch and dinner together every day.
“It’s excellent,” she said. “We live and breathe together. It has been a true blessing.”
Precision Tool & Stamping manufactures a variety of metal stampings, offering a complete range of tool and die and metal stamping work that serves, among others, Bosch Home Appliances, GE Lighting and Husqvarna Group, a range that sees the Clinton-based company manufacturing outdoor products, home appliances and circuit boards.
“We make a concerted effort to never say someone works for us — we work together,” she said. “It’s all about teamwork. We have an excellent group of employees and we all work together. We’re just a good family group.”
The company has a devotional on Mondays and Friday, with an open invitation to those employees wishing to attend. Faith is “absolutely” a large part of Lee’s life. She has read the Bible nearly 30 times through, and makes a point of reading it from Genesis to Revelation every year. Each time, she finds something new that speaks to her.
“Faith is a very important part of my life,” Lee said. “I try to pray about every decision.”
Lee is heavily-involved with First Baptist Church in Clinton, with her husband and sons having served as deacons. Lee herself has taught Sunday School and served on the church’s Stewardship Committee for several terms, as vice-chair for one of them.
Lee said she knows how to strike a good balance, between family — along with her two sons, she has grandchildren Jackson Lee, 7, and Jenna Stuart Lee, 6 — and business and now, hopefully, a county commissioner’s seat.
“I always handle my obligations,” she said.
Those involvements for Lee over the years have included serving as president of the PTA (Parent Teacher Association) at both Butler Avenue School and Sampson Middle School, as well as on the Board of Directors for CAFE (Clinton Area Foundation for Education). She is also a past member of the Kiwanis Club. The involvement does not end there.
“We are very private people. We do a lot of stuff, but we always do it behind the scenes,” said Lee. “We’re huge supporters of Baptist Children’s Homes and those kids have my heart. We work diligently to try and support them a lot.”
As an employer, Lee said she knows how critical the county’s ongoing issues with employee compensation are to its workforce, and the board charged with implementing a pay structure that reward valuable employees and retains them.
“We need to look at the county pay. We need to compensate people fairly for the service they offer,” said Lee. “It’s not fair to ask our people to keep a wage they’ve had for years and years, when they’re doing a real good job.”
She said paying employees a good, competitive wage makes county officials’ jobs easier.
“As leaders, if we put good people in place and we have good people who are doing a good job — and obviously our county employees are — they need to be compensated,” she said. “At the same time, we have to find the money to be able to do that.”
Tighter courthouse security, a topic that has dominated discussions in recent weeks in the wake of a judge’s order mandating the county take specific measures. is also on Lee’s radar.
“That’s something that has to be done. We have a mandate now, and when you have to do something, you have to make a way,” she said. “I’m a firm believer that there is always a way, but you have to work hard, work through it, look at your options and come to an answer, because there is an answer.”
Finding those solutions is something she wants to have the chance to do. And as with the environment at Precision, Lee knows it has to be a team effort among the Board of Commissioners.
“I’d love to see us all work together as a team to get this county rolling forward into the future, so we can pull out of this slump that we’re in because of the economy that has held us back and kept us stagnant,” Lee commented. “I’d like to see growth. Stagnation is not good for anybody. We’ve had some excellent leaders and I think I can add to that list.”
The possibility of being the first-ever female to serve on the county board is not lost on Lee, but also does not draw her focus.
“I’ve thought about it, but I don’t like to put labels on people,” she said, “It doesn’t matter to me if you’re black, white, green, woman, man, whatever — I think everybody has something to offer. I’m not a women’s libber or anything like that either. It’s all about the person. I don’t like labels.”
Anyone who is around her for just a bit will see that Lee likes to stay active, whether it is working, exercising or running around from activity to activity. She prides herself on being open to people, and considers herself substance over fluff.
“You don’t have to guess where you stand with me,” Lee says with a smile.
Lee would attack a bear with a switch, one of her neighbors likes to tell her. Lee said she is eager and willing to attack county issues with the same tenacity.
No matter how the upcoming election turns out, she said she is proud to be running and looks forward to meeting and speaking with the people of the county and her district and hearing their concerns.
“There are a lot of challenges, but they have to be addressed,” said Lee. “I volunteer my service and, if the people choose to elect me, I will give it my best shot.”
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.