UNION — The passing of Union County Council’s longest-serving member is being mourned by those who worked with her during her career as a public official and as an educator.
Dora Martin-Jennings passed away Friday, Sept. 28, after decades of services to the community that included 36 years as a teacher and guidance counselor with the Union County School District and 23 years as a council member, vice chairman of county council and acting supervisor.
Martin-Jennings was elected in 1989 to the District 2 council seat which had been left vacant by the death of her husband, James Robert Martin. With her election, Martin-Jennings became the first African-American woman elected to county council. She won a term in her own right in 1992 and was reelected in 1996, 2000, 2004 and 2008, becoming council’s longest-serving member.
Earlier this year, Martin-Jennings announced that she was retiring from council and would not seek reelection.
In 2010, Martin-Jennings was serving as vice chairman of county council when Supervisor Donnie Betenbaugh resigned after being indicted on federal corruption and drug charges. With Betenbaugh’s resignation, Martin-Jennings became acting supervisor, the first African-American and the first woman to hold the office. She served as acting supervisor until the appointment later that year of Tommy Sinclair as supervisor.
Sinclair recalled Monday how his association with Martin began long before his appointment as supervisor.
“I was a first year teacher just out of the army in 1973,” Sinclair said. “I was assigned next door to her and she helped me get oriented to the educational process.”
Besides helping him, Sinclair said Martin-Jennings also played a very positive role in the integration of the school district.
“At that time Union was still completing the desegregation transition process,” Sinclair said. “Dora was a stabilizing and calming influence in that process.”
Union County School District Superintendent Dr. Kristi Woodall also praised Martin-Jennings’ years of service as an educator.
“Dora Martin-Jennings was a friend to our school system,” Woodall said. “She was a respected teacher and counselor and remained active in her support after retirement. She will certainly be missed.”
Sinclair said his association with Martin-Jennings continued when he served as an administrator with the school district and she as a guidance counselor.
They again worked together, this time on behalf of county government, when Sinclair was appointed supervisor. He said Martin was a true public servant whose record of service is now permanently commemorated in the Union County Courthouse.
“Dora put more into the community than she took out,” Sinclair said. “That is the reason why she was one of the first honorees of the Foundation to the Future Wall in the courthouse. Her leadership will be missed.”
Another person who benefited from Martin-Jennings’ guidance was District 1 Council Member Joan Little.
“When I was new coming on council she advised me to always vote my constituents’ wishes,” Little said. “Every day she lived her life as a testimony to her convictions. She was a dear friend and a very sweet lady and she’ll be missed.”
Martin-Jennings was described by District 6 Council Member Kacie Petrie “an inspiration to a lot of people throughout the years.”
District 4 Councilman Ben Ivey also recalled his long association with Martin-Jennings and her service to the community.
“I’ve known Miss Dora a long time,” Ivey said. “She had her community at heart in all the decisions we had to make. She was honest and fair in all dealings that I had to deal with her. I think she’s going to be greatly missed.”