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Nancy McFarlane never thought she’d be the mayor of Raleigh. “It wasn’t anything I ever set out to do,” she says. “I never had the desire to get into politics.” But since becoming the second woman ever to be elected as the city’s mayor in 2011, McFarlane, an Arlington, Virginia native, has quickly grown into a force to be reckoned with.
Before taking office, McFarlane served as the president of specialty pharmacy services provider MedPro Rx, which she launched with her husband, Ron, in 2002. A graduate of the School of Pharmacy at Virginia Commonwealth University, McFarlane served as a hospital pharmacist in Richmond and at Raleigh Community Hospital (now Duke Raleigh Hospital) for 15 years. In 2013, Business Leader Magazine named McFarlane one of the Top Entrepreneurs in the Triangle and in 2009 and 2010, the Triangle Business Journal named her one of the area’s Top Women in Business.
McFarlane’s forays into public service began when her three children entered the Wake County Public School System and she realized just how much local officials’ decisions affected her kids’, and all children’s, educations and futures. McFarlane got involved in her children’s schooling, serving as vice president of the PTA at Durant Middle School and as a regional vice president of the Wake County PTA Council, civic roles that eventually steered her to her involvement in local politics. McFarlane worked on a hospital co-worker’s successful campaign for a seat on Wake County’s School Board and then on several more local campaigns. “I realized how important it was to get the right people into local office,” McFarlane says. When friends started asking her to run for office herself, McFarlane turned them down. But after selling her share in MedPro Rx, McFarlane decided she had the time to run for the City Council’s District A in 2007; four years later, deeply steeped in many of the city’s burgeoning projects, McFarlane decided to run for mayor. “The city was really picking up and doing well and I felt like, if I didn’t do it, who was going to do it?” McFarlane recalls. “I wanted the good work we were doing to continue, so I decided to run.”
Throughout McFarlane’s time in office, Raleigh has seen much progress, including securing the land that will become Dix Park, a thriving downtown and Fayetteville Street after former Mayor Charles Meeker, her predecessor, opened it to auto traffic, and improvements to the Capital Area Greenway system. McFarlane says she is most proud of negotiating the sale of the formerly state-owned Dix property to the City, land that will become a destination park for Raleigh, and, in McFarlane’s view, has so much potential for the future. “I’m very excited to see what it’s going to become,” McFarlane says. “The exciting thing is that, as we do each phase of development, it really is going to be about even more community engagement and what people want to see and how it defines who we are. It’s going to be amazing.”
McFarlane’s other accomplishments include creating sustainable initiatives like LEED Platinum standards in City facilities, growing Raleigh’s thriving arts scene and attracting events like the World of Bluegrass Festival, getting Union Station off the ground to improve regional transit and even meeting with the Dalai Lama in order to persuade him to visit Raleigh (unfortunately, he had to cancel his originally planned trip but could reschedule for some time in the future). For all of her many accomplishments, McFarlane says her favorite part about being mayor is meeting all of the people she’s had the pleasure of meeting over the years. “People think that sounds clichéd but it’s really not,” McFarlane says. “I like that part. I like going to schools and reading books and seeing opportunities to put things together and making things happen.”
Once she’s out of office, McFarlane says she’ll continue to serve on a state Department Of Transportation commission, North Carolina First, which works to find funding for the state’s transportation infrastructure. She also hopes to continue working with the Dix Park Conservancy, the nonprofit, fundraising organization that supports the park.
“Raleigh is a very successful city and we’re in a great place,” McFarlane says. “It’s such an exciting time and we really do have almost unlimited potential. So we need to be thoughtful and careful about who we want to be. That’s going to be very important for the next mayor.”
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