Debbie Marshall is the executive
director of the Columbia County Board of Elections.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
Debbie Marshall was never particularly interested in politics.
However, the lifelong Appling resident rose to become the executive director of Columbia County Board of Elections.
Marshall was appointed to supervise the board in 2000 after then-director Rudy Olson resigned. But she was not new to the election process.
"I knew about elections. I could do the election," Marshall said. "But I didn't know anything about managing an office."
After management school and budget experience, Marshall hired a new staff, which she considers a big family who eats lunch together every day.
Former Superintendent of Elections Tom Blalock hired a 20-year-old Marshall as a deputy clerk to assist the registrar in 1984. After Peggy King died in 1990, Marshall moved up fill her position as the election coordinator.
"I keep her picture here," Marshall said looking at the 8-by-10-inch portrait of King that looks down on her from a lofty bookshelf. "It is a reminder to me because she worked so hard in the election process."
Marshall said she remembers when she started in the office 20 years ago; there were only two black workers in the government complex, including herself. That is something she has seen change over the years, but doesn't believe being black hindered her at all.
"I thought about Dr. Martin Luther King and how he fought and how so many other people fought," Marshall said. "If they had not fought, I wouldn't be sitting here. I wouldn't have had this opportunity because all these changes probably wouldn't have come about if he hadn't taken that initial step to make sure we had equal rights and civil rights."
The Rev. Roscoe Perry, Marshall's pastor of 15 years at First Mount Carmel Baptist Church in Appling, described her as a conscientious and friendly person.
"She's hardworking," Perry said. "She seems to be very focused, knows what she wants to and has a plan how to do it."
"(My grandmother Estella Bailey) raised us with very good values," Marshall said. "One thing she has always told us is to work hard to achieve things, and you make it happen. You don't look for somebody else to make it happen for you.
"That's how I feel about this job. I feel I have worked hard to achieve to be here in this position, and I pretty much made it happen."
Marshall spent her life in western Columbia County in the same church and surrounded by her large family.
Despite her dedication to the job, Marshall said her real job is her husband, Lee, and three children at her Appling home.
There is Niferteria, 22, a student at Georgia College & State University; Tiffany, 18, a junior at Greenbrier High School; and Derenzo, 9.
The family's Appling home, backs up to Marshall's mother-in-law, Eva Marshall's home.
Marshall's only hope with her children slowly leaving the nest is that they will use what she has taught them and not be afraid to take opportunities.
"My thing is just one word, opportunity," Marshall said. "As long as they have the opportunity to go and do whatever, like someone gave me the opportunity. That is all it takes is just one opportunity."
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