Nearly two months have passed since Mary Warnell was sworn in as the newest leader of the city of Pembroke, and as her mayoral seat continues to warm, she is enjoying every part of her new job description.
Though she has mainly been “observing and evaluating” the daily activities of city staff and operations, she said she has learned a lot and looks forward to learning more.
“Working with the people here in Pembroke has been exciting, with the staff here,” Warnell said. “I’ve enjoyed this and I’ve learned a lot in a short amount of time. I hope they see I’m interested in what they’re doing and in their work.”
Having a vested interest in the city and its operations is something that comes easy for Warnell. Having grown up in the area, she is clearly passionate about Pembroke.
After moving into the city from Groveland at age 10 with her family, Warnell said she became active in 4-H activities, and went on to excel with her 4-H project in forestry.
“I did win in district and in state in the forestry project and I was the first Master 4-H’er for Bryan County by winning state,” she said. “My demonstration was on prescribed burning and I can tell you the title of my demonstration was ‘To burn or not to burn.’”
In addition to her 4-H activities, Warnell was a part of the varsity basketball team, one act play and literary program at Bryan County High School. She also served as the editor of the BCHS yearbook her senior year.
Warnell said she was also very involved in church growing up, participating in the Girls Auxiliary group. She is still active today in her church as a co-teacher of first and second grade children at First Baptist Church of Pembroke.
After high school, Warnell went on to study home economics at then Georgia College, now Georgia College and State University. Upon completion of her degree, she went to work with the Dairy Council Incorporated. During her time there, she worked with school systems, health professionals and consumer groups to develop nutrition education programs, she said.
Her background in the dairy industry and working with school systems helped her in her first position in government as a member of the Bryan County Board of Education. Warnell served on the school board for two terms.
After serving on the school board, she spent the last four and a half years as president of the North Bryan Chamber of Commerce. Activities like the annual pumpkin carving contest and chili cook-off are hosted by the Chamber each year, along with regular meetings and Business After Hours events.
Although Warnell will soon step down from her role as president of the Chamber, she said one thing she’d like to see Pembroke host is a railroad days event.
The city hosted a centennial celebration in 2005 with a railroad days theme, she said.
“There was a passenger train and people could buy tickets and ride, I think, to the other side of Claxton and back,” she said. “We had a museum that day and all sorts of events going on, it was a very popular event and I think that fits our town.”
Warnell also wants to implement a “Mayor’s Walk” during the spring. She said it will be like a town hall meeting, consisting of a walk through each district of the city and interaction with citizens.
“The citizens can join us in the stroll and point out the things they’d like to see done, and point out something good about their district,” she said. “I would encourage, of course, the city council member for that district to stroll with me. People can visit with us and share ideas.”
Another outlet for input from the community is the Mayor’s Suggestion Box, the newest addition to City Hall. Warnell said she encourages people to stop by and make suggestions to the city.
“I would like for people to feel comfortable making suggestions to the city of what we need to work on or ideas of what we could do in our city,” she said. “In addition to a suggestion, we would like some solution of what we can do. It may not be what we can do, but we can certainly consider it.”
In addition to being out in the community, another thing Warnell said she really looks forward to working on the city’s strategic plan.
“We’re going to take a look at several documents in addition to coming up with a mission statement for the city and organizational chart, and a short and long term plan to help us reach the goals we come up with,” she said.
She said the strategic plan will help get the city focused and moving forward.
Warnell also considers her hobbies to be influential in her role as mayor. Her two main hobbies and gardening and traveling. Gardening relates to beautifying the city, she said, and when a city is beautiful, it shows people care about their community.
“If your community doesn’t look like it has pride in itself or cares about itself, (businesses) are not interested in locating here and it is important that we do that—it is vital that we keep our town attractive.”
Traveling helps remind Warnell about how different the world can be, but also reminds her of the potential that Pembroke has.
“I love to travel and I think seeing not just this country, but other countries I’ve traveled to, it helps you visualize what our potentials are,” she said. “And I know we’re limited, but then we’re limited only to what we stop having a vision for.”
One of her favorite quotes by St. Augustine says “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only a page.”
“If we only stay and look at what we’re doing every day, we don’t realize the potential,” she said.
Of all the influences Warnell has had throughout her life, she accredits her parents with influencing her the most.
“A lot of what my parents were involved is what directed me to be where I am today because of their influence and their examples that they set for us as their children would be what served as my example of who I would like to be or what I would like to do.