RIP Pearl Carey: epitome of grace, dignity, service
by Dennis Taylor, Monterey Herald
Her friends say she was a woman of grace, dignity and almost immeasurable courage during the years she spent on the Peninsula. Pearl Carey was a Central Coast icon.Mrs. Carey, a longtime Seaside resident, was 96 when she died Monday at an elder-care center in Carmel. She left a legacy that includes a landmark lawsuit contesting the Hatch Act, which limited political activity of federal employees, a stint as president of the Peninsula’s chapter of the NAACP, and service as the first black woman elected to the Seaside City Council.
“Ms. Carey was very much ahead of her time in terms of a woman stepping forward,” said Mel Mason, third vice president of California’s NAACP, who knew her for 53 years. “She was the epitome of courage. She was a role model. She was somebody I considered one of my political mentors. She was a very big part of our history here.”
The local chapter of the NAACP honored Mrs. Carey last year with its President’s Award for her years of service and her numerous accomplishments.
Mrs. Carey was elected to the Seaside City Council in 1970, and helped lead the drive for Seaside’s incorporation.
“A right-wing reactionary group led an effort to recall her from office, but she never stopped fighting, never gave up,” said Mason, who served on the council. “She was somebody who could stare down adversity and win.”
In 1971, she helped lead a successful fight to the U.S. Supreme Court against the Hatch Act’s prohibitions on political activity by federal civil service employees on the basis that the limits were vague, broad and unconstitutional.Mrs. Carey hailed the decision as vindication of her challenge to the Hatch Act in serving as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention.
At the time, Mrs. Carey was employed by the state’s Department of Human Resources Development, which threatened her with “disciplinary action” for her challenge.
Mrs. Carey was president of the Peninsula Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union at the time, and flatly branded the Hatch Act as “a violation of my civil liberties.”
“I think everybody should have an opportunity to express his own views, regardless of where he works. I’m willing to fight for this right,” she said at the time.
“She was an icon here on the Peninsula,” said Ruthie Watts, a Seaside civil rights leader who met Carey in 1960. “She was a woman of class, a woman who demanded and gave respect. Anything she decided to do, she did it well. I had a lot of respect for her.”
Mrs. Carey served as president of the Monterey Business and Professional Women’s Club, president of the Democratic Women’s Club of Monterey, and was a member of the Monterey County Commission on the Status of Women.
She was a member of the League of Women Voters of the Monterey Peninsula, the United Fund, and the YWCA of the Monterey Peninsula. In 1977, she helped organize the National Women’s Political Caucus of Monterey County.
But Mason said she contributed to the health of the local community in ways that were far from the public spotlight.
“I got to know her when I was just 13 because, in those days, we had what we called ‘community mothers,'” Mason said. “She was part of a constellation of women who looked after all of the black children in the community, basically considered them part of their responsibility. So in addition to your own mom at home, you had these community mothers who took care of you.”
“Children and old people have always been my love,” Mrs. Carey told The Herald in 1977.
Mrs. Carey was instrumental in developing a program for black children to become involved in golf on the Peninsula, and was one of the original organizers of the Ebony Seaview Golf Tournament.
She served as president of the Western States Golf Association from 1977 to 1981, and was the recipient of the Northern California Golf Association Grand Master Award (now known as the Distinguished Service Award) in 2005.
She was the recipient of the prestigious USGA Joe Dey award.
Mrs. Carey and her husband, Ralph, who preceded her in death in 1975, never had children. Survivors include her sisters Opal M. Richardson of Wichita, Kan., and Coetta M. Williams of Inglewood; her niece, Betty Sue Scott of Wichita; and her great nieces Soranda Waters of Jacksonville, Fla. and Stefania Arkansas of Shreveport, La.
Mrs. Carey was buried Thursday in Seaside. No local memorial is planned.
Messages for the family can be sent to Soranda Waters, 9920 Gibson Ave., Jacksonville, Fla., 32208, or by calling 904-768-5845.