Robeson County says Happy Retirement to a Public Safety Icon

Author: Justin J. Graney - NCEM Chief of External Affairs

Justin J. Graney, Chief of External Affairs and Communications, North Carolina Emergency Management presents the Director's Award to Stephanie Chavis

On Tuesday, June 18, 2024, around 150 people packed into the Robeson County Emergency Operations Center (EOC) to say Happy Retirement to a Southeastern North Carolina Public Safety Icon. Robeson County Emergency Management Director and Fire Marshal Stephanie Chavis is concluding a 35-year career in public safety and the wider community showed up in force for the send-off. There were stories, tears, and lots of laughter. In 1988, Stephanie was hired as the county’s Fire Marshal. The county manager at that time asked her if she was sure that she was ready for such a commitment, as the position required her to be on-call 24/7. For 35 years, Stephanie has been on call, investigating hundreds of fires and providing emergency management coordination for countless large-scale incidents.

When Hurricane Matthew and Hurricane Florence struck Robeson County with winds, rain, and flooding, Stephanie and her team spent days with little or no sleep in the EOC coordinating resources to meet the needs of the community. “I don’t know how they did what they did during these hurricanes for our county,” said a Robeson County Fire Chief to the audience. “There is no one but Stephanie and her team that could have accomplished what they did for us.” Stephanie’s daughter recalled watching her mother leave home at all hours of the day and night to respond to calls. “I was so proud to see my mom on fire scenes and helping the community. My father would take us out to watch her investigating a fire and I had a sticker on my first truck that said Fire Marshal’s Daughter,” she recalled. “Once you become my friend, you become part of my family,” Stephanie said during her retirement speech through tears. “It’s never been about the money. It has always been about helping family to me.”

Leading a county’s response efforts for over 35 years is no easy task, but it is a responsibility that Stephanie took on through good times, bad times, victories, and losses, no matter who needed her help. Throughout the party, there was a common theme, selfless service and love. “I wouldn’t be where I am today without Stephanie,” said Assistant Emergency Management Director Justin Hunt. Hunt went on to explain that as a volunteer firefighter working for the county’s water department, he wanted to join the Fire Marshal’s Office. “I would get off work at the water department at 3 pm and go to the EOC until 5:30 pm every day and study with Stephanie for my inspector certification. She would let me borrow her books to study on the weekends.” That investment in an eager firefighter turned into a 12-year partnership, where you would rarely see one without the other. In yet another example of the selfless person Stephanie embodies, Administrative Assistant Brandy Oxendine said that when she was involved in a car accident, Stephanie gave her one of her personal vehicles to use. “She gave me a truck to use and if I needed gas money, I have no doubt she would have given it to me also,” said Oxendine.

As the gathering neared its end, Stephanie was presented with the North Carolina Emergency Management Director’s Award from Director Will Ray for her service. The award reads:

Director’s Award 
In Recognition of 
Stephanie Chavis 

In recognition of over 35 years of dedicated service to Robeson County and to the State of North Carolina; for steadfast leadership through multiple emergencies and disasters, including Hurricane Matthew and Hurricane Florence, for dedication to the people of Robeson County and North Carolina, and for dedicated excellence in public safety and emergency management.

Presented this 18th day of June, Two Thousand Twenty-Four

While there are no words to fully embody who Stephanie is as a public safety professional and person, it is fair to say that Stephanie is the best of North Carolina, and she will be missed. Happy Retirement!