Hope Harbor Home Shelter Manager Beverly Pigott, now in her 70s, never wants to retire from helping women and children.
Beverly Pigott isn’t sure when her position evolved from nighttime shelter crisis intervention to shelter manager at Hope Harbor Home. She does remember answering the newspaper ad that ran 30 years ago for someone to answer the phone from 8 pm until 2 am at the agency in Brunswick County that assists victims of domestic abuse.
“I had domestic violence [in my marriage], but that didn’t bring me here,” she says from the sunny front room at the shelter. “A job did.”
Pigott interlaces her fingers with their manicured nails and tilts her head slightly to the right. This subtle movement accentuates her gentle smile and draws eyes to her large loop earrings. She waits to give answers, never rushing, as if she has to digest the questions first.
“I endured every kind of abuse you can think of,”she says about her 10-year marriage. “I went through hell with him, but I survived it.”
She says she has seen thousands of women come through the shelter, each with individual issues. “Some tell me, ‘I’m going back home because I can’t take care of these children. I need his support.’ I tell them, ‘You don’t have to do that. This I know because I did it.’”
Pigott helps the women adjust to communal living in the four-bedroom, two-bath shelter. She’s intuitive about their problems and is able to counsel them on a myriad of topics, including hygiene. She says that one lady never combed her hair or cleaned up before coming to breakfast. Another brushed her teeth in the kitchen sink. Another told her that people weren’t sociable. She makes suggestions to get the women to think about how they act and how they can change.
Lynn Carlson, executive director of Hope Harbor Home, says that clients often compliment Pigott on being a good listener. “She is incredibly perceptive about people and situations,” she says, adding that clients say Pigott has helped them break free of violent relationships.
“If you have an issue, she has a story to relate to it,” says Jessie Holden, children’s advocate at Hope Harbor Home, says. “She’ll tell you like it is. She’s a wealth of knowledge. There’s nothing I can’t ask her.”
Pigott grew up in Bolivia, the youngest of five. Her parents farmed tobacco, peanuts and vegetables, but she wasn’t interested in the family business. “Farming just never was my cup of tea,” she says. She wanted to be a lawyer. “I always saw them as being majestic. They are the people that can get things done.”
That dream evaporated when she fell in love. She turned 18, graduated from Brunswick County Training School in Southport and married. Three children and 10 years later, the marriage ended. “He didn’t want to be married anymore, so I said, ‘Get a divorce,’” she says.
By that time the couple had been to the courthouse a half-dozen times. “I broke his hand one time,” Pigott says. “I told the judge whatever it took to defend myself, this is what I’m going to do.”
She explains that everyone knows she’s a fighter. “When I was younger, it was physical. I had fights at school.” She held grudges and was hostile, but “hate is a burden,” she says. “You can’t go around hating people and distrusting people. You have to be able to move on.” She prayed to change and forgive others, including her ex-husband. “It took about five years,” she says. “It seemed like one day the sky brightened.”
After the divorce, her ex-husband paid alimony and child support, but Pigott knew the time would come when she’d have to support herself. She heard about a job as a custodian at South Brunswick High School. “I said, ‘I can do that.’” She applied and got the job the same day. Her mother assisted with child care, so Pigott felt confident working.
Now, more than 40 years later, her son Johnny, 55, has three children, is married to Heather and is a psychology technician at Fort Bragg. Her daughter, Michelle, 50, is married to Wayne Gay and is a school resource officer in Polk County. Her son Sebastian, 45, is married to Tanja, has one son and works at Sunny Point.
In her free time, Pigott walks the beach, either at Oak Island or at Atlantic Beach in South Carolina. She loves to read and her favorite book is the Bible. Although not a musician, she listens to Michael Jackson, Quincey Jones, Aretha Franklin, Smokey Robinson and others. Despite her roots in farming, she doesn’t garden. “As long as the Jolly Green Giant and Libby’s and all those people are hanging out on the shelves, that’s my garden,” she says.
Pigott retired from the SBHS custodial job in 2004, but stayed on at Hope Harbor Home as the only shelter manager the agency has ever had. She says over the years the morale has remained positive at the shelter, and the physical appearance was updated, including the addition of a chain-link fence and locked gate for security purposes.
“We haven’t had any excitement like people trying to get in who don’t belong and abusers tracking us down,” she says and credits law enforcement. “In the past [the shelter] was new to them, but now they have training,” she says.
Pigott says she will stay at Hope Harbor Home forever. “I can’t see myself not being able to come here. I’d be lost,” she says.
Pigott thought about retiring about 10 years ago, when she was 64. “But I said then, ‘Why would I want to do that? I like what I do. It’s not hard. I like the people, and I always feel like there’s something I can do. There’s something I can say to somebody that maybe will lead them in a different direction.’”
Do You Need Help?
Abuse can take many different forms including physical harm, threats and intimidation, emotional abuse and financial withholding and control. If you are suffering from abuse, please get help by calling the Hope Harbor Home 24-Hour Crisis Hotline: (910) 754-5856 or visit hopeharborhome.org.
Photography by Brent Galant