Even in midst of raising her own family, Mary and Sonny Perdue years ago demonstrated a passion for underprivileged children. After husband Sonny’s ascension to the governorship, Mary turned that personal passion into an exciting unique initiative, The First Lady’s ‘Our Children’s Campaign’.
Thanksgiving week, Georgia’s first lady took the time from her busy schedule to invite “Atlanta Christian Family Magazine” into the Governor’s Mansion. She openly shared her faith with the people of Atlanta.
Mary Perdue is a woman of eloquent class, very charming with facial expressions that could light a dark room. Soft spoken yet certain of her dialogue, she is quite friendly and genuine. Petite in size, and you would never know by looking that she is the proud grandmother of two.
In an hour of open, warm dialogue she talked about a variety of topics: Christian marriage, child rearing, how her own deep faith worked for her through a recent bout with cancer, and how her family has kept focused on the true meaning of Christmas. But, at the outset the conversation turned quickly to her passion: children.
“It is a Scriptural mandate that we help needy children,” Mrs. Perdue offered with obvious sincerity. And, Mrs. Perdue’s ‘Our Children’s Campaign’ isn’t just political window dressing. The initiative is based on the real experience of the Perdues as foster parents. Over the years, even while rearing four children of their own, Mr. and Mrs. Perdue opened their home several times to newborn babies waiting for a family of their own.
Today Mrs. Perdue’s pet project inspires volunteerism across the state—a collaborative effort teaming faith-based organizations, individuals and corporations, all with the goal of addressing the needs of people in their community.
“For many, becoming a foster parent is not feasible. But, being involved as a volunteer is something we can all do,” Mrs. Perdue continued. “I never knew God would allow this tremendous opportunity to be first lady of Georgia. Now, instead of taking in a few foster children, I can work on behalf of all of the foster children in the entire state!” she added with obvious enthusiasm. “This is such an opportunity to be a witness, and with our faith being so much of who we are, we plan to use this opportunity to be a blessing to as many people as we can,” the first lady concluded.
Sonny and Mary Perdue first met on the campus of the University of Georgia. “There was something different about him, he wasn’t like the other college boys. He told me early in our relationship that he believed everything that was in the Bible was true. He was very grounded and that was very attractive to me,” the first lady recalled fondly.
Now married thirty-two years, Mrs. Perdue offered that Georgia’s first couple is as “in love” today as they ever were. She recognizes that often when couples become parents, their children become the focus of the relationship and the marriage inevitably suffers. The first lady was quick to give counsel. “Our marital relationship was always the top priority. Yes, the children were a blessing to us. But Sonny and I kept our relationship as the top priority in our family, never losing sight of our own closeness.”
Realizing the tug between career and family, Mrs. Perdue clearly understands how today’s women can become torn between the workplace and home. After graduating from Georgia, while Sonny was stationed as an officer in the Air Force in Ohio, Mrs. Perdue earned a masters degree from Ohio State University in speech therapy. She then started a career as a speech therapist, working with children at every grade level.
Mary Perdue’s career as a speech pathologist took a back seat, however, when Sonny and she began a family. “My goal was always to be a wife and a mom, and I’m thankful that the Lord allowed me to be both. One of the greatest blessings in my life being was being able to stay home with my children for nineteen years,” Mrs. Perdue recalled.
The Perdue’s four children are adults now, with families of their own. Yet for younger Christian couples, she recognizes that it is difficult to bring up Christian children in the modern world.
“Going to church is certainly an important part of raising Christian children,” Mrs. Perdue acknowledges. “But the most important thing is that your children see that your own faith is important to you every day. It’s easy to put on the ‘church face’ and Sunday clothes, but until your children see that your faith is real every day, and a part of every decision that you make, then faith will not be real to them.” she emphasized.
Maintaining a spiritual focus during the busyness of life can be daunting. Just mastering half of our to do list could be considered success most days. For those who seek God’s voice, taking time to listen can seem next to impossible as life races past at full speed ahead.
However, Mrs. Perdue agrees that being obedient to God’s call is ultimately where you find the peace that surpasses all understanding. And, that stepping out of your comfort zone is often where the greatest blessing awaits. Running for governor certainly qualified for the Perdue’s as stepping outside of their comfort zone.
“For a child of God, the path of obedience is the path of joy and fulfillment and peace,” Mrs. Perdue stated. “What He has for us is so much greater than what we think we want.”
Many Christians refer to “hearing from God”, while others never seem to hear that distinctive voice. For Mrs. Perdue, hearing from God is a discipline. “I hear from God when I am in prayer and spend time—not just pouring out my heart in asking for what I want—but just waiting and listening. Our worlds are so busy that we need to wait on God and rest. It’s also in those times where He knows I’m willing to be obedient.”
But no matter how strong our faith, there are times when even that very foundation is tested. For Mrs. Perdue that test came recently with the dreaded diagnosis of breast cancer. Like many cancer victims, her initial response was that of shock, especially because she did not have the normal risk factors.
Once over the initial shock, Mary Perdue relied on her faith. She sought God and the strength of His power. “And then, I had what I call a drenching peace, probably within the first hour,” she shared movingly. Even though the cancer was a surprise to the first lady, she knew it was no surprise to God and she placed her trust in him.
Now, close to the end of her treatment, Mary Perdue’s health is excellent and she is feeling very well. And, even though she feels strongly about taking the opportunity to remind people to take care of their health and for women to get their routing mammograms, still the first lady’s goal is to remain true to her passion, the children of Georgia.
During the Christmas holidays many Christian families wrestle with how to demonstrate the true meaning of Christmas, when children mostly anticipate Santa’s first appearance and the chance to share their carefully written lists and checking them twice. For those Georgians, Mrs. Perdue offered simple, insightful advice. “We don’t focus on Santa. The most important thing is not to worry about what we are giving or getting, but finding someone to whom we can really minister,” she stated. “Some of our most treasured memories are making shoeboxes for others, filling up gift baskets to share, or giving some of their own gifts with those less fortunate. Its not in getting, its in giving that keeps Christ in Christmas!”
Mrs. Perdue is an obviously refined, articulate woman full of warmth and sincerity. Citizens of Georgia not only have a first lady, but also a real Ambassador for Christ who represents them. From her lofty position, Mary works tirelessly for the needs of others, certain of her call from God to serve others—not because of political ambition, but because it is near to her heart.
To find out more about the Our Children’s Campaign, go to the website at gov.state.ga.us.