While Burgaw Mayor Olivia Dawson may have officially started her mayoral career in 2021, her passion to serve Burgaw took root years earlier.
From waiting tables in Burgaw at 16, to creating the Blueberry Scholarship Pageant in 2014, a number of roads in Dawson’s life converged into a life of public service.
She became the town’s first female mayor in November 2021, bumping out an incumbent with 52 percent of the vote. After a career as a certified medical assistant, Dawson fell in love with the business administration side of her work. She considered a life in public service with Pender County Tourism when realizing she could marry her love for her community, and the administration world she excelled in. From there she dreamed even bigger, considering a campaign for mayor.
Dawson has held integral positions in the community, serving with Burgaw’s Tourism Group and on the Blueberry Festival Committee. She is currently the Parent Teacher Organization President for C.F. Pope Elementary and a local Rotary Club board member.
In 2014, she brought a new staple to the town’s annual North Carolina Blueberry Festival — a scholarship pageant that helps teach young girls how to be comfortable center-stage while honing their leadership skills.
“Through a series of interviews and showcases, the girls learn to show off their talents, while growing in poise and confidence,” Dawson said.
While Burgaw natives like Dawson remember the great changes in Burgaw (she recalls the train ending its stops in town in the 1980s and town banks closing their doors on Saturdays in the 1990s) some things have remained steadfast.
“The small-town and community feel are still just the same,” she said.
From her childhood, teen and into her adult years, Dawson witnessed Burgaw persevere through challenges and hold onto its warm, communal charm.
The U.S. Census Bureau shows Burgaw experienced more than a 10 percent jump in growth since 2010.
Moving forward, Dawson believes the future of her beloved town belongs to both business owners and the youth who constantly inspire her.
In the next 10 years she envisions Burgaw fully revitalized, downtown businesses thriving and a stronger relationship between business owners and committee councils.
“Together by staying connected and communicating with one another, anything can be possible for Burgaw,” she said.