Who's Who of Professional Women


Dedicated and hardworking, Sylvia S. Kerckhoff was thrilled to make history as the first female mayor of Durham, N.C. The post wasn’t initially part of her life plan, but it ended up being the highlight of a long and fruitful career. She was previously a high school teacher, through which she garnered experience obtaining and presenting facts and getting her way, and a member of the city council for 12 years, through which she garnered experience figuring out what was asked for and what was needed. She was also a long-time board member and vice president of the League of Women Voters of Orange-Durham-Chatham and the League of Women Voters of North Carolina, to whom she attributes her political success. The board was the reason Ms. Kerckoff was elected to city council in the first place, and they backed her for mayor and helped her plan her campaigns. She ended up serving two terms, and retired in 1999.

Ms. Kerckhoff prepared for her career by earning a Master of Arts in Technology from Duke University in 1960 and a Bachelor of Science from the University of Wisconsin in 1950. As a testament to her success, she was presented with a Community Leadership in Arts Award from the Durham Arts Council in 1991, a service award from the Women’s Commission of Durham County in 1993, and a leadership award from the School of Medicine at Duke University in 1995. Notably, she was inducted into the DeVilbiss High School Hall of Fame in 1998 and earned a Civic Award from the Durham Chamber of Commerce in 2015. She detailed her experiences in her book, “How I Became Mayor: Cracking the Glass Ceiling.”

In five years, Ms. Kerckhoff plans to enjoy her retirement and pursue hobbies like reading, tennis, music, hiking, and traveling.


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