Last updated: July 18. 2013 11:25PM - 548 Views
Cris Ritchie

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Editor’s note: Some information for this story was provided by WSGS radio in Hazard.

HAZARD – Elizabeth Duncan , the first woman elected to public office in the city of Hazard, passed away early Thursday morning at the age of 86.

Duncan was a 1944 graduate of Hazard High School, and went on to play a significant role in the history of her native Hazard. Along with her husband Joe and his partner Howard Smith, she owned and operated Hazard Rexall Drug on Main Street for many years. By 1969, she entered the local political arena and threw her hat in the ring for a seat on the city commission.

Not only did Duncan win a seat in city government, she received the second highest vote total out of seven candidates during her first attempt at public office. The Herald carried the story on its front page on Nov. 4, 1969.

“The city of Hazard will have a woman on the city council for what is perhaps the first time in city history,” the paper reported.

Less than two months later, Duncan was sworn in to office and participated in her first meeting. Her first vote as commissioner was recorded in the affirmative to name fellow Commissioner Jack West as the city’s mayor pro-tem, a position for which she would also be named during her career in public office.

Hazard Mayor Nan Gorman, who in 2010 became the first woman elected mayor of Hazard, called Mrs. Duncan a good friend and also noted the friendship their fathers shared. She spoke on Thursday of Mrs. Duncan’s contributions to the city, calling her death a “real loss” for Hazard.

“We’re all very sad about it,” Mayor Gorman said. “She was the first woman in politics (in Hazard) to take a stand, and she was in it for so many years.”

Duncan spoke about her time as a city commissioner during a past interview with WSGS radio in Hazard.

“I always stood up for what I thought was right, whether it was agreeable with other commission members or not,” she said. “I never did try to buck the mayor, but I didn’t rubber stamp everything that he wanted, either.”

Duncan served as a city commissioner from 1970 to 1996, when she lost a bid for re-election, but not before she served during a long period of growth in the city. She was commissioner during the expansion of the Hazard ARH and the transformation of Jacklot Hollow into the Black Gold Shopping Center.

She was born Elizabeth Snyder, the daughter of the late Hazard physician, Dr. Dana Snyder and Georgia Sewell Snyder. She attended Center College for a year where she studied as an organ major, and later enrolled at the University of Kentucky to study elementary education, returning home to Hazard upon graduation. During the late 1940s, she was a regular on WKIC radio in Hazard and performed a live musical program from her house every Sunday morning at 9 a.m.

Elizabeth married Joe Duncan in 1953, a union from which two sons were born, Bruce and Dana Joe Duncan. She was a member of Hazard First Baptist Church where she also served as the church’s organist. She was named woman of the year during the chamber’s annual Civic Night in 1974.

She was preceded in death by her husband, Joe Duncan, who passed away Oct. 5, 2012 at the age of 85. In addition to her sons, she is survived by a host of family and friends.

Funeral arrangements are being handled by Maggard Mountain View Chapel of Hazard, where the visitation will be held from 5 to 8 p.m. on Sunday, April 14. Funeral services will begin at 10 a.m. on Monday, April 15 with Rev. Ron Sholar and Father Mike Chowning officiating. Burial will follow in the Mill Springs National Cemetery in Nancy, Ky.

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