Ellen Pitt, an advocate with Mothers Against Drunk Driving, had shown up for what she thought was a regular meeting of the Haywood County DWI task force until N.C. Sen. Jim Davis, R-Franklin, took the podium and began reading a biography of Pitt’s work before the roomful of two dozen law enforcement officers.
“Ellen Pitt is unforgettable, one of North Carolina’s tireless ambassadors for a cause she wishes did not exist. Her passion is palpable, and her commitment unflagging,” Davis said.
As the MADD representative for a 17-county area in Western North Carolina, Pitt’s biggest calling is lending support and assistance to the victims of DWI wrecks.
“She shepherds desperate, hurting people through the judicial process,” Davis said.
Pitt’s first brush with MADD was 20 years ago when her own son was struggling with substance abuse. She feared for the safety of her grandchild as a passenger in the vehicle of a habitual DWI offender, and turned to MADD for help.
“She cried when the person on the other end of the line said, ‘Stay on the line. We’re going to help you bring that child to safety.’ They did, and now Pitt makes that same promise to other desperate callers,” Davis said.
Pitt also plays the role of lobbyist, working to close loopholes in DUI laws, pass laws mandating tougher sentences, and demand more resources for DWI enforcement and prosecution.
“She is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to holding perpetrators, police, prosecutors, judges and legislators accountable,” Davis said. “She keeps detailed statistics on hundreds of cases, following them through months and years of court proceedings.”
Pitt is comfortable with her reputation as a courtroom watchdog, because it’s the taxpayers like her who fund the law enforcement agencies and legal system.
“All these people in the system are employed by me and I have expectations for them as an employer that the system will work and do what it is supposed to,” Pitt said.
Pitt’s been behind several DWI law changes: upping the penalty for a DWI with a child in the car, expanding the prior record window from seven to 10 years for habitual offenders and addressing a backlog in the state crime lab that was causing long delays in blood alcohol test results.
Most phenomenal is that Pitt is a volunteer, although she dedicates herself to her work with MADD with the zest of a seven-figure CEO.
“I do what I do, but I guess sometimes I don’t even realize how much time I put into it,” Pitt said. “A lot of times I think I am going to try to ease out of it, and that’s when someone calls me at 2 o’clock in the morning and tells me someone has been hit. When they ask me for help, I can’t not do it. I don’t want anyone to go through the system blindly or feel like they have no power.”
Pitt is a part-time nurse but works only weekend shifts so she can be in court with victims during the week throughout her 17-county region of MADD.
Davis said Pitt is an amazing lady whose advocacy work has made a real difference across the state.
“The front page every week is filled with bad news,” Davis said. “People who do great things in the background like Ellen Pitt don’t get the recognition they deserve.”
“She has worked so hard at DWI awareness and helped literally hundreds of families in Western North Carolina. We certainly congratulate her and are proud of her,” Haywood Sheriff Greg Christopher added.