Former Florida state CFO Alex Sink is the most successful progeny of an odd and wonderful Asian American pioneer success story set in Mount Airy, North Carolina, a town best known today as home to three famous personalities.
One is Andy Griffith, star of the long-running 1960s namesake TV sitcom (originally broadcast 1960 – 1968). The show’s fictional Mayberry was actually filmed on a studio set and in Franklin Canyon just north of Beverly Hills, but Mt. Airy has aggressively and successfully sold itself as both the inspiration for — and the closest living replica of — Mayberry, to the delight of the show’s many fans.
Mt. Airy’s other two stars — from a century earlier — are Alex Sink’s great grandfather Chang Bunker and great uncle Eng Bunker, the co-joined Siamese Twins who earned fame in the mid-19th century as a successful touring act. Despite their surname — which they gave themselves after settling in Mt. Airy in 1839 — the Bunker twins were descended from Chinese who had migrated to what was then Siam (Thailand today). In 1843 the twins married sisters Adelaide and Sarah Anne Yates over the objections of locals. They are the first Asian Americans known to have settled in North Carolina.
Alex Sink grew up in the house built by Chang and Adelaide Bunker in Mount Airy, North Carolina during the 1860s. (Photo courtesy Alex Sink)
The bit of cartilage that joined Chang and Eng at the sternum made it natural for all four to share one big bed. Ultimately the sisters quarreled, requiring the twins to set up two households and alternate between them every three days. They didn’t know that, even with the limited surgical capabilities of the day, the cartilage could have been severed without risk to either.
Chang and Adelaide had 10 children (Eng and Sarah Anne had 11). Alex Sink’s grandfather — the youngest of 3 sons — inherited their big house. The house was in turn passed down to a daughter who named one of her own daughters Adelaide after her great grandmother. There being three Adelaides in the immediate family, the youngest came to be called Alex.
Adelaide “Alex” Bunker was born June 15, 1948. She majored in math at Wake Forest University. Straight out of college she accompanied her first husband, an oil company executive, to his West Africa posting and spent three years teaching at a girl’s school there. When they returned to North Carolina Sink found a job with NationsBank. A series of promotions led her to the top of the bank’s Florida operations. When NationsBank was acquired by Bank of America, Sink was appointed BOA’s President of Florida Operations.
Sink’s second husband is prominent Florida corporate attorney Bill McBride who defeated former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno for the Democratic party’s nomination for the 2002 governor’s race. McBride lost to incumbent Jeb Bush.
Sink too became active in Florida Democratic politics. She was appointed by former Governor Lawton Chiles to the Commission on Government Accountability to the People and his Commission on Education. She was vice-chair of Florida TaxWatch and served in the Florida Chapter of the Nature Conservancy. Sink won the Democratic nomination for Florida’s office of Chief Financial Officer in 2006. Her 53.5% to 46.5% win over Republican Tom Lee made her the first Democrat elected to the Florida state Cabinet since 1998.
Alex Sink became half of a kind of twin story of her own when she won the Democratic party’s nomination for the 2010 Florida governor’s race. She and McBride remain the only couple ever to have each won their party’s nomination for the same state’s governorship. Sink’s GOP opponent was wealthy businessman Rick Scott who outspent her by a factor over over 10. After a race that remained too close to call, Scott won by a 1% margin in an election cycle when many Democrat candidates were swept aside by a GOP resurgence fed by discontent over the Great Recession.
Goldsea: Please give us a brief rundown of what you’ve been up to since the election.
Alex Sink: Since the election I have been in touch with many supporters, enjoying time over the holidays with my family, and beginning to think about ways I will continue to be involved in the betterment of life in our state.
GS: Tell us something about your parents and what they were like when you were growing up.
AS: I grew up in a farm family. My father was a hardworking farmer and my mother was the homemaker. In addition to being a musician my mother directed choirs and played the organ at church. My parents were both leaders in the community, serving as officers in several organizations like Kiwanis and home demonstration clubs. Next