By Rev. Donald L. Perryman, Ph.D.
The Truth Contributor
Closer to my dreams, I’m getting’ higher, closer to my dreams. I’m getting higher and higher. – Goapele
She is the daughter of notable parents. Her late father, Jack, was a towering figure and leader in the Ohio House of Representatives, Toledo City Council and the Democratic Party. He also made history as Toledo’s first African American mayor. Claudia, her mother, is a quiet but strong and efficient professional who was a well-regarded Assistant Prosecutor in the Lucas County Prosecutor’s office before retiring.
While growing up with successful parents can be both blessing and a curse, Jessica Ford has nurtured a long-held dream to emerge from her parents’ shadow and forge her own path to success.
Described by her superiors as a “luminary leader who endears trust,” Ford currently serves as the Lucas County Administrator, responsible for running the County’s day-to-day operations and implementing the priorities set by the elected three-member Board of Commissioners.
I spoke with Jessica Ford to discuss her unique personal and career journey.
Perryman: Let’s talk about your life’s journey.
Ford: I went to elementary at St. Mary’s. Then, in the sixth grade, my mom moved to Perrysburg, so I went to Fort Meigs Elementary and then Perrysburg Jr. High and Perrysburg High School. Then I went to undergrad at the University of Michigan and, from there, I started my family.
Perryman: How about your career path?
Ford: I was fortunate to start my career working at the State of Ohio for the State Treasurer Kevin Boyce. Then I came to work for Commissioner Wozniak as her executive assistant. I then worked under Mr. [Phil] Copeland as his chief deputy for a couple of years when he became the county recorder.
Then after working for Phil for a couple of years, I returned to the commissioner’s office and was a project manager. From there, I was promoted to senior project manager and then deputy county administrator, and then now county administrator.
Perryman: Describe growing up under the veil of accomplished, almost larger-than-life parents.
Ford: My dad was a trailblazer in many of the public positions he held. I remember that being a big deal when he became the minority leader in the Ohio Legislature.
Perryman: Yes, it was.
Ford: At that point, I was in junior high and realized that, wow, this is pretty important stuff. Growing up in politics, that’s all I ever knew, so when I was younger, Dad had all these meetings with all these people I didn’t know. I was always in the back or on the side of his leg, asking when we would go home or promise you’ll take me to get some ice cream. It wasn’t until I got older and he was at more of the tail end of his career that I started to appreciate what he was doing.
Perryman: How do you think his path impacted you?
Ford: One of the things my dad and my mom taught me was the importance of the work. It’s not just about collecting a paycheck but making real change and impact in everyday folks’ lives, so I saw that in all respects. Then, as I said, as I was starting to get older, going to community events or meetings and hearing about the needs or the challenges that people face, it began to resonate that when you’re in public service, you can take part in that change, helping people have a voice.
Perryman: How are you similar and different from your dad?
Ford: I am very much like my dad because I don’t like to be the center of attention. I want to be behind the scenes in the work that I do. With that comes not bragging, talking, or being boisterous about what you do. My dad had a very keen sense of humor and liked to laugh, poke fun and be a little bit of a jokester and a prankster, and I enjoyed that.
Another thing about my dad is that his family was very important to him; his children and his wife. I follow in the same manner. My kids are my everything. So, everything I do is for them and, ultimately, to be a good role model.
Perryman: What are the differences and similarities you share with your mom?
Ford: My mom is very strong and independent and raised me as such. My parents were divorced when I was very young, so I had the pleasure of being a part of a blended family. My primary residence was always with my mom. She always raised me to be strong and independent, not rely on anybody for anything, and that’s where I’m most like her.
That was challenging for my dad because especially being a father to girls, you want to be able to care for and provide for your girls, which was sometimes a struggle. So, it was like, ‘No, Dad. I don’t need you. I got that.’ Especially as I got older and was starting to pave my own way in government and politics, He was my dad, but that’s where things ended in that respect.
Perryman: Can you elaborate on the struggle with your dad and your need to not be perceived that you were just being handed things?
Ford: It comes with the territory of being the child of a politician and an elected official. [People] think ‘she’s where she’s at because of her dad or she got that job because of her dad.’ My dad helped me get one job in my life, and that was an internship when I was in college. From there, everything I’ve done has been on my own.
That was challenging for my dad because there were times that he wanted to either, in his mind, help me out or try to utilize relationships he had, and it wasn’t like that. I did things on my own, independently built the relationships, and had the skillsets I needed. That’s how I got my career, which was challenging for him too. We never had that conversation before he passed away, but that was probably difficult for him.
Perryman: You’ve been described by those who have worked with you as a luminary, a giant in the field, and a person of unusual importance. Talk about what you do as the county administrator.
Ford: Wow, those are some pretty meaningful words, and I’m really taken aback. I take my role very seriously, but knowing that people view me like that is really meaningful. There are multiple facets to my position here. Still, I think the two prominent roles are to help the commissioners carry out the priorities and policy initiatives they set as chief elected officials. Second, the commissioners have various departments that they are directly responsible for, and they involve county government. I oversee the operations of those departments in conjunction with directors and other critical staff. Hence, I lead that team as well.
Perryman: Let me go back to parental influences just a minute.
Perryman: Did your parents expose you to your multicultural background while growing up?
Ford: Yes, of course, and both of them did equally. I was and continue to be very connected to both sides of my family. Some weekends I would spend Saturdays going to a Catholic church for a catechism class. But then Sunday, we would be in the black church or multiple black churches, depending if it was election season. I have always had a strong awareness of all the cultures that make me who I am. I never really had a question about who I was.
Perryman: So, you never had questions about your identity?
Ford: I never really did, and that is important to me now. I have two light-skinned daughters that I raise with my husband, who is darker-skinned, and we’re operating in that same fashion. They know who they are and what their culture is and have access to it. So, it’s important for us to understand the backgrounds and the history that makes them who they are.
Perryman: How did growing up in Perrysburg impact you?
Ford: Until sixth grade, I grew up on Birckhead Place, off Cherry St., next to Central Catholic. It was not a great neighborhood. My mom was not making a lot of money at the time, so I got to see both worlds.
Going into Perrysburg, I had an appreciation for the other side, as folks would say. It wasn’t until I went to Perrysburg that I started experiencing racism. My hair was different from some of my friends and classmates, which was a challenge. But, because I had access and was exposed to all facets of what made me who I was, there were tough days, but it equipped me to be able to deal with it and to be able to move forward.
Perryman: When did you realize you wanted to get into public administration?
Ford: In college, I had two internships in county government – one with the clerk of courts, Bernie Quilter, and then auditor, Anita Lopez. From there, it set the path forward and made me feel like I was at home here in Lucas County. In addition, I saw two different county government operations, both dealing with the public. So, I took some of the lessons I learned about public service from my parents and then put that into the real world for me. Also, I had the opportunity to work for the Treasurer of State, who gave me my first real job in this career. He impacted my life and career path, and I’m grateful for him. It grew from there.
Perryman: What do you like doing in your spare time?
Ford: My job is demanding, but my two kids are very demanding. So, their competitive sports activities are my number one hobby. The second hobby I share with my husband is traveling and having new experiences; we try to find time to do that. I’m a foodie, too. I like good food.
Perryman: What would you be up to now without your early exposure to politics?
Ford: That’s a good question. I have a little affinity for beauty, hair, makeup, and even fashion. By no means do I think I’m a fashionista, but as I’ve gotten older, I have a greater awareness. Lately, I’ve been saying I wish I would’ve gone to beauty school, whether it was doing hair or makeup. That would be really fun or interesting, which is the opposite of government and politics. I don’t know if it’s because I’m a girl mom and Olivia’s always wanting to try something different, and I’m like, ‘Okay, I think I can do that. Let’s figure that out.’
Perryman: What kind of legacy do you want to leave?
Ford: My father left a deep legacy, and I’m honored and blessed to be able to carry that on in some respects. But, while it’s important to do that, I want to create my own legacy because I’m my own person.
Undoubtedly, he helped mold me into who I am today. Still, especially as a woman, a known woman, a young woman of color in government and politics, you don’t see that enough. So, it’s more important for me to be a young woman and set this path. Then, when I think about my two children, my two girls, they can say, ‘Wow, mom did it. I can do it.’
Even if it’s not in government or politics, it’s just driving home that message of girl power and women, and young women can do it too. So that’s what I want my legacy to be.
Perryman: Finally, what is your favorite song, and what would be a good theme song for your life?
Ford: Closer by Goapele is both my favorite song and theme song.
Contact Rev. Donald Perryman, PhD, at firstname.lastname@example.org