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The Power of Edna

There have been two times in my life when I have met a female, had a very rocky start to our relationship and, against all odds, they became so special to me. So much so, that when they died I wasn’t really prepared for how much I would miss them; that I would feel such a huge void. My mother-in-law was one and Edna Keys-Chavis was the other. Edna hired me as her deputy city clerk at the City of Richmond. At that time, former Gov. Douglas Wilder had been elected Mayor of Richmond. When I heard Governor Wilder was coming to Richmond, I sent in my resume to the HR department and said I wanted to be a part of the new team. I didn’t apply to the clerk’s office and honestly, didn’t know what they did. I probably was one of the very few people who never watched a televised city council meeting and never followed Richmond politics. I didn’t hear from Mayor Wilder’s office but did receive a call from City Clerk Edna Keys-Chavis. Edna talked to me a bit on the phone about my work experience and then asked me to come in the next day. When we met, I was impressed with her professional, no nonsense manner. Throughout the meeting she seemed genuinely interested in my goals and thoughts on joining local government after having been employed with state government for most of my career.

I can’t remember, but I think it was either my first or second day on the job that Edna told me to get my purse we were going to a meeting. She didn’t tell me where we were going, and I didn’t ask. Turns out we were going to a meeting for that year’s recipients of the YWCA’s Outstanding Women award. Edna was selected. There were cameras around and lots of people asking questions. She handled it all with such aplomb. As a new employee, I was impressed. I was even more impressed when we got into the car and she shared specifics about rebuilding her life after an abusive relationship and how, after her parents died, she and her six siblings were raised by her uncle and aunt, along with their children. I have never been particularly impressed with people who have been raised with all the advantages doing well. I am happy for them but also think to myself, you should be where you are with your background and your extensive support system. I’m not a hater, that’s just how I think. But folks like Edna, well that is someone’s life story I can relate to and learn from. Edna’s life story shows grit and sheer determination to not only survive but to thrive.

Edna pushed me hard. I pushed back but later grew to admire her commitment to never cutting corners, to approaching every task with a desire to execute it well. I grew under her tutelage. She was confident in her own skills and was that rare breed of professional who wasn’t threatened by others. Edna genuinely cared about people. When people outside the office learned what department I worked in, sometimes they would say, I don’t think I could work for her. I heard she is tough. They were right. She was tough, but fair. She was tough but cared enough to send you home if she knew things were happening in your personal life which were more important than what was happening in the office. She was tough but would celebrate your victories and accomplishments like they were her own. What she taught me covered not only office rules but the winning rules of her remarkable life. One time (without my knowledge) she scheduled an investment counselor to come into the office to meet with me after I earned a hefty raise. When Edna and the investment counselor were finished, I not only didn’t see any of that raise, but my regular take-home pay amount was reduced! Edna openly talked to me about her investments and her strategy to retire early. I listened, and I learned.

What I hope I have conveyed through this blog is what an exceptional woman Edna was. She loved people, loved life and made me strive to not only know better, but to do better. For that, I will always be thankful.

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