When it comes to women in county government, Helen Walker has more than four decades of experience to draw from. Now retired, the former Victoria County judge has some sage advice to offer fellow female officials:
“Love Your Work.”
“You GO, Girls!”
Walker is one who practices what she preaches, and when it comes to “You GO,” she WENT.
Helen Walker became Victoria County’s chief deputy county treasurer in 1956. When the county treasurer died, Walker was appointed to the office in 1973 and then won an election bid in 1974. She was active in the County Treasurers Association, serving as president in 1982. Walker held the Victoria County treasurer’s post until the end of 1990, during which time she was named the country’s Outstanding County Treasurer.
The next order of business was the county judge’s seat. Walker and her husband, W.C. (known as “Dub”), who was undergoing cancer treatment at the time, ran her campaign. Walker was pitted her against the mayor of Victoria, a city that housed 75 percent of the people in Victoria County. She won with 63 percent of the vote and was sworn in as county judge on Jan. 1, 1991. She went on to win against a retired judge advocate general (JAG) officer in the general election with 61 percent of the vote.
Walker was re-elected without opposition in 1994 and 1998; she retired at the end of 2002. During that time, Walker was an officer of the County Judges and Commissioners Association of Texas (CJCAT), serving as president in 1997.
During her tenure with Victoria County, Walker tackled tough projects, including workforce development, employee benefits, crime prevention, at-risk youth and computerization. She labeled the restoration of the 1892 courthouse, a project completed with locally raised funds, as “my personal favorite and most gratifying accomplishment.” Other highlights included bringing the county to financial stability following the oil bust and expanding the jail to meet state standards.
Walker was president of the Alliance for I-69 Texas, a membership-based organization created in 1994 to promote the development of I-69. She also was co-chair of the Texas Counties Storm Water Coalition, which represented 115 counties and dealt with the Environmental Protection Agency’s storm water regulations.
Walker was the first woman to serve as her county’s judge and treasurer, and the second woman to lead the CJCAT.
“I was respected, I believe, for my service, rather than for my gender,” Walker said. Still, she enjoyed the way her male counterparts treated her, especially when traveling to conferences, one of her duties as an officer with the CJCAT.
“County judges and commissioners are, without a doubt, the truest and nicest gentlemen,” she said. “I am certainly a women’s activist, but I retain that love of being treated like a lady, and I always was.”
This same sentiment was true at home. Being the lone female on the commissioners court, Walker appreciated the protective nature of her fellow officials.
“Throughout my tenure, even when we disagreed, ‘my guys,’ as I called them, were some of the best commissioners around. We worked hard, and we respected each other. I always felt treated as an equal.”
Walker felt the natural tension between raising a family and working outside the home, something she and Dub, who died five weeks after Walker was sworn in as county judge, discussed ahead of time. The couple decided that after-work hours would be dedicated to the children.
“Consequently, sometimes the clothes didn’t get folded or the dishes washed immediately, so that our children could have our full attention during the early evening,” Walker said.
After her husband of 35 years passed away, Walker said her job as county judge and the challenges it presented “kept me going.” Dub “truly wanted me to do a good job as county judge, and he let me know that.”
Two key factors helped Walker do her job well and juggle life’s other demands. First, was her family: Dub; her son, Randy (deceased); her daughter, Vicki Walker Hardage; and her two grandchildren, Kody Hardage, 20, third-year architectural student at the University of Texas at San Antonio, and Jamie Clara Walker, 10, student at Juan Linn Magnet School in Victoria.
“Their support throughout my career was crucial,” she said.
The second factor was her love for her work. This enjoyment was enriched by the friendships Walker made and nurtured throughout the years, relationships she continues to cherish.
She remembers one time, in particular, when a group of women judges and commissioners attending a conference left to grab lunch, friends including Maxine Darst, Betty Armstrong, Penny Redington and Josephine Miller.
“By the time we got back, we got lots of questions about what we’d been doing! I think some of the guys were a little concerned that we were conspiring about something,” Walker remembered fondly. “So keep ‘em guessing, ladies!”
Jeff Davis County Commissioner Diane Lacy
When it comes to ?”The Adventures Of Senbar Duke,” author Diane Lacy likes to keep her young readers guessing. The ongoing saga of a young colt’s adventures growing up on a ranch is published one chapter at a time in “Conservation Roundup,” a newsletter edited by Lacy and distributed free to students. The publication, featuring articles about ranch life and land and wildlife management, is an education project of the Davis Mountains Trans-Pecos Heritage Association.
Lacy, serving her first term as county commissioner, also is an award-winning freelance western artist and photographer, whose drawings and photos have been published in newspapers, magazines, and on book covers.
Her western photography won first place at the Annual Texas Ranch Roundup in Wichita Falls in 1996, the People’s Choice Award two years in a row in 1997 and 1998 at the American Photography Exhibition, and two Honorable Mentions in 1999.
Lacy’s work is displayed in private, corporate and permanent museum collections across the country and internationally. Most of her photos originate at the Kokernot o6 Ranch, established by her husband’s family generations ago, which still operates in the great traditional sense, using a large remuda of horses and cowboys. Lacy works cattle with some sixteen cowboys who eat from the chuck wagon and sleep in teepee tents during a typical roundup, which lasts a month in the spring and a month in the fall.
Lacy’s love of natural beauty – evidenced by her drawings and photos – helped lead her to public service so that she could play a role in preserving the area’s cultural heritage.
“My vision for Jeff Davis County is that it will maintain its personality, culture and heritage, community values, and quality of life, especially since there are those who are moving to this region and want to change it to be like where they previously lived,” Lacy said.
She is no stranger to county government, considering her husband’s grandfather, Herbert Kokernot Jr., served as Jeff Davis County commissioner for 67 consecutive years, and her husband, Chris, served for 12 years.
“We ranch in Jeff Davis and Brewster counties,” Lacy said, “and we care very much about private property rights, ranching heritage, and the natural and cultural elements that make this region unique.”
Lacy brings valuable leadership experience to the court, as past president of the Davis Mountains Trans-Pecos Heritage Association, a grass-roots, non-profit organization formed to protect and preserve private property rights and cultural heritage without environmental (non-governmental organizations) or government intervention.
Her leadership roles have taught her to “make decisions according to ‘business, not personal,’ and patiently consider different points of view.” Elected officials should “strive for a high standard of ethics, public trust, fiduciary responsibility and to inspire teamwork,” she said.
The Jeff Davis County Commissioners Court functions as a team, Lacy said, describing co-workers as “a respectful, dedicated court and team of elected county officials and employees who are willing to make sacrifices in order to serve.”
Jeff Davis County is a sparsely populated rural community with a relatively low tax base, Lacy said. Some of the county’s biggest challenges include unfunded mandates, regulations, and tax-exempt state and federal properties in the county, which make it more difficult to provide the means to fund necessary services.
“It is important to stay on track,” Lacy said, “to make the best use of your time, and to prioritize according to what is in the best interests of the county as a whole.”
By Julie Anderson