Judith Tucker’s relationship with Mayor Teresa Tomlinson blossomed well before their plunge into politics.
After retiring from Synovus Financial Corp. in 2007, Tucker joined the board of Midtown Inc., where Tomlinson served as executive director. The two immediately hit it off, and Tomlinson hired Tucker as MidTown’s director of community affairs. Together they built the organization’s business membership from 24 to 100 members.
So it didn’t come as a surprise when Tomlinson tapped Tucker to be her executive assistant after her first election in 2010.
“If you had to say just one thing about Judy, it’s that you can trust Judy, and that’s so invaluable,” Tomlinson said Thursday in an interview. “And so when we went from the community-building aspect of Midtown Inc. into politics, I couldn’t think of a better quality that you need when you enter the political realm than someone you can trust and who has that type of character that you know you can count on day-in and day-out.”
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Now, more than seven years later, Tucker is retiring from her position at the Mayor’s office. Her last day will be Sept. 29, just days after her 66th birthday. Tucker will be the last of the mayor’s original staff to leave. Others included Josina Pittman Greene, the mayor’s former calendar clerk and public information officer, and Lacey Morrison, who served as receptionist and administrative assistant. Tucker’s retirement comes four months before the mayor’s last year in office.
The mayor has hired a new executive assistant, Alexis Thompson, who started last week, Tomlinson said. She is a recent graduate of Albany State University.
Tucker said it’s been a privilege working for Tomlinson, whom she described as a tireless public servant who has what it takes to serve in higher office. But it’s just time for her to move on so she can spend more time with her 94-year-old mother, as well as her son and 12-year-old grandson. She also owns a bow tie business to which she hopes to dedicate more time.
“It’s a good time for me to step away and go and do some of the things that are always looming but I don’t have time to devote to,” she said. “... I’m of that age, just turned 66, and I can do it.”
Tomlinson said Tucker has been a tremendous asset to the Mayor’s Office and she will be greatly missed.
“First of all, Judy is one of those ‘never met a stranger’ kind of people, and that’s really hard,” she said. “Just her long-time knowledge, her relationships with people in the community, you can’t train somebody to do that. That’s something that’s built over decades of civic involvement, community involvement. And so, that will be a big hole that’s left in the office.
“I have such a great staff and we are a tight-knit unit, a little small professional office family, if you will,” she added. “But it’s going to be a little lonely there on the right flank. She’s just always been there.”
Tomlinson said Tucker’s greatest legacy as executive assistant to the mayor is the city’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day event, which has become a community-wide celebration.
“We talked about it and had a vision of wanting to broaden Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a celebration for people from different generations; certainly reverence for the past but also a celebration of that legacy and the future,” she said. “Judy really took that and ran with, and so that will be her legacy. That MLK event has changed the way younger generations think of the celebration from a civic aspect.”
Tucker said she plans to continue helping with the event, and the mayor said she has no doubt. Tomlinson said Tucker always will be a part of her family, both professionally and personally.
“We’ve been a dynamic duo for a long, long time — 11 years, something like that,” she said. “.... One of the reasons I’m in slight denial of Judy being gone is that I know that she’s going to be a phone call away; she’s just part of my life and (my husband) Trip’s life.” she said. “Even though she won’t have an office hours presence, she’s going to be present.”
Tucker served as vice president of product development at Synovus and marketing officer at Columbus Bank and Trust Co. before working for MidTown. She attended Spelman College in Atlanta and received a bachelor’s degree in general business from Columbus College.
Tucker said she believes Tomlinson has done great things for the city. The mayor started by tackling problems at the Muscogee County Prison, where there were many complaints, she said. She hired a new prison warden and set reforms in motion.
“I’ve always heard people say, ‘Start things the way you want to end them. If you intend to be strong on issues, you have to start off that way. And if you’re weak when you begin, you’re going to be taken advantage of or taken for granted,’” she said. “ ... And so, I think that she started out strong, and took stances that others might not have as quickly. She sort of set the stage for what her administration would be like.”
The mayor functions at a hectic pace that can be overwhelming at times, she said.
“I know during the first term, she would have about 40 engagements of some sort every week, it was just unbelievable,” she said. “There were meetings, meetings all day. And then in the evenings there were things that she needed to go to. ... I think she does it with such grace. She’s always fresh and she always looks like she stepped out of a magazine, nothing’s wrinkled. I don’t know how she does it. It’s just the most amazing thing to me.”
The mayor’s actions have not been always popular, she said, and she had some losses along the way — the defeat of the “Thaw the Freeze” initiative being a prime example.
“That had to be disappointing,” said Tucker. “What people don’t realize is that you don’t get the taxes in, you don’t get the revenues in, you don’t have all the money to spend that you might want for Public Works or different things that you might want to see throughout the city.”
She believes Tomlinson tries to do what’s right, even when she knows it won’t be popular.
“From what I see, the bar has been set at a certain level, and the shoes will be tough to fill,” she said of the mayor’s tenure. “... There have been deliberate efforts to bring people to the table around issues that concern them and issues that concern the city.”
Tucker has had her share of political bruises, too. In 2014, during the mayor’s second bid for office, she asked for a sign belonging to the mayor’s opponent, Colin Martin, while at a local business. Tucker said she planned to use it for a practical joke on the mayor. But a Martin supporter saw her leave with it, and soon she was accused of sinister motives.
Martin called it a “dirty trick” on Facebook, and Tucker apologized. The mayor suspended her for a couple of days because of the incident.
Tucker said she was mortified by the political backlash on social media. But she never resented the mayor for her decision.
“People around me were much more upset about the punishment than I was,” she said. “I trusted her on that.”