Kay Ivey, Lieutenant Governor of Alabama
Story by Kelly Caldwell, Spring 2014
While Alabama Lt. Governor Kay Ivey is the highest ranking female in state office, don't call her a politician.
"I am just a regular Alabamian that believes in working hard, tithing, saving, not spending more than you have and helping other people the best you can," she said.
She came from humble beginnings, growing up in rural Camden, Alabama where parents instilled in their children the importance of hard work, saving their money and doing good.
"It really was our upbringing," she said. "Help folks make things better than how you found them."
In 1960s rural Alabama, there were not a tremendous amount of opportunities for women, but Ivey was given one that changed her life in numerous ways.
"I was involved in band and Future Homemakers of America which were great, but Girls State really taught me a great deal."
American Legion Auxiliary Girls State, according to its website, is a nonpartisan program that teaches young women responsible citizenship and love for God and Country.
" I had the opportunity to go to Alabama Girls State at Huntingdon College," she said. "I had never really been out of Camden much less to something like that. Hell, I didn't have a store bought dress until I was in 11th grade, my mama made all my clothes."
Girls State is a week long program where young people learn first-hand how their state and local governments work. Elections are ran, bills are debated and legislation is passed.
"I thought everyone would fun for governor, so I decided to run for lieutenant governor," Ivey said. "I had little Dixie cups planted with ivy and I put those out in everyone's room... Ivey for Lt. Governor.
"Well, I won the dang thing. It was an eye opening experience because I didn't know anyone. Girls State taught me how to meet people, the importance of eye contact and which side to wear your name tag."
It was definitely her first successful campaign and maybe even foreshadowed what was to come for Ivey, but most importantly the experience led her to meet some of the most influential women of her life, other than family of course.
"Ms. Lillian Andrews (director of Alabama Girls State at the time) taught us how to say the pledge properly and I have been teaching it to anyone who would listen ever since," Ivey said.
"President Reagan once said 'Freedom is never more than one generation away from vanishing.' It is so important to teach our young people the freedoms we have so they learn to cherish the ideals of liberty. No one guarantees happiness, a job or money. It is the pursuit of those things that we must protect."
After Girls State and Girls Nation, Ivey attended Auburn University where she had two goals.
"I wanted to graduate with a B average and play in the Auburn University Marching Band," Ivey said. "I achieved both but then I started looking at my priorities and focused more on student government and helping my fellow students."
Campaigns and elections came into Ivey's life once again and during her four years at Auburn, she ran and won five campus-wide campaigns, a record that still stands today.
"Every life experience you build on it, you don't realize it at the time, but that is what happens," she said. "You have to participate in that which surrounds you.
Ivey continued to participate in all that surrounded her as a teacher and banker before beginning her political career.
"My first teaching job out of college was at Rio Linda High School in Sacramento Calif." she said. "I created the first forensic and debate team there and we made it to the state finals that first year."
As a banker, Ivey became the first woman to be President of Alabama Young Bankers Association, which was when Girls State intervened in her life yet again.
"Mary George Waite (Former Girls State Director and Chairperson) was the first female to head the state banking association and she appointed me Chairman of the Education Committee," Ivey said.
"Girls State and the women involved opened doors for me which is why I try to open doors for young people now," Ivey said. "It's my way of paying it forward."
Ivey was the director of Girls State for four years and returns each June not only to speak to the young people but to also catch up with dear friends.
Another strong Southern woman, that impacted Ivey's life was Ruth Stovall, the first woman appointed Assistant State Director of Vocational Education for the Alabama Department of Education.
"I admired her a lot," Ivey said. "Legislators loved to see her coming down the hall because she always had the best cakes. She taught me to never let a man make a decision on an empty stomach."
Ivey ran for state auditor in 1982 and while it was unsuccessful, she did get a valuable piece of advice.
" Mary George was the first woman to do this or that and the mayor of her hometown, Ed Yarbrough, gave me some great advice when I was running for state auditor," Ivey said. "He told me... Kay don't talk about being the first woman to do this or that because no one really cares.
"Earn your way by the work you do. Tote your own water and stand your own ground. You will be respected," she said. "I have done a lot of "first woman" to do this or that, but that's not really as important as getting the job done."
Ivey has held a state office since 2003 when she became the first Republican State Treasurer since Reconstruction and is currently finishing her first term as lieutenant governor.
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