by Camisha L. Jones
When she was growing up on the north side of Richmond, Tammy D. Hawley would have never imagined that someday she would become Chief of Staff to Congressman Kwesi Mfume, Chief Operating Officer of the NAACP, and Executive General Manager of the Afro-American Newspapers Company. A picture of Hawley with Nelson Mandela hangs on her office wall. It is another reminder of how her life has been a surprising journey lending her national credibility and opportunities to be in the company of great leaders. Reflecting on her life’s accomplishments, she says, “You could never have told me these things would happen to me. I didn’t plan them.” Today, Hawley is the Press Secretary to Richmond’s Mayor.
Her career began simply enough. She had strong office skills and she thought she would find better job opportunities in Washington DC. So, after graduating from Virginia Commonwealth University she moved there to live with her aunt. By the end of two weeks of searching, she had two job offers. Both of them were administrative in nature. One of them was on Capitol Hill. Hawley had no preference. Her aunt, however, encouraged her to take the one on the Hill so she accepted the position of legislative aide to Congressman William L. Clay.
“I’m just so grateful [my aunt] had the insight to tell me to go to Capitol Hill because it opened up a whole other world to me,” reflects Hawley. She grew up in a family whose concern for politics she describes simply: “We didn’t pay any attention to it.” She remembers how they responded to presidential interruptions of regularly scheduled television programs by complaining, “Dern! The President is interrupting Andy Griffith, interrupting the soap opera!” The political process meant nothing to her growing up.
As a legislative aide on Capitol Hill, Hawley began to understand and care about the issues. A pivotal moment occurred after she became legislative aide to Congressman Parren J. Mitchell. Mitchell was speaking on the House floor about the state of hunger and the people whose lives would be impacted if school lunch funding was cut. As she listened to his passionate arguments, Hawley remembered the school lunch tickets she had when she was younger and how her family had stopped receiving them.
“[Congressman Mitchell’s speech] had such an impact on me. I’ve never forgotten it,” says Hawley. “As a younger person not understanding the political realm, I didn’t know why we weren’t getting school lunch tickets anymore. I just knew that we weren’t and I knew it was something we needed.” Not having those tickets added an extra burden on her mother who was widowed and raising four children alone. Listening to Mitchell’s words that day taught Hawley the connection between politics and the quality of people’s lives.
“After that,” she says, “there was just no stopping me.” The seriousness of her role became clear to her. Knowing that she had the opportunity to make a positive impact on people’s lives energized her in ways that catapulted her career. She believes her success has much to do with her work ethic which she describes this way: “I care about my work. I’m not doing my work today as a strategy for something I want tomorrow. I’m doing my best with what’s right in front of me to do. And that’s what I’ve always done and it yields results. It makes things line up in your favor often because you’re coming from a place of authenticity.”
Things have lined up amazingly for Hawley. While on Capitol Hill, she was Chief of Staff for nine years to Congressman Kwesi Mfume who became Chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus. When Mfume took on the role of President and CEO of the NAACP, he appointed Hawley as Chief Operating Officer. After two years, Hawley left the NAACP to start her own consulting company, The Hawley Group. The NAACP was one of its many national clients.
Hawley’s work providing leadership to political and advocacy groups got the attention of a newly elected Mayor Dwight C. Jones when he was searching for a Press Secretary in 2009. He knew she understood the political process from her years working on Capitol Hill and that she had keen instincts regarding press relations from serving in the chief of staff role throughout her career. Hawley accepted the position and is part of the Mayor’s leadership team that advises him on city business.
“My job is really about getting the right message out there and making sure that people understand exactly what’s going on with their city government,” says Hawley. She further asserts that “If we have a situation where less than the truth is being put out there then I am extremely motivated and will double my efforts to help get the proper information out…Politics is always going to have dissenting views and we don’t mind differences of opinion but you want the truth out there and the facts out there.” So, every week Hawley and her team works to ensure that the public is properly informed by answering press calls, approving documents and publications, writing speeches, capturing photographs and video, providing programming for the city’s cable channel and updating the city’s website.
Hawley is happy to tell the story of the progress the city is making and believes in Richmond’s vast potential yet to be realized. “I’m really excited about being back in Richmond and am excited about all that is going on for the city.” If our city’s future is anything like Hawley’s life path, we are in for some wonderful surprises.