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Inspired by Robert F. Kennedy nearly 50 years ago, University of La Verne Adjunct Professor Terry Ford was presented the 2013 Earl Warren Outstanding Public Service Award.
A conversation with none other than Robert F. Kennedy changed Senior Adjunct Professor Dr. Terrell E. Ford’s life forever by directing him into public service.
“He talked to me about the importance of government and public services,” said Ford, who teaches in the Department of Public and Health Administration in the University of La Verne’s College of Business & Public Management. “Racial discrimination, poverty, and poor healthcare for the majority of the nation’s under-privileged were some or the major topics at the time. I changed my major to political science, and later to public administration, and started working for the County of Los Angeles to improve the things that he spoke to me about.”
Ford took Kennedy’s words to heart, and, after nearly a half-century of serving the public interest locally, he has been selected as a recipient of the 2013 Earl Warren Outstanding Public Service Award.
The award, named after the former United States Supreme Court Chief Justice and Governor of California, is presented to a civic leader who has made an outstanding, sustained contribution to good government in the Southern California area, according to the American Society for Public Administration. The organization has also honored local philanthropist Eli Broad, former Los Angeles County Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke, and Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez with the award.
When Ford began his college career, he was set on majoring in architecture, mostly for the money and success associated with the profession, because he grew up poor. But that all changed in 1968 when he met Bobby Kennedy during his campaign for president. It was a meeting that forever changed Ford’s life.
Ford says there is not a day that passes that he does not think of one of Kennedy’s most famous quotes — one that has guided Ford’s personal and career mission for 45 years.
“He said, ‘Some people see things as they are and ask why; I see things as they could be and ask why not,’” said Ford, who said he was greatly humbled to be included with other recipients. “Public service is important to me because it not only provides the core infrastructure needs of society but creates opportunities for public administrators to design, implement, and improve programs that add value to the lives of ordinary people and help build strong communities.
“When I review my career accomplishments, I am pleased with the work I have done and the contributions I have made to improve public services. That has been the only recognition I have ever needed or wanted.”
Public service work can be difficult and underappreciated, but Ford attributes his success to an ability to stay focused on his passion: striving to provide excellent public service.
“I think that by working to improve the efficiency, effectiveness, and quality of public services not only makes these services more valuable to everyday users, but raises the appreciation of the public service in general,” he said.
Ford says he loves teaching at La Verne and a big reason is the way the core values align with how he envisions his role in public service.
“The University’s La Verne Experience cites four principal strategic areas of focus for our academic outcomes: Learning Communities, Theory to Practice, Integral Learning and Reflection, and Community Engagement —and all four are heavily integrated into the practice of public administration and the contributions of public service,” Ford said. “I received my doctorate in public administration here at the University of La Verne and the overarching feeling I have is that I am proud to be able to demonstrate the value of public service in Southern California.”
Ford says his work has changed his life in ways that go beyond awards and recognition. He looks for the opportunities for learning outside of a classroom and beyond, including:
— Development of learning organizations to provide more efficient and higher quality public services
— Integrating practical theory into practice and evaluating the benefits of classroom theory to community practice
— Reflecting on the needs and values within the diverse communities served by the University
— Uniting academic learning and non-academic learning in a holistic and productive way
“Being able to do this on a daily basis creates the love I have for teaching and leading the development and implementation of exceptional public policies and programs,” he said.