Jo Ann Davidson, at 86, still facing the future

[news from the Columbus Dispatch]

Joe Hallett
December 12, 2013

[Jo Ann Davidson serves as a Senior Fellow to the Voinovich School and holds an Honorary degree from Ohio University.]

As its first chairwoman, Jo Ann Davidson built the Ohio Casino Control Commission from scratch, shepherding the rules, regulations and oversight staff necessary to ensure that the four Ohio casinos approved by voters in 2009 operate above board.

Davidson had opposed the casino ballot initiative, but when Gov. John Kasich asked her to set up and direct the commission, she attacked the challenge.

"It's been a good learning experience," Davidson said.

Learning experience implies she gained knowledge to use in the future. She is 86 years old.

With an attitude that defines optimism, Davidson is too busy and has too many jobs to dwell on the past. Tomorrow, and the next day and the next are her focus.

"I don't have any plans to retire. The good Lord will take care of that when the time comes. I'v e been very blessed with a high degree of energy."

Retire, no. Pause, yes — as she did last night so several hundred friends and admirers, including the three most recent Republican governors, could gather in the Statehouse Atrium for the unveiling of her official portrait to be hung in the Women's Gallery.

Calling her "iconic," Kasich told the audience, "Jo Ann has gotten into people's DNA. She's given women a sense of what they can do."

Kasich was joined by former Govs. George V. Voinovich and Bob Taft.

Voinovich, also a former U.S. senator, said, "History will record that no woman in Ohio history has accomplished what Jo Ann Davidson has."

Painted by Toledo artist Leslie Adams, the portrait captures Davidson in the chamber of the Ohio House of Representatives, where she served from 1980 to 2001. She is Ohio's only female House speaker, serving for six years beginning in 1995.

"Obviously, being speaker was one of the highlights of my political career," Davidson said in an interview before the event. "Life is about relationships. So many people just don't realize that, but that's what it's all about. So you hope the relationships you build and the friends you have made mean people thought you've been helpful to them."

From parochial venues, such as the Reynoldsburg PTA and City Council, to the speakership, to the highest ranks of partisan politics as former co-chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, Davidson has wrapped her own life around making the lives of others successful.

"There is not one organization that she's a member of that she hasn't immediately — not by declaration but by acclamation — become a leader, because she knows how to get things done, she knows how to include people, she knows how to assess the doable versus the not doable, and she treats people with respect," said Betty D. Montgomery, former Ohio attorney general and auditor, and a close friend.

Even at her age, Davidson works tirelessly — for a small number of lobbying clients; for the GOP officeholders and candidates she mentors and supports as a member of the RNC and the Ohio Republican Party Central Committee; for the taxpayers, on numerous public commissions; and for students, as a former member of the Ohio State University Board of Trustees and a current member of the boards of Franklin University and the University of Findlay.

"Jo Ann is somebody whose approval I seek and whose judgment I trust because she doesn't gloss over anything," Kasich said. "She's sort of like a teacher that I've always wanted to please — maybe not so much please but to get her acceptance."

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