Jan Tankersley will be staying home in Brooklet with her husband Hughie and their one cat and 12 chickens instead of heading to the Georgia General Assembly next week, thus concluding a 27-year, groundbreaking career of elected public service at state, county and municipal levels.
While retiring after 12 years as a state representative, Tankersley continues to express concern for issues she has taken to heart, such as the bureaucratic hurdles certain adoptive parents face, care for people with mental illness and a shortage of nurses. On the latter issue she has recently taken action on her own by endowing scholarships.
Before being elected to the state House in 2010, Tankersley had served 10 years on the Bulloch County Board of Commissioners. In 2000, she became the first woman elected to that board, and in her last two years as a commissioner served as 2009-2010 president of the Association County Commissioners of Georgia, or ACCG.
But her elected career began with five years on Brooklet City Council. The way she tells it, at each stage, friends or officials who saw her as a worthy successor urged a reluctant Jan Tankersley to take the next step in seeking an office.
‘A different light’
The first to successfully do so was former Brooklet Mayor Joe Aldrich, who was still a council member when he urged Tankersley to run for the seat he was vacating in his bid for mayor. She had worked with Aldrich and his wife, Gloria, as a volunteer helping to grow the Brooklet Peanut Festival, serving as its publicity chair.
“I said, no, no, I’ve never wanted to be a politician, ever. …,” Tankersley recalled. “But the clencher was, Joe, our friend, said to me, it’s not being so much of a politician. He said, you should think of it as what you’re already doing. He said, it’s simply an extension of your community service. And so that put it in a different light for me.”
Similarly, when had just started her second term on Brooklet’s council when Bird Hodges, a county commissioner at the time, told her he needed to spend more time in his business as a funeral director and he thought she should run for the seat instead. “And he said it’s long past time that we have a female serving on this board,” she recalled.
This was part of the conversation when Jan and Hughie Tankersley sat down on the back porch of their home this week with a reporter and a photographer. Both Bulloch County natives, the Tankersleys were high school sweethearts. They graduated from Statesboro High in 1966 and were married that same year, also the year he was drafted during the Vietnam War. They lived at Fort Benning for most of his two years in the Army, but his civilian careers soon allowed them to return to Bulloch County.
An at-home mother for some years, she became an accredited medical records technician and served more than 12 years as director of aftercare at Willingway, the Statesboro-based addiction hospital.
They became Brooklet residents about 30 years ago when they bought the more than century-old house where they still reside.
When then-Rep. Bob Lane sought to retire from the District 158 seat in 2010, he encouraged her to run to take his place. She won, becoming the first woman to represent the district.
Redistricting following the 2010 census placed Brooklet in District 160, which she has represented since the second of her six two-year terms.
About three years into Tankersley’s tenure – early for a chairmanship – House Speaker David Ralston asked her to chair the Intergovernmental Coordination Committee, handling local legislation affecting specific cities and counties. In ordinary years, bills regarding things such as local hotel-motel taxes come before this committee.
But the committee takes on added importance once each decade, during redistricting. The 2022 session brought the redrawing of voting district lines based on the 2020 census. With districting plans for school boards, county commissions and city councils channeled through it, Tankersley’s committee handled 305 out of the total 428 bills that passed through the House and became law this year.
“Some legislators say, ‘It’s not a money-making committee,’ in other words you’re not going to have lobbyists knocking on your door to give you money because they don’t really care about all these local places, right?” Tankersley said. “But after redistricting, it mattered a lot to everybody.”
“One of the most surprising, most rewarding things that I accomplished during the entire 12 years, though, was I had two families that wanted to adopt these children that they were related to, and one of the families, they live in my district,” Tankersley said. “The other family actually lived in Richmond Hill, in Rep. Ron Stephens’ district.”
Beginning near three yeas ago, she has tried to assist one family in her district with completing the adoption of a niece from Texas whose birth parents had drug addiction problems and at times were in prison. The would-be adoptive father is the little girl’s uncle, the adoptive mother is a teacher in a Christian school. They have three children of their own, including two now in college.
“I wanted to get her here so badly in time for her (next) birthday, and I worked really hard with the people in Texas, and then there was an ice storm in Texas and it delayed the trip,” Tankersley said.
The girl was 3 when she became involved. The parents had to go through all the steps such as home inspections and health checkups to become foster parents, but the little girl has now turned 6 without the adoption becoming final.
Meanwhile, with the permission of Stephens, R-164th District, she assisted the Richmond Hill couple in an adoption of three children, more distant relatives from a similar situation in Florida, that has recently become final.
Tankersley said she is glad to see that state First Lady Marty Kemp an Gov. Brian Kemp have taken an interest in this issue in general.
“The governor’s wife and the governor, they’ve been concerned about the foster children finding forever homes, permanent homes, and streamlining that process, and that was the most frustrating thing, all the hoops they have to jump through,” Tankersley said.
During her final session, Tankersley voted for passage of the Mental Health Parity Act, which became law, but she says it was only a beginning. The COVID-19 pandemic caused disruptions in the lives of children and adults that contributed to needs for better treatment and accommodations, she said.
“There’s a long way to go on that. … I think it was a broad-brush stroke and now you’ve got to get down to the nuts and bolts of how the population that has those particular needs are going to be best served.”
One issue on which she has recently taken direct action is Georgia’s shortage of nurses. Tankersley has directed $80,000 of her unspent campaign funds to endowing nursing scholarships at Ogeechee Technical College and Georgia Southern University.
The $30,000 contribution to Ogeechee Tech created the college’s first fully endowed nursing scholarship. Georgia Southern received a $50,000 endowment.
Her daughter Donna is a registered nurse, her granddaughter Megan is a pre-nursing major at the University of West Georgia, and her grandson’s wife Olivia is a registered nurse with Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, she noted.
“Their service has inspired me to support this critical need in our state,” Tankersley said.
The Tankersleys also have a son, Russell, and three grandchildren, Tyler, Megan and Landon.
After Jan Tankersley announced her retirement earlier this year, Lehman Franklin III, also a Republican, was the only candidate to seek the District 160 seat. He is slated to be sworn in when the session convenes Jan. 9.
Tankersley’s birthday will be a few days later. She’ll be 75.
“That’s why I woke up one day last session and I said, I’m 74, and you know we’ve got family that we’d like to go visit. … We’d like to travel a little bit, and Landon, our grandson and his mom live at Warner Robins, and he’s a good little ball player, and I think their first game is in February.”
Hughie Tankersley acknowledges that he’s proud of what his wife has accomplished, but he supported her decision to retire.
He told her, “I’m ready for you to come home,” he said. “It was an empty house for three months out of the year and then on the telephone every night, this one calling wanting it this way, and somebody calling wanting it the other way.”
They noted a special sign on their back porch that states, “Life is now in session.”