I have a feeling the second Pete Jenkins got to the Pearly Gates, he started handing out “Troy, Ohio USA” pins.
Late Wednesday evening, the City of Troy lost one of its greatest leaders, ambassadors, advocates, cheerleaders and a true local icon when the Honorable Peter Jenkins, former mayor, passed away after a lengthy illness. Jenkins was all of those things and more; however, most would say he was a friend.
Mayor Pete never met a stranger. And if he did, he was quick to give them one of the aforementioned “Troy, Ohio USA” pins he kept in his pockets by the dozens and ordered by the thousands, shake their hand and greet them with a genuine warmth that most politicians could only hope to replicate. When he and his lovely wife, Ruth, graced us with their presence at my wedding and reception, he was handing out those plastic pins to all of my college friends, none of whom were from Troy. They thought he was the coolest mayor they had ever met. They were right.
To him, everyone was much more than a vote in November. He never forgot a name or face and he took a genuine interest in everyone’s life. He was their friend.
He was my friend.
My first encounter with Mayor Jenkins came when I was in elementary school. His daughter, Julia, played soccer alongside my older sister, Julie, on the Troy High School soccer team. I was in attendance at one of their games on a Saturday afternoon for a game at Alter High School. The Knights had a rather raucous fan in the stands who was known to vociferously root on his beloved team the entire game.
Nobody, and I mean nobody, loved his children, his school or his community more than Mayor Jenkins — whom, I believe, was Councilman Jenkins at the time. Not to be outdone, Mayor Pete stood up and gave a “T-R-O-Y!” cheer for all to hear. Throughout the game, there were dueling cheers between Jenkins and the Alter fan. He would continue to do that cheer throughout his political career, often ending the city council meeting that preceded the Troy-Piqua football game by making the walls of city hall shake with his unfettered love for his community.
Needless to say, I liked Mayor Pete immediately.
I would get to know Mayor Pete much better when I began my career here at the Troy Daily News 22 years ago. Every fall, he would ask me to be on his “Mayor’s Report” show on public access television to discuss the upcoming high school sports season. He was a frequent visitor to our newsroom, where he would sometimes spend hours regaling us with tales of a life lived in full. We would always hear him coming before we saw him, his booming laugh coming around the corner several seconds before he did.
When I became an editor here at the paper, he pulled me aside and gave me the best piece of leadership advice I’ve ever received.
“David,” he said. “If you are going to be a leader, you need to remember one thing. Always be fair, firm and consistent. If you can do that, you’ll have everyone’s respect. They may not always like you, but they’ll always respect you.”
I know there have been times in which I’ve fallen short of that high standard Mayor Pete set. He, on the other hand, did not.
I know this because I was blessed to spend a day with him, watching him do his job. Many years ago, after weeks of needling him on his visits to the newsroom about how I would do things if I was the mayor of Troy — Mayor Pete had an incredible sense of humor and the ability to never take himself too seriously — he looked right at me one day and said, “Well, if you think you could do better, why don’t you be mayor for a day and find out?”
And that’s exactly what happened. For one day, Mayor Pete appointed me the mayor of Troy. He told me I had better be at his office at 8 a.m. sharp and I had better be wearing a tie. To this day, Mayor Pete is one of the few people ever to get me to wear a tie to work.
I honestly still thought he was mostly kidding about the day and would spend my time hanging around his office, sending out fake proclamations.
That’s when I learned that when it came to being mayor, Peter Jenkins didn’t fool around.
I spent the next eight hours on a whirlwind tour of Troy, visiting the water plant, the waste treatment plant, Troy High School, the police department and the fire department. At every stop, not only did the people there know Pete, but he knew them. He knew their names. He knew their family members’ names. If they were going through a rough patch in their life, he asked how they were doing and if he could help. From the most important person in town to the least, Mayor Pete knew who they were and what he could do to help them.
He was fair, firm and consistent, which may be one of his greatest lasting legacies.
My heart is breaking right now. Mayor Pete was a dear friend whom I loved dearly. He was a good man. He was a kind man. He was the leader this community needed and deserved. Rest in peace, Mr. Mayor.
Your legacy will live forever.
Contact David Fong at email@example.com; follow him on Twitter @thefong