Meet a Member
Public Service: An Opportunity to Make a Difference
By Krista Rinehart, CSG Toll Fellows Program Director
Ohio Supreme Court Justice Evelyn Stratton has risen through the Ohio judicial systems ranks by staying focused on serving others, not herself.
“Good leaders understand that their role is to serve and not to be served,” said Stratton. “So many people in power believe in their own myth and begin expecting things, favors, immediate abeyance and blind allegiance. I have seen so many leaders become enamored of their own power and importance and who can’t separate themselves from their role. They believe they are now more important than those around them. True leaders understand it is their role, not them, that is important.”
A likely explanation for Stratton’s ability to remain grounded despite her immense personal and professional success is her unusual and simple upbringing. Stratton is the daughter of missionary parents who dedicated 35 years of their lives helping and serving the people of Thailand. Growing up among those who were less fortunate left a mark on Stratton and instilled a deep sense of the importance of serving others, even when it requires personal sacrifice.
“My parents are my biggest role models because of their incredible sacrifice in becoming missionaries,” said Stratton. “They gave up family -- we were only able to return to America every five years, kids -- we were required to attend a mission boarding school from age 6 on, and material possessions. But strangely I never felt deprived or poor as a child because we had so much more than any Thais around us.”
One key to the success and longevity of missionary programs is the teaching component. Unlike many government-led relief efforts, needed supplies and food aren’t just dropped off and handed out. Missionaries live among those they serve and teach them to farm the crops that will feed them and provide needed education that allows advancement. This model of self-empowering service, learned as a child, continues to drive Stratton today.
“The realization that people truly want someone to lead them and help them know what to do,” said Stratton. “So many people really want to make a difference but need someone to tell them how and to help them believe they can make a difference.”
A solid belief that she could make a difference was a driving force in Stratton’s life as she went through college and law school in pursuit of her “calling” to be a judge and has led her to more than a few milestones along the way.
Along her road to a seat on Ohio’s Supreme Court, Stratton became the first female elected judge in Franklin County. In 2008, she was awarded the Ellis Island Medal of Honor, which recognizes citizens from diverse backgrounds that have made outstanding contributions to their communities. Last year, Stratton was recognized as one the nation’s most outstanding public officials when she was selected to the 2010 Toll Fellows class.
Even in the face of so many personal successes and despite a hectic judicial schedule and personal life, Stratton, the mother of two grown sons, never lost sight of the importance of instilling others with the belief that they could make a difference. She has dedicated countless hours mentoring other women so they can blaze trails of their own. As a woman in a field still dominated by men, Stratton thinks such mentorship and training is the key to a future where women are more equally represented in public office.
“Role models and mentors are key,” she said. “We have a program in Ohio established by two women in politics; it is a leadership training institute for women and trains them how to run for office and exposes them to politics. I am always mentoring promising young women and trying to encourage them to know they can do it and can still have a family.”
In many ways, missionaries are mentors, and so it seems only fitting that Stratton now takes her role mentoring a new generation of female leaders so seriously. Indeed, it was family that first instilled her with the desire to serve and with the core values that continue to guide her service.
“My missionary parents always instilled in me the desire to give and to serve,” said Stratton. “Holding a job, even a satisfying one, and just making a good living, never seemed enough. I wanted to do something to make a difference in this world. Public service gives one that opportunity.”