ALBANY — Those who know Albany Mayor Dorothy Hubbard only from her resume might logically assume as they watch her fill her day with any number of meetings and special appearances that she forged her work ethic at Albany State College and the University of Georgia or even during her 30 years of work in Albany State’s registrar’s office.
Those who know Hubbard’s background, though, the friends who grew up with her in Cordele and Americus, know of the young girl whose parents had little formal education, saw how Hubbard and her siblings planted and gathered crops on the family’s small farm to sell at the local farmers market. They know of a young woman who had no money for college but inspired a small-town teacher to help her get a loan that would open that door for her.
From those humble beginnings, Hubbard has spent a lifetime fulfilling the promise she made to Ellaville teacher Willie Pearl Fuse Wilborn after Wilborn helped her secure a $500 loan to attend Albany State.
“Mrs. Willie Pearl took me over to the bank in Ellaville, where she knew the president,” Hubbard said. “When we left with the $500 check, I kept thanking her, asking what I could do to pay her back. She said, ‘First, be sure and pay that money back to the bank. And then help someone else along the way.’”
Hubbard has more than made good on her promise to Wilborn. In the registrar’s office at Albany State, where she worked her way up from assistant director of admissions to registrar to vice president for academic affairs to assistant to the university president, she took a special interest in every student from Americus or Cordele who came to the historically black college, many — like her — with parents who could offer little help in a college setting that was as foreign to them as another country.
“I saw so many people (at Albany State) who had an attitude of ‘I’ve got mine, you get yours,’” Hubbard said. “I never understood that. I felt that it was my job to help the students, and I made a point of looking out for them, especially the ones who came from Cordele or Americus. That was my way of keeping that promise I made to Mrs. Wilborn.”
As an appointed and then duly elected Albany City Commissioner and as mayor, Hubbard has brought the same enthusiasm and work ethic to positions that have allowed her to, essentially, pay forward the kindnesses shown to her.
“Mayor Hubbard shows really great leadership; she has a calming effect on both the City Commission and the utilities board,” said interim City Manager Tom Berry, who works closely with Hubbard. “Mrs. Hubbard is one of the best I’ve ever seen at asking questions, at finding what she needs to know about an issue.
“If you know anything about her background, you see that she has a great deal of character. And there’s not a better cheerleader for the city of Albany. She has great vision, she sees what the future can be here.”
Hubbard was born in Americus, but her father, Will Brown, who worked with the railroad, was transferred and moved his family to Cordele when she was 4.
“I was born in Americus, but I got my foundation in life — my religious training and my work ethic — in Cordele,” Hubbard said.
Neither Will Brown nor his wife, Marguerite, had attended school past the sixth grade, but they taught their children values that weren’t available at any institution of learning.
“We had a small, 5-acre farm that daddy tended with a mule and a plow,” Hubbard said. “He taught me and my two youngest siblings (there were three older children in the family as well) how to grow vegetables. He never could teach my brother how to plow, but he taught us how to grow and gather vegetables. He taught us about hard work.
“He also taught us that if we wanted to sell our crops at the farmers market to have money for school clothes, we had to get up early and get set up before anyone else. He also taught me another valuable lesson: I vowed to myself that I was not going to do that for a living.”
Will Brown died when Dorothy was in the ninth grade, so Marguerite moved the family back to Americus. When Dorothy graduated Sumter High School (with honors), she sought work that she hoped would allow her to save enough money for a college education. A short while later she met Wilborn.
“When I told her I didn’t have enough money for college, she told me she’d help me get the money,” Hubbard said. “We went to the bank in Americus, but they weren’t making personal loans. Mrs. Willie Pearl said she knew the bank president in Ellaville, so we drove there. We got there early, before the bank opened, so no one could tell us the president was too busy to see us, and after we talked with him he said he was so impressed he made the loan.”
Hubbard used that money, and additional funds she got through a work-study job Wilborn helped her secure, to graduate Albany State with a degree in Business Education. She was ready to start looking for a job, but Helen Mays in the Albany State registrar’s office convinced her to continue work toward a master’s degree.
Mays contacted Betty Sewell at the University of Georgia, and Sewell was so impressed with Hubbard she got her a job as a resident assistant on the university campus.
“Those two ladies (Mays and Sewell) were so important to my life,” Hubbard said. “One was white and one was black, but they were among the few women (working in academia during that time), so they formed a bond. When Ms. Mays sent a letter to Ms. Sewell recommending me, Ms. Sewell got me the job immediately. It was difficult then in Athens. I was in a pretty much all-white environment, and I was married by this time with a child.”
Things went so well at UGA — Hubbard was paid for her work and provided free living quarters — she didn’t even have to use the $1,500 she’d borrowed from a Sylvester bank to pay for her time at the university.
After Hubbard finished requirements for her master’s degree, she and husband Robert considered a move to Florida, where he had a job at the Kennedy Space Center. But before they could make that decision, Robert was laid off and quickly landed a position at the Firestone plant in Albany. Hubbard went to work at Albany State. She retired in 1999 to become an investment representative and “make a whole lot of money.”
With more time on her hands, Hubbard decided to make what she initially assumed would be her only foray into politics. She signed on to run for the Dougehrty County School Board, not knowing that her good friend Willie Weaver planned to run for the same vacant post.
“I wouldn’t have run had I known Judge Weaver was going to run, I would have supported him,” Hubbard said. “As it turned out, God had other plans for me. I do believe, though, that I would have been a good School Board member.”
Hubbard did not win the election, and her financial planning career was pushed to the side when her brother’s wife was diagnosed with cancer. Hubbard spent weeks at a time, alternating with other relatives, in Atlanta helping care for her sister-in-law while her brother moved the couple to Atlanta from San Francisco.
While she had no plans to become actively involved in politics, Hubbard did attend commission meetings to offer her take on issues that impacted her family and her neighbors. While at home cooking one evening, she got a call that would once again change her life.
“I answer the phone, and the voice on the other end says, ‘This is Sonny Perdue,’” Hubbard laughs. “I thought it was a joke. This person said, ‘I’m having to look at some issues in your city — in your ward — and I might have to replace Mr. (then-City Commissioner Henry) Mathis (who was facing charges of extortion). There are some people in Albany who know your work and have recommended you as a replacement.’
“I still wasn’t sure this wasn’t some kind of joke, especially when he started telling me all about the things I was doing in the community, like serving on the Girls Inc. board. It finally sunk in that this really was the governor, and told him I’d think about his offer. I called my husband and told him what had happened, and he said, ‘You don’t tell the governor that. You tell him yes.’”
The next day Hubbard called Perdue and told him she’d take the position on the City Commission. She served a month before legal maneuvering by Mathis forced her to vacate the office for a period. A month later, she was back in office. Four months after that, with the Ward II seat up for re-election, Hubbard ran for a full term and won. Four years later she won a second term when she ran unopposed.
Two years into that second term, then-Mayor Willie Adams told Hubbard he wanted her to run for the office he was planning to leave.
“I told Dr. Adams I planned to leave when he did,” Hubbard said. “But he insisted I should run. I’m a Christian, so I asked God to help me decide what path was right for me. I told God, ‘I’m not a public speaker, I can’t raise money, I don’t like raising sand, and I don’t like controversy.’ But one night God told me, ‘You can’t do all that, but I can. You do what I say to do, and I’ll take care of you.’”
Hubbard defeated current Ward III Commissioner B.J. Fletcher in a mayoral runoff three years ago and has served during a tumultuous time in the city’s history. She cast the deciding vote to bring Berry on as interim city manager mere days after Berry had resigned from his interim position as general manager of the city’s Water, Gas & Light Commission, publicly calling out four City Commission members by name in an angry resignation announcement.
She also weathered the storm of controversy that surrounded the ultimate resignation of City Manager James Taylor after many in the public expressed outrage at Taylor’s awarding a $20,000 bonus to a city employee.
“That situation was horrible,” Hubbard said. “Instead of listening to what Mr. Taylor was saying, there were many who were ready to convict and crucify him without any evidence. Sadly, I’d talked with Mr. Taylor and all of the commissioners individually, and they all assured me they supported Mr. Taylor. Then, after it became such a controversy, some of them turned on him.
“Still, we were fortunate to have a man like Mr. Berry — a man who Mr. Taylor liked and respected — available to come in at such a volatile time. I know there were some ill feelings at the time, but I talked with each of the commissioners and told them we had to take ourselves out of the equation and look after the best interest of the city.”
With the controversy behind it, the city has created a new “synergy” that Hubbard hopes will lead to a path of economic recovery.
“We’re latching onto the things that will move us forward,” Hubbard said. “We’ve got buy-in from the health care industry, people in our education system, the 40-under-40 group, neighborhood watch groups, business and industry leaders, faith-based groups, the leaders at the Marine base. All of them are doing their part, adding what (Dougherty Commission Chairman) Jeff Sinyard calls ‘their own piece of the puzzle.’
“Our crime statistics are down, we’ve got a wonderful quality of life with national companies like Procter & Gamble, MillerCoors, Mars North America celebrating 50 years here, the Marine Corps Logistics Base, Thrush Aircraft. There are all kinds of possibilities, all kinds of reasons to get excited about this community’s future.”
And so, the obvious question has to be: Will Hubbard be part of that future on the political front?
“I knew that was coming,” the mayor laughs. “There are days when I say there’s no way I will run again and days when I say there’s no way I won’t. I definitely was leaning toward not running in July (during the time of uncertainty surrounding Taylor’s ultimate resignation), but I was leaning more toward running in August. I’ll make a decision by December.
“What will be the determining factor will be whether the people who support me think I’ve done what I promised when I ran for office. I think I have. I conducted economic forums; I worked to improve public safety; I tore down the Heritage House; I’ve worked to clean up the city; I’ve supported health care. And while I can’t directly do anything about education in the community, I’ve worked with our schools. I think one of my proudest moments as mayor was seeing Dr. (Butch) Mosely with the Dougherty School System, President (Anthony) Parker at Albany Tech, (interim) President (Art) Dunning at Albany State and President (Paul) Jones at Darton on the front page of your newspaper announcing a commitment to work together.
“We’ve got a lot going for us in Albany, and I’d like to see that momentum continue. I’ll let the people of the community determine whether I’ll continue to serve.”