As soon as you hear her voicemail message, you know there’s something special about Ann Farris.
“Sorry I missed you call. It’s my loss,” her voice chimes in. “I’d be tickled to call you back.”
The 62-year-old Killeen native has filled many important roles in her community, including director of the Food Care Center and former deputy superintendent of the Killeen Independent School District, but her latest post will likely generate a new variety of phone calls.
Last week, the Killeen City Council appointed Farris to the position of assistant city manager of internal services, a position certain to test the skills of one of Killeen’s most proven leaders.
The job was created in October as part of City Manager Glenn Morrison’s vision for City Hall.
On her first day, Jan. 22, Farris will begin earning an annual income of $130,000 and take over responsibility of the city’s departments of Finance, Human Resources, Information Technology and Support Services.
“These four departments will be what makes it possible for the other (external) departments to go out and do their work and do it well,” Farris said.
By choosing Farris from the 50 candidates who applied for the position — two of whom work in upper-level management positions in other Texas cities — Morrison has shown great faith that the skills behind Farris’ previous successes, in education and nonprofits, will work for the city.
One of Farris’ weaknesses is managing large budgets — she will oversee the budget process this spring where the city will likely plan for about $243 million in annual expenditures.
At the Food Care Center, she manages about $200,000 in annual funds and little of Farris’ work at Killeen ISD dealt with generating budgets.
But City Manager Glenn Morrison said experience with budget codes was not a major requirement for the position.
“She had the exact package I was looking for,” Morrison said. “I wasn’t looking for a CPA. I was looking for somebody that was very diverse, someone that could manage multiple departments, and she brought all of those aspects.”
During her 32 years at Killeen ISD, seven of which she served as deputy superintendent, Farris oversaw the human resources and information technology operations of the district.
In the early ’90s, Farris helped move the school district into the digital age, long-time friend and former colleague Eartha Bason said.
“Everything was a paper trail then, and when we were going over to computers, she wasn’t afraid to dive right in,” Bason said.
It was Farris who made the call which departments would use PCs and which would use Macs.
“Eventually the office was transformed. She took that personnel office to the next level,” Bason said.
As assistant superintendent in Killeen, Farris experienced something that would forever change her life.
It was Boss’ Day at the district, Oct. 16, 1991.
A group of teachers and educators were treating Farris to lunch at Luby’s Cafeteria on Central Texas Expressway in Killeen.
As the group dined in the crowded restaurant, a man drove his Ford pickup truck through the front window and committed one of the worst shooting massacres in U.S. history.
By the end of the day, George Hennard had killed 23 people and left 20 wounded.
One woman at Farris’ table — a close friend — was among the dead, and two other colleagues were wounded.
Farris said in the days that followed she found a way to work the experience into the fabric of her life, understanding its sorrow but learning what it had to teach her.
“That was a day when it really looked like life could come to an end,” Farris said. “Things began to kind of crystallize and, for me, it was a moment to decide, ‘If this is the end of life, have I really lived it the way I wanted to?’”
Farris was assistant superintendent at the time, but on that day the superintendent was absent, making her responsible for the district as one of the nation’s most terrifying events unfolded.
“It was all about getting out of that building, calling transportation, stopping the buses, pulling all of the kids in until we can find out what is going on,” Farris said. “I had to shift quickly into ‘I am responsible for a school district.’”
It was only when she returned home that night that she was able to fall apart, she said.
After the tragedy, Farris, an English teacher, said she went to books for answers.
Two in particular: the Bible and “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” by Steven Covey.
The language from both of these books are present in her everyday conversation.
If you talk to Farris for only a few minutes, she will mention her “mission” to live effectively; to teach, learn and lead; and to live for the sake of her relationships with people.
At her new post, she will be responsible for making sure all 1,220 employees of the city of Killeen can work together effectively.
“What will fuel the success of any person in this job will be the ability to build good relationships,” Farris said.
Relationships are based on trust and trust is built on promises, she said.
“The promise that I can make is that the things that I say and the way that I conduct myself will align themselves and they will align in support of this mission,” Farris said.
Although the Luby’s tragedy strengthened her resolve, Farris had already achieved a lot in her community.
She was valedictorian of Killeen High School, class of 1968.
She went to Central Texas College on a full scholarship, when she could have attended any school in the state, she said.
She once presumed she would “live and die” teaching children in Killeen.
She was raised on a farm a few miles south of Killeen on State Highway 195; her father worked in civil service at Fort Hood, before turning to farming and ranching.
She attended elementary school at Avenue D Elementary, now City Hall, where her new office will be located.
During her two years at CTC, Farris rodeoed in bull riding events, during which time she found the career that most inspired her — rodeo clown.
The rodeo clown is someone who makes you laugh, while its underlying purpose is to keep you safe, Farris said.
She gave up bull riding when she transferred to Texas A&M University but would later work being rodeo clown into her mission.
Climbing the ladder
Farris earned three degrees at A&M, a bachelor of secondary education and both master’s and doctorate degrees in curriculum and instruction.
She left Killeen ISD after 32 years and eight promotions, from her hiring as language arts teacher at Nolan Junior High in 1972 to her final seven years as deputy superintendent, which ended with her resignation in 2004.
Farris’ next step was to help transform Tarleton University-Central Texas into Texas A&M University-Central Texas, teaching leadership skills to young people.
The first question asked of Farris after the council unanimously appointed her as assistant city manager, was who will take over the Food Care Center.
Although Farris will devote many hours a day to City Hall, she will continue her work at the Food Care Center, she said.
Her husband, Gerald Farris, will take over the day-to-day operations of the nonprofit, and she will stick to after-hours work.
“I’m the quick books person. The books keeper, the grants writer,” Farris said. “He’s the operations guy. The balance will shift some, but I’ll do the part that is done at night.”
Of all the organizations Farris serves, including the Killeen Arts Commission, Scott & White Health Board, American Cancer Society Relay for Life, the Rotary Club, American Heart Association Walk, United Way, Christian Unity Ministries, First Baptist Church and the Greater Killeen Chamber of Commerce place design team, the city of Killeen is perhaps her greatest challenge.
“I really like the prospect of others thinking I might not be able to do it. Those are things that motivate me,” Farris said.
She said the greatest motivation of all is working for the very city that enabled her to achieve so much with her life.
Careful not to end her sentence with a preposition, the former English teacher said, “This is the neighborhood to which I belong.”