Jari Askins is learning to deal with an enlightening situation. Now, when the Duncan native, former lieutenant governor and current associate provost for external relations at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center attempts to contact someone on the telephone, people take or return the call.
It didn’t always used to be that way.
That’s because friends, foundation officials, business leaders, government co-workers and even family members assumed she was seeking a financial contribution or trying to arrange a meeting or a fund-raising affair.
It’s a benefit to being out of office she hadn’t expected, but is one she enjoys.
Askins, as you know, made an unsuccessful attempt to become Oklahoma’s governor in 2010. She had been lieutenant governor for four years after serving the maximum 12 years in the House of Representatives, representing District 50, Stephens County and Duncan.
She seeks no office today.
For the first time in almost 20 years, her name will not be on a ballot. It seems unusual, she admits, confiding she would probably prefer to be running for re-election and continuing her passionate desire to help the people of her home state.
Not being named to a judicial post she sought after leaving office and finishing second in the selection of a new president at Cameron University have added to her recent disappointments, though life moves forward.
“It’s tougher than people think,” she said candidly, “to let them know you’re not disappointed or that you’re okay after not getting something you felt you could do well. Losing hurts. It takes time to get over that. I’ve never tried for a job or a position I didn’t want or felt I couldn’t do. And I’ve learned a lot about myself with each attempt. I’d rather try and lose than regret never trying.”
It is a creed and a discipline she has embraced her entire life, seeking leadership roles in high school, her college sorority, as an attorney, a judge and a community volunteer.
“I am, you remember, Jarita’s daughter” she smiled, acknowledging the role model her late mother provided, the skills she shared, the lessons she taught, the direct and occasionally blunt approach she took, the contributions she made and the closeness they shared.
“What I miss most,” Askins said of her government work “is the direct opportunity to impact lives.”
Her job at the OU Health Sciences Center fills that void nicely and may even allow it to expand.
She works in the same Oklahoma City Interstate 40-Lincoln Boulevard corridor that has been her professional home for nearly two decades. She has seen it explode not only in size but mission and she believes the bio-medical field will only expand in its importance to the state. Being a part of that, she said, is exciting.
As a child, she wanted to be a “children’s” doctor. She pursued journalism and law instead, but has been a strong and vocal health care advocate seemingly forever.
“You don’t have to be a doctor to help people,” she explained. “I am around people every day who help people, who make a difference, who do remarkable things.”
On occasion, a friend, former colleague or constituent will call, seeking her advice, her contacts or her resources in dealing with a problem or obtaining a second opinion, letting her feel the pleasure of again serving.
Her focus, though, is communicating outwardly the message of what happens within the health center, of sharing its unlimited potential, of personifying the massive return on its investments and research and of stopping the state’s brain drain by keeping sharp students at home.
She delivers the message in person, on the phone or in writing.
As downtown residency increases in Oklahoma City and as the link between the Health Sciences Center and the Presbyterian Foundation Research Park grows stronger, she hopes her career of credibility will inject a voice of service and services into the future.
Always quick to be one of Duncan’s most positive supporters, it seems unlikely another statewide bid for elected office is on the horizon. She will be busy with a job she enjoys and explains she would need to leave that position first before entering a race. She also admits it may be “time to take care of Jari.”
Ever the opportunistic public servant, however, she adds, “you know, you never say never.”
So if the telephone rings, answer it. Jari Askins might have a message you need to hear.