Growing up in Camden, Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey never dreamed of politics, but she said values like hard work, respecting people, and helping your neighbor, shaped her for a life of public service.
“I never have been interested in politics,” said Ivey, who is in her second term as lieutenant governor. “But public service and shaping public policy have always been important to me. Those things actually help people. I like to think of myself as a public servant, not a politician. This office belongs to the people of Alabama, not me. I’m here to serve them. That’s who I work for.”
That service to her home state and her rural roots earned Ivey the Service To Agriculture Award — the highest honor given by the Alabama Farmers Federation.
A Wilcox County native and 1967 graduate of Auburn University, Ivey had a successful career in the private sector as a banker and assistant hospital administrator. She also served the community and state as a high school teacher and reading clerk of the Alabama House of Representatives before seeking public office. Her service has included appointments by three governors to various state government positions, including assistant director of the Department of Commerce, formerly known as the Alabama Development Office.
In 2002, Ivey became the first Republican elected state treasurer since Reconstruction. She was re-elected in 2006. Ivey was elected lieutenant governor in 2010 and re-elected in 2014.
“Gov. Ivey has always been a friend to farmers and to this organization,” said Federation President Jimmy Parnell. “She understands the importance of agriculture to our state, how it shaped our state’s history and how important it is to Alabama’s future.”
Ivey, known for her Southern drawl and candor, said she is humbled to receive the Service to Agriculture Award.
“I think I’ve been to almost every (Federation) annual meeting for decades,” she said. “I’ve seen others who have received this honor and just to have my name mentioned with them means a lot to me. I appreciate the support the Farmers Federation has given me over the years. I know with this organization your word is your bond, and a handshake is a contract.”
Autauga County Farmers Federation President Andy Wendland said Ivey’s ability to relate to her constituents makes her approachable and is refreshing among elected officials. He said he also admires her frankness.
“Part of what makes her unique is that she is one of us,” Wendland said. “She is down to earth, and her rural upbringing has instilled in her the core values we all hold dear. She is firm and steadfast in her support of these principles, and her leadership reflects her conservative beliefs. If you don’t know where Kay Ivey stands on an issue, it’s probably because you haven’t asked her.”
Ivey’s family worked closely with farmers while she was growing up. She recalled traveling with her father, the late Boadman Nettles Ivey, who worked for the Farmers Home Administration and helped teach new farming methods. She said she learned a lot about agriculture from her mother, the late Barbara Nettles Ivey, who worked for the Lower Coastal Plain Agricultural Experiment Substation near Camden.
“As a child, I would go out to the experiment station and take samples of the cotton squares,” Ivey said. “I learned how important it was to take care of our land and livestock. Our family raised cattle, and I remember watching my grandmother churn butter. Pitching in to get things done was just part of how I grew up. We did whatever we had to do.”
Ivey credits her work ethic and conservative nature to her parents, adding that her favorite childhood memories are of time she spent riding horses with friends through the streets of Camden and along the banks of the Alabama River and Possum Bend. Her rural roots have helped keep her grounded throughout her life, she said.
“Alabama was and is an agrarian state, and that teaches us a lot,” Ivey said. “Whether it’s tilling the soil, managing livestock or raising chickens, farmers have a greater appreciation for knowing we’re governed by a higher power. Farmers know you have to have faith in God.”
Ivey will receive the Service to Agriculture Award Dec. 6 at the opening general session of the Federation’s 94th annual meeting in Montgomery.