By Jano Tantongco
One day, when Tracey Edwards was a student at Elwood-John Glenn High School, she sat down with her guidance counselor to get some advice.
“Listen, what’s all the non-essential stuff that I can just eliminate?” she asked.
Her goal was to graduate high school as soon as possible so she could begin her path toward becoming an attorney. She graduated when she was 16 by doubling up her courses while trimming non-essentials.
Still, “it was not efficient enough for me,” Edwards said as she bellowed with laughter.
For Edwards, who is now a Town of Huntington councilwoman and has been named Long Islander News’ Person of the Year for 2016, efficiency is the name of the game.
After she graduated from Glenn, she diverted from her plans to become a lawyer and instead started working at the New York Telephone Company as an operator in 1979.
Over the course of 37 years with the company, which eventually became Verizon, she worked her way up the ranks to become the company’s regional president for Long Island and upstate New York.
Kevin Service, senior vice president of network operations at Verizon for the east coast and Edwards’ boss before she recently retired, remembered first meeting her at a business conference in the early 2000s. At the time, Edwards was an executive director of human resources, while Service was just beginning his new role as a director of wholesale.
He said Edwards helped inspire him through a discussion on leadership. Service described her as a mentor at times during their careers and even more of a “confidant” when Service took his current position.
“She is an incredible leader, but more importantly she’s a wonderful person,” Service said. “She’s one of those people who can balance and put priority on the needs of her employees first, which is great to see.”
With Edwards retiring from Verizon last year, she is now ready to seek reelection to the Huntington Town Board.
However, her retirement was spurred by one of the greatest challenges of her life: a bout with an aggressive type of breast cancer that began in 2016.
After discovering a lump in December 2015, Edwards said she was diagnosed in January 2016. She was sitting with a constituent in her council office on the third floor of Huntington Town Hall when she received the news from her surgeon, Dr. Faisal Siddiqui.
“We got a problem. Call your husband and meet me at the office,” he told her.
Thus began her battle with the illness, which she recovered from through surgery, chemotherapy and radiation before it had spread to her lymph nodes, she said.
“I want people to look at me and see I made it through,” Edwards said. “I want to be an advocate to make sure that people understand that you have got to jump on this, you got to do this now.”
In dealing with her cancer, Edwards said, she transformed a negative into a positive.
In October 2016, she took the opportunity to develop a partnership with Northwell Health and the town’s division of women’s services to initiate a panel on breast health to help women get the edge on cancer through early assessment and diagnosis.
Carrying forward and utilizing her business acumen, coupled with eight years of experience on the town’s planning board, Edwards was elected to the town board in 2014. She takes the approach of “expeditious” problem solving to serve the community and her constituents.
“My lens is probably a little bit different than most. I do look at things with more of a business focus. How can we make the process better and faster?” she said.
As an example, she called to mind the town’s rental registration law, which she penned in 2015. At the time, the law mandated yearly inspections that would enable the rental permit to be valid for one year. But, through discussions and appeals from residents last year, Edwards moved to have the permits be valid for two years.
“Let’s get it to the point where we think it’s in good enough shape to try to see if we can let it fly,” Edwards said. “If we have to come back and amend it, then I’m fine with doing that too.”
Continuing along the line of her focus on “measurable results,” Edwards was also excited to discuss her work with developing the town’s summer youth programs. In conjunction with the town, they have instituted new courses including financial literacy, robotics and photography.
She looked at the upward trend of young hires in the program as an example of its growth. There were 23 new hires in 2014, 37 hires in 2015 and 42 hires in 2016.
“That’s what I believe my job is, is to provide those opportunities. If it worked, then how are we going to build it from here?” she said.
Huntington Supervisor Frank Petrone called Edwards a great asset and pointed to her work revamping the town’s ethic code as one of her achievements on the board.
“She’s a person that can really understand both sides of an issues and is extremely level-headed in basically coming to a decision,” Petrone said. “She doesn’t jump into an issue with a preconceived idea. She goes into it with an open mind and she looks to resolve, not to react.”
Edwards also serves as the Long Island regional director for the NAACP.
President of the NAACP New York State Conference Hazel Dukes first met Edwards while her mother, Dolores Thompson, was president of Huntington’s NAACP branch. She recognized her as focused on her community and family and “being aware of the climate and the changes that were happening in Long Island and, really, in the country.”
“She’s very astute,” Dukes said. “She always had an ear to listen, and I thought that was a very high quality. And, that’s one that we have to have in NAACP.”
Edwards oversees the local branches to make sure they stay on task, Dukes said, especially when potentially volatile racial issues emerge.
A lifelong Town of Huntington resident, Edwards lives in Dix Hills with her husband, Walter. The couple has three children: Tyrell, 38; Walter Jr., 36; and Kimberly, 34. She also has two grandchildren, 10-year-old Troy and Christina, who’s 5.
As Edwards left her council office last week, following an extended interview with Long Islander News, longtime Huntington resident and consistent town board attendee Jim McGoldrick was there to greet her, talking like old friends as they left town hall.
McGoldrick used one word to describe her: “Superwoman.”