Executive Q&A: Former Edmond mayor continues her work in private, public sectors
from the Oklahoman: Executive Q&A: Former Edmond mayor continues her work in private, public sectors
By Paula Burkes
January 31, 2016
When Saundra Naifeh, a former Edmond mayor, decided to retire last year from the Oklahoma Association of Optometric Physicians after 27 years as its executive director, she never intended to leave the private or public sector altogether.
“I was just looking to have more spontaneity and fun,” said Naifeh, who continues to chair Edmond Beautiful and several other civic initiatives.
Naifeh recently found her niche with FKG Consulting (formerly Fried Kilpatrick Guinn) public affairs firm, which has named her executive counsel. Among other things, Naifeh will advise clients on state and municipal issues, including helping take the grant-making Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust state agency to the next level in preventing tobacco use and obesity.
“Virtually my whole career has centered on taking a position that I really believe in and making sense of it for everybody else,” Naifeh said. “It can be difficult communicating positive outcomes," she said.
With the help of a friend and business coach, Naifeh, 66, several months ago crafted a personal mission statement or, as she puts it, her own life motto: “Embrace life, encourage excellence, inspire hope.”
Naifeh recently sat down with The Oklahoman to talk about her life and career. This is an edited transcript:
Q: Tell us about your roots.
A: I grew up in The Village with a brother (Greg) who's two years younger and today works as a trainer for United Engines. Our mother was a professional substitute teacher at John Marshall High School, from which I graduated. Everybody who graduated in the '60s through the mid-'70s would remember my mom, Mrs. Tatro. An education graduate of Phillips in Enid and high school English teacher before she married, my mother went back to school when I was in grade school to get re-certified as a teacher. Our father had a long career in maintenance at Tinker Field and redid homes after his retirement. My mom taught me to say “yes” when asked to help. My dad taught me that if I agreed to do things, to do them right and finish them.
Q: What was your thing growing up?
A: From an early age, I loved campaigning for people. I was always interested in Student Council and ran for office myself, winning occasionally. I was active in Girl Scouts until I was a junior in high school. I credit Girl Scouts — and Alpha Delta Gamma, my sorority at Central State/UCO — in instilling in me the belief that I could do something and do it at its best. I was very active on campus. I married my first husband, the late Steve Gragg, after my sophomore year. An Edmond boy, Steve went to OSU, but finished at Central State.
Q: And upon college graduation?
A: My husband and I joined his parents in a gift shop/restaurant in downtown Edmond. The shop was named Nomi Ark or “Nomi's” and restaurant, which served French cuisine, “Rendezvous.” My father-in-law, Hubert Gragg, owned the buildings; my husband and I, the restaurant; and my mother-in-law, the late Naomi Gragg, and I ran the gift shop. We were a good team. She had a beautiful eye and knack for things, and I liked people. We stayed in business for 15 years until the oil bust, when Steve went to work for the small business arm of the vo-tech system and I became executive director of the Oklahoma Association of Optometric Physicians. The position was advertised in the newspaper and I knew the former executive director.
Q: You lost your first husband to cancer. How'd you meet your current husband?
A: Four or five years after I was widowed, the general counsel of my association introduced us. My nephew called to invite me to his 21st birthday party, which happened to be on same day as our first blind date. I called Frank to see if he'd meet me at the restaurant, but didn't tell him the guests were my first husband's family until three-fourths of the way through. They absolutely loved him; we stayed the whole night; and married some years later. From day one, he's made my life wonderful.
Q: You served three terms as mayor of Edmond, from 2001 to 2007. How'd you get into politics?
A: It was a natural progression. I'd appeared before Edmond's city council since the early '70s. In 1973, I protested a flashing sign that was in front of our then 15th Street location advertising a business somewhere else. For years, I'd been active in the Edmond Chamber of Commerce, including as president, and in the late '70s, helped found Edmond Beautiful. Also in my position with the optometric physicians association, I frequently worked with state legislators on industry issues.
Q: What kept you from running for a fourth term?
A: Frank was being treated for throat cancer, and I didn't want to be put in the position of making a choice between presiding over council meetings or my association meetings and going to the hospital. Plus, by that time, I felt like I'd done what I wanted to do — including putting youth, the next generation, on boards and commissions, increasing trees and adding trails. We were the first city in Oklahoma to restrict smoking in public places. We passed the social host law, allowing adults to be held liable if they hosted parties for underage drinkers. We also passed the public arts ordinance, allowing individuals to donate an original sculpture or painting for certain public locations, with the city matching up to $30,000. Today, there are more than 100 pieces of art located all over Edmond. My husband and I have contributed many of the pieces including a fun frog sculpture outside the city administration building.
•Position: executive counsel, FKG Consulting
•Birth date/childhood home: May 4, 1949; Oklahoma City
•Family: Frank Naifeh, accounting firm owner and husband of 17 years; five grandchildren, ages 5 to 12; and two shih tzu dogs: Grover and Baca (after Serge Ibaka)
•Housing addition: Oak Tree in northwest Edmond. Their home backs to the 11th hole
•Education: University of Central Oklahoma, bachelor’s/double major in secondary education (English) and political science/history
•Community involvement: chairwoman, Edmond Beautiful and Edmond Republican Women; board member, Oak Tree Homeowners Association, Canterbury Choral Society, UCO’s School of Arts & Humanities and Edmond’s Parks Foundation; and founder and sustaining member, Edmond Women’s Club
•Church: St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Edmond
•Most enjoyable recent read: “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” by Annie Barrows and Mary Ann Shaffer
•Next excursion: The coast of France and Spain
•Pastimes: gardening, swing dancing, collecting original art and learning to play the ukulele
•Cell phone ring tone: “Happy” by Pharrell Williams