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Headlights On…

I truly have enjoyed working in the transportation industry because of the wonderful, helpful men and women whom I have come to know. I don’t know much about the “First Lady of Kansas Trucking” title because I tried to earn the respect of ALL those with whom I worked.

Headlights on… Mary E. Turkington

MARY TURKINGTON photographCurrent Company: Kansas Turnpike Authority

Department: Appointed Board Member

Position/Title: Chairman – KTA

In 1946 you were amongst the first class of graduates from the William Allen White School of Journalism at the University of Kansas. What led you to work for the Kansas Motor Carriers Association that same year?

I was recommended to the manager of the Kansas Motor Carriers Association as a graduate who could work hard to develop the Association’s new magazine – The Kansas Transporter. After a successful interview, the manager said, “Hell kid, do you want this job?” The job paid $150 a month; newspaper interviews had talked about $80 a month. I said, “I believe I do.” On August 19th 1945, I began working for KMCA as the magazine’s Editor. I was named Assistant Mgr. in 1950 and added to my editorial duties by being sent to the Kansas Legislature to learn how to represent the highway transportation industry before state and federal agencies, the Legislature – and eventually the Congress.

For more than 50 years you worked for the Kansas Motor Carriers Association, including as Executive Director starting in 1968. Over your 50-year career there how did you see the female’s position in the workplace progress?

At the time I began work for KMCA, only one other woman had a similar position in the state Association of Rhode Island. Mrs. Ray Daley edited the Rhode Island magazine and worked with her Board and Executive committee pretty much the same as I did. Over the years, additional women assumed more responsibilities in management positions. Today, there are many wonderful women in top management and leadership positions.

What does it mean to you to be referred to and recognized as a pioneer of the transportation industry and “The First Lady of Kansas Trucking”? What impact do you think you have had on women’s role in the trucking or transportation industry in general?

I truly have enjoyed working in the transportation industry because of the wonderful, helpful men and women whom I have come to know. I don’t know much about the “First Lady of Kansas Trucking” title because I tried to earn the respect of ALL those with whom I worked. I am proud that our Association believes to this day that “when the interest of the public is served, the interests of the members of this Association are served.” Our members accommodated the problems of our smaller carriers right along with our larger companies. Customer service is still all that we have to sell. It is easy to work for those whose integrity and quality of service are priority goals. I am a product of that environment.

What challenges have you faced throughout your career working in a predominately male industry?

I grew up on a farm in Crawford County, Kansas with a caring mom and dad and three brothers. My parents worked together and my mom was as much in charge as my dad. I assumed that was the way families operated. When mom learned I was going to work for “truckers,” she was a bit hesitant about my choice of jobs. I told her truckers were just like she and dad, the mom answered the phone and kept the books and dad operated the truck. That’s exactly how many of our Kansas trucking companies worked in those early days. I truly believe that background helped me work in our industry. I often told folks, I hope you will like me – but in any event, I ask that you respect me. That attitude has worked well for me all the years I have worked, wherever.

As Chairperson of the Kansas Transportation 2000 Committee, in 1998, what were your main objectives? And how many of the recommended future projects have since come to fruition?

The main objectives of Transportation 2000 were to gain public understanding and support for the second, 10-year transportation program Gov. Bill Graves proposed for Kansas. Members of Transportation 2000 were dedicated, faithful leaders who generously gave of their time and leadership to bring that program into being. The economic success of the first 10-year program (which the trucking industry strongly supported even with major tax increases), was a great example of highway improvement and economic growth for Kansas. Transportation 2000 brought that message to Kansas communities and was successful with the Legislature in securing the 2nd 10-year transportation program for our state. I believe all of the major projects have been, or are under contract for completion.

What types of changes and improvements have been made to the transportation industry and to the Kansas Turnpike Authority in particular over the years to ensure safety remains the top priority?

At the state and federal levels, regulations have been revised to assist drivers, both commercial and individual, to operate vehicles more safely. Drug tests, hours of service, vehicle inspections, record keeping, company safety training and supervision, physicals, road-side inspections, enforcement, company safety incentives, state and national driving competitions – to name just a few for commercial drivers. For personal vehicles, safer vehicles, tires, warning devices, seat belts, special child restraints, safe-driving incentives, license requirements, handicap privileges, safer parking areas – all are a part of efforts to create safer operations. Most of all – street and highway improvements designed to save lives are safety priorities. On the Kansas Turnpike, the safety concrete barrier, the six-lane improvement between Topeka and Lawrence, the design of service areas and other interchanges, replacement of the River bridges at Lawrence, toll-lane access and K-TAG promotions, top maintenance of Turnpike lanes and bridges, 24-hour patrol of Turnpike facilities – ALL are safety priorities.

To be successful in the transportation industry, what do you view as the most important qualities and skills for a person to possess?

Just as in any other industry, one should be professional in your work with others. Personal integrity, communication skills, the ability to listen, the knowledge to ask for help from others, willing to work as you ask others to do, keep learning, admit if you make a mistake, give and earn respect, set goals and measure success, take risks, determine issues with factual information, demonstrate leadership.

Beyond your work in the transportation industry, you are extremely active in the community. How do you incorporate your community efforts into the transportation industry’s initiatives?

Community relationships are valuable foundations for a life well lived. One needs to give back to those who have helped you. It DOES take a village.

How do you think transportation will change over the next decade?

I sincerely believe we WILL see an investment in transportation infrastructure. In terms of funding, a public system of streets and highways must be maintained, I believe toll systems will be utilized where traffic demands are greater. I expect continued collaboration between trucks and rails. Each has advantages but trains still don’t back up to freight docks. Air travel will continue to move people and goods. Motorists will use safe, modern toll roads if such roads serve areas otherwise congested and time consuming.

What would you like other states to know about the State Farm Safety Assist program?

The outstanding success that program offered KTA customers during the summer months operated ought to be continued, expanded and offered in other toll facilities. It is a great safety tool and a service KTA customers truly appreciate.

What is the one theme you would want to reinforce in Safe Highway Matters’ forum?

Drivers of ANY VEHICLE, should avoid distraction of any kind – cell phone, inattentive driving, conversation, radio, reaching for a fallen object – anything that takes your eyes off of the road or in any way diverts your attention. Keep your eyes on the road, control speed and avoid accidents!

Back to Safe Highway Matters: Spring 2013 

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