The words “amazed” and “grateful” were the first to spring from Victoria Woodards’ mouth as she recalled her career path. “If someone would have told me 20 years ago I was going to become Mayor of Tacoma, I would have laughed and told them they were crazy,” she said.
A diehard Tacoman since the age of 3, Woodards is the daughter of an armed-services man who brought his family here when stationed at the military base now known as Joint Base Lewis-McChord. It turned out to be where the Woodards family would settle.
Mayor Woodards followed in her father’s footsteps by joining the military after graduating from Lincoln High School. Wistfully, she remembered the excitement she’d felt thinking she was finally going to get to tour the world. With a laugh, she said, “Can you believe the Army ended up basing me here in my hometown at Fort Lewis?”
Of course, those who know Woodards personally would be the first to say she’s always been right where she’s belonged. For decades, Woodards has selflessly sewn herself into the fabric of Tacoma’s community. Before becoming mayor, she spearheaded the city’s annual EthnicFest cultural celebration; served as president of the Urban League, a volunteer group dedicated to lifting up African Americans and other disenfranchised groups; sat on the board of Metro Parks Tacoma; and launched a host of community- and education-friendly initiatives to help her neighbors thrive.
It hasn’t always been easy, but Woodards has soldiered on with a smile, and a deep passion to serve her community just as graciously as it has always served her.
You’ve had a long career advocating for your community — how do you think of your career?
I just look back at how fortunate and honored I am to have been in the places I’ve been along the way. It’s been so incredible to be able to help others. I get personal joy out of helping people, so there’s a selfish side to it, but I’m grateful for all the chances I’ve been given to impact and enrich lives in meaningful ways.
Times haven’t always been easy for you personally, but the community has been there for you — what has surprised you most by this?
I can’t say I’m surprised, but I’m ever amazed at how good people still are. It’s so humbling.
I think about when my home burned down. A friend was going to make me a quilt. At the quilt store, we met an older, disabled lady who’d also had a house fire. We talked about how devastating it was. A couple weeks later, the two of them stopped by my office to drop off the quilt the woman had been working on. I didn’t even know her!
It was a Downton Abbey quilt, and the label on the inside was a British flag. She had no idea my mother was from England or how incredibly special her gift would be.
We have good people that live in Tacoma. I always knew that, but when they come out to help you, and they don’t even know you, it’s so humbling and meaningful. It’s a whole new level when someone helps and doesn’t have to, and I’m awed all the time by how incredibly good people are.
What do you love the most about your current role?
I love it all! I love the easy stuff, the hard stuff, and the tough decisions. Probably one of my biggest joys is working with youth. Empowering kids and young people of color to let them know they can do it.
If you could see one significant thing happen for this community, what would it be?
If I could wave a magic wand and change one thing in this community, I would ensure that everybody in the city had their own wand and would be able to design their own happiness — a better job, a bigger house, or maybe just afford the house they have — so that they could fulfill their own destiny.
What do you feel your most important contributions have been to the community thus far?
I think my greatest gift to this community centers around my faith and being able to listen to that voice and be obedient to what I’m supposed to do. If you left it up to Victoria, Victoria would not have run for mayor or taken the job at the Urban League. Some of these jobs aren’t easy, but because I listened to the voice, they became opportunities to serve. In everything, there is an opportunity to do good.
Were there mentors that influenced your life and helped shape you into who you are today?
I’ve had a lot of mentors for different reasons in my life. Some directly and many indirectly. It will not surprise anyone that former Tacoma Mayor and Pierce County Councilman Harold Moss and Urban League founding director Thomas Dixon have mentored me, but there are many others. I think people come and go in your life at the time they are needed.
I’ve not had the kind of mentor that would sit down and say we need to do this, this, and this. And, it wasn’t really what they said; it was how they lived. They walked the talk. Harold taught me how to love people unconditionally, and that took mentoring to a whole new level. There are many giants whose shoulders I stand on.
What is the biggest thing you’ve learned?
The biggest thing I’ve learned is to always do the right thing, because it’s the right thing to do. I didn’t do anything in this life to be here, but I did the right thing when it was the right thing to do. You never know who’s watching you or whose life you’re changing just by being who you were called to be.
Do you have any messages for young women aspiring to become local leaders?
I believe we still celebrate way too many “firsts.” I encourage you to find your voice, and use it. Be authentic and unapologetic about it. And, in everything you do, do it with love.