Merlene Davis: I will miss my conservative friend Ann Ross

Ann Ross answers questions during the Lexington Mayoral debate at Joseph Beth Bookseller's Wednesday 5-22-02.
Ann Ross answers questions during the Lexington Mayoral debate at Joseph Beth Bookseller's Wednesday 5-22-02. LEXINGTON HERALD-LEADER

I considered Ann Ross a friend.

Ross, the former councilwoman and vice mayor of Lexington, always greeted me with a smile and words that would lighten my day.

I am almost sure we never voted for the same political candidates and I'm just as sure it didn't really matter much.

I am going to miss her. Ross passed away last weekend.

She was a strong, lifelong Republican — except for a brief period when she switched to the Democratic Party after she married her husband, Ed Ross. "Then I changed back as fast as I could," she said, laughing. "It's not because I don't like the Democratic Party. That's silly."

Every time I visited her, the conversation would turn to politics. She loved those discussions and so did I.

I could be as liberal a Democrat as I wanted to be and she could be conservative to the core, but there was never any name-calling.

Ross didn't judge the people she interacted with by their party affiliation. All she wanted to know from me is what I planned to do to improve the lives of those who couldn't fight City Hall by themselves.

She told me it is the responsibility of members of both parties to "take care of the poor, take care of the older people and those who cannot help themselves. I don't care who you are ... that is what we are supposed to do. That is what this country is about. And we have politicized that."

Her principles were directed by her Christian faith and her beliefs challenged her to live as altruistically as she could.

But all bets were off if she perceived you to be abusing your power or taking resources that would benefit the poor.

I first met her in the 1980s when charges of mismanagement, sexual discrimination and dictatorial leadership in the fire department began bubbling into the public arena. The emergency services program had outdated addresses on index cards which sometimes failed to dispatch the closest unit to an emergency.

When Ross heard about it, she made an unannounced visit to the alarm room and discovered the index cards for her own address had incorrect information as well.

She spoke out against the system, giving fire department employees a sense they wouldn't be left dangling from a limb. Women stepped up and complained of discrimination in the department and Ross used her position to ensure they would be heard.

She also spoke out in favor of background checks on volunteers who worked with children in Fayette County and not just paid employees as was being pushed.

But by walking the talk, she often found herself in heated debates on the council, creating an image of an un-recalcitrant, bull-headed woman who could not compromise.

Her favorite foil was Mayor Scotty Baesler and their battles were great for me as a reporter, but they didn't send a positive message to voters.

In 2007, years after losing in two attempts to be mayor, she said, "I entered politics in the '70s because I believed the things that I believe today," she said, "and because I wanted to be a part of the system that was created to hold this country together.

"I don't know anybody, and I would challenge anyone, who says they have gotten more out of it than I have," she said, smiling. "I have loved it even in losing. I go home in my little corner, have my little pity party and dust myself off."

But she didn't stay home. Instead, she was a board member for the Nathaniel Mission and with a Suburban Woman's Club project in which she and three others taught school children and adults about the significance of the Great Seal of the United States.

"We talk about freedom and independence and the beginnings of the great American era," Ross said years ago.

"We get down to the seal of this country resting on the chest of the eagle with nothing holding it up. Other countries have lions or pillars or something holding up their seal. The support system here is the republic form of government.

"I tell the children never forget what holds up this seal on the breast of the eagle: You do. You do this through your vote. If you ever stop voting there is a great risk this country cannot function the way it was intended."

That's the woman I called my friend, warts and all.

It is unusual for liberals and conservatives to be friends nowadays. Today, we curse, yell and drown out the opposition.

Ann and I wouldn't have voted for the same candidates, but we would have sat down, enjoyed a great meal and shared a great conversation.

With her passing, there is one fewer conservative for this liberal to do that with.