By Jeanie Tavitas
Even at only 6 years old, Jelynne LeBlanc Jamison knew she wanted to do something meaningful with her life. But she couldn’t have imagined her wide-eyed optimism would propel her to vital leadership roles in a city 500 miles away, including guiding San Antonio’s water future as chairwoman of the SAWS Board of Trustees.
A fourth generation Southern University graduate, Jamison says she had a great childhood growing up in Baton Rouge. Though she admits she lived “in a protected, sheltered community.”
“(Mom) was a professor, administrator, chair of management and marketing, and ultimately associate chancellor for the SU School of Law, so I spent most of my time on campus,” she says.
As the first licensed female civil rights attorney in East Baton Rouge Parish and one of the first in Louisiana, her mom was the inspiration behind Jamison’s childhood desire to become lawyer. And though she never became an attorney herself, Jamison says she gets to “play a lawyer” as chairwoman of the SAWS Board.
“It’s what we do: ensure (SAWS) policies are clear and inclusive,” says Jamison, noting that she is a product of affirmative action.
Jamison leads with passion
“I came to San Antonio more than 40 years ago to attend grad school at Trinity University. And I feel very blessed that the community embraced me.”
Jamison also credits her grandmother for shaping who she’s become.
“Life lessons, character and sense of service — I got it all from my mom and grandma,” she says proudly.
Indeed. Both women were single moms, raising their children to value learning and a strong work ethic.
Referring to her as the “most intelligent uneducated woman,” Jamison says her grandmother worked for Gulf States Utilities (now Entergy), preparing food for representatives who sold household appliances. She also worked at the family-owned laundromat.
Jamison remembers helping count coins from the washing machines and marveling at how her grandma was doing all the math in her head.
“I had to use a calculator,” laughed Jamison. “She was one smart lady.”
A smart and successful woman herself, Jamison is the president/CEO of The Center for Health Care Services, and she’s held leadership positions with the City of San Antonio and CPS Energy. But the accomplishment she says she’s most proud of is parenting her two now-grown daughters.
“It was a challenge to raise two independent, compassionate, civic-minded adults while working full time,” says Jamison, adding that her daughters spent a lot of time at work with her because there’s no such thing as work-life balance.
“It’s more prioritization than balance,” explains Jamison. “I have to make and take the time to care for myself mentally and physically.”
It’s exactly how she’s able to run the mental health authority for Bexar County and lead the Board of a world-renowned utility. The two organizations are more alike than people think, she says.
“They both operate 24/7, rely on data to provide daily services, ensure a safe working environment for their staff and, most importantly, they’re both customer-centric,” notes Jamison.
As for her goals as SAWS chairwoman, revitalizing the utility’s district cooling system, which air conditions Port San Antonio, the Convention Center and many other downtown buildings, is just one of them. The other: to better manage the water-energy nexus — the complex relationship between water use and power generation.
“We’re working with (SAWS President/CEO Robert) Puente and CPS Energy to figure out exactly what that is,” says Jamison. “We need to think regionally so we can continue to better serve our customers.”