Jennifer Staubach Gates, Dallas City Council member representing District 13, is blessed with a famous name and “serviam” values thanks to the “I will serve” motto of her alma mater Ursuline Academy. A registered nurse, she is the kind of council member who provides her cell number, returns calls and texts. At a contentious community meeting about creating a neighborhood dog park in an unused city property originally intended for a library, she moderated the heated discussion. She and husband, John, have lived in Preston Hollow since 1990 and in their current house on Keyhole Lane since 1996. They have two daughters, Jessica and Jordan.
Tell me about your Ursuline days.
I have fond memories of Ursuline. I loved the environment — the single-sex education, the empowerment of women and the leadership skills that it encourages, as well as serviam. Giving back reinforced what I was already learning at home from my parents. I love looking around Dallas and seeing all the Ursuline leaders. We have that shared bond.
Where did you go to school after that?
John and I got married right out of high school, which was unusual for our peer group. He was at Trinity in San Antonio. Jessica was born shortly thereafter. I got a bachelor’s in science and nursing at [what is] now called the University of the Incarnate Word.
How long were you a nurse?
I just renewed [my license], but I haven’t practiced since I’ve been a council member. I worked in hospitals in Austin, and I worked in Houston for a pediatrician. We came to Dallas, and I worked for UT Southwestern for one year. Then, I was a school nurse at St. Rita’s. I took some time off after Jordan was born. But I kept my license and did volunteer nursing, camp nursing, and I substituted at both Ursuline and St. Rita’s when my kids were there. I use my nursing skills everyday with my grandkids and my kids.
What made you run for City Council?
I’d given back to the community in a lot of different ways. And I feel strongly that you give back at the time when you’re called. As the kids got older, I got more involved in citywide initiatives, and I was involved in Catholic education and Catholic Foundation. I was sitting on other boards, and it just evolved from there. It was a way to give back to the city that I love.
What has surprised you about being in this job?
The “hot button” issue is not always what you might think. The gift I’ve been given is to see the city in a different lens. If I see where other cities made improvements to their parks, trails, public spaces or historical spaces, I’m like, “Somebody put a lot of thought in that.” I’ve enjoyed that. You learn about how we deliver water or how we prioritize projects. And then, obviously, public safety. I understand why people want to be engaged and involved. We impact their lives regularly. We can be nimble to the needs of the public, which is unique to local government. You can’t do that as much at the federal or state level.
What do your daughters think of you?
I think I surprised them when I decided to run. Hopefully, they’d say they’re proud of me. I don’t think they like reading negative things about me. It’s hard on the family. Jordan’s proud of my work in domestic violence. She’s a social worker. We’ve even done some speaking together to church groups. She’ll talk about social services and the role of the nonprofit she works for. And I’ll talk about policy and what we do at the city to keep victims safe.
What’s your typical day?
I’m usually at City Hall Mondays through Thursdays. On Fridays, I’ll likely be in the district. We have committee meetings on Mondays, breaking news on Wednesdays. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I take a lot of meetings downtown. It might be with people about zoning cases or issues in the neighborhood. I try to get out and attend as many events in the district as I’m invited to. It’s not a 9 to 5 job at all.
What are the big issues now?
The issues for District 13 include the Preston Center garage. We’ve been given a grant to come up with a vision for the area. I’m working with the stakeholders in that neighborhood. There’s a lot of difference in opinion on how it should be done. In addition, there are a lot of people concerned about crime. We’re trying to work on how we could pay officers more. Our crime numbers are down, but there is a perception that people don’t feel safe because there aren’t a lot of police officers on the street. In my Vickery Meadows neighborhood, which I love working in, we have a library. We have partnered with the federal program for safe neighborhoods and are working to eradicate crime. I’m so proud of the different congregations in District 13, in Preston Hollow particularly, that give back to Vickery Meadow, like with the library. We couldn’t build the one at Preston-Royal. I prioritized Vickery Meadow as the one we were going to get in my district. And I didn’t feel like people were angry.
Do you have political aspirations?
I knew you’d ask that. I love what I’m doing now and want to make it a priority. I have a lot to do in District 13. I’ve got this term to fill out and potentially another term. I’ve considered running for mayor, but it’s a decision I haven’t concluded at this point. It’s about making sure that we have good leadership in our city. Mayor Mike Rawlings has been such a champion for our city. I think that we need that in another mayor. We have a lot of divisiveness. Our people will make the best choice.
What was it like growing up as the daughter of Roger Staubach?
I was 3 when he started playing, and I was 13 when he retired. Football was my dad’s job. And my parents were humble people. Obviously as you get older, you’re more aware that your dad had a unique career. Luckily, he was well-liked. You wanted to make them proud. You knew that your actions were reflective of them, and they were public figures.
What advice would you give your younger self?
It’s okay to take leaps. This job was a big leap.
How do you achieve work-life balance?
I didn’t do a very good job at that. I’m a people-pleaser. I make myself say no and then sort through it. Family is most important to me. I don’t play golf right now. I still play Bunko.
Can you think of anything else?
I wish I could come up with a better answer to the question about what advice I’d give my younger self. I think taking more risks.
Editor’s note: At 10:53 p.m. on the night of the interview, Gates texted:
I continue to think about your question about what I would tell my younger self. In addition to not allowing myself to be defined by the past, it would be to have the courage to jump into the unknown and not fear change.
Click to sign up for the Advocate's weekly news digest and be the first to know what’s happening in Preston Hollow.