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Making a difference

Velma Redmond credits her family for inspiring her to pursue a career in state and education government.

A lifetime of dedication: Philadelphia native Velma Redmond had an extensive career in state government, including working as the assistant attorney general for the Pennsylvania Department of Justice and chief counsel for the Pennsylvania Department of State. Source: Velma Redmond

When Velma Redmond began to study law at Villanova University, it was rare for someone of color to study there. In fact, she was among the very first African-American women to ever study there.

The Philadelphia native was just getting started there, though. She would continue on to have an extensive career in state government, including working as the assistant attorney general for the Pennsylvania Department of Justice and chief counsel for the Pennsylvania Department of State. She has also had a long career serving on government boards for schools and colleges.

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Before she started her career, though, Redmond comes from what she calls humble beginnings.

“I am the beneficiary of my family’s sacrifice,” she said.

Her grandparents migrated to Pennsylvania from the rural South, her father’s side from South Carolina and her mother’s side from Georgia.

“I grew up in what for the most part I consider to be a traditional working-class family,” Redmond said. “My dad worked at the post office, and my mom was a classroom assistant.”

Redmond was a student at the Philadelphia High School for Girls, where she said she was able to interact with students from all over the city.

For Redmond, growing up in Philadelphia was an opportunity.

“There are so many great museums and opportunities at low or no cost that let you experience education and culture on the weekends and free time,” she said of the city.

Redmond had a sister two years older than her who was born with a physical disability that required significant medical treatment throughout her life. Redmond said that her disabilities did not stop her sister from volunteering for organizations to help fellow disabled people.

“I learned strong work ethic from my parents, and my sister vested in me community and the importance of giving back to the community,” she said.

She put those lessons to good use. She studied law at Villanova from 1975 to ’78 after studying at Princeton University, though studying law wasn’t at the top of her list.

“I originally wanted to study music,” she recalled with a laugh. “But growing up in ’60s and ’70s, the law was really where I saw social change being initiated.”

Redmond wanted to be among those making a change. She credited the camaraderie at Villanova for helping her step into the field.

It was a bold first step forward. After graduating, she started working as an assistant attorney general in what was then the PA Department of Justice — now the Attorney General’s office.

She was assigned as counsel to the PA Department of State, where she oversaw a variety of areas, including elections, corporations, professional and occupational affairs, charities and state athletic departments.

“I was there to serve the public, and I would say throughout my career in state government that it was a privilege to be in public service, and I had that feeling the entire time,” Redmond said.

Her career also saw her serve on the PA Public Utility Commission, where she was in the fixed utility division. While there, she advised and litigated cases for water, electric and gas departments.

After holding a variety of positions, Redmond left state government to work for American Water.

However, state government wasn’t all Redmond worked on.

She became largely involved with serving on education boards for various schools and colleges.

“I had a commitment to giving back to community and community service,” she said.

As a young lawyer, she became involved in a number of community organizations. She served as vice president of the Harrisburg YWCA and on the board of trustees of Harrisburg Community College.

The latter position served as a gateway to her working extensively on education boards for colleges. She was a member of the PA Commission of Community Colleges and, in 2003, was elected to serve on the Milton Hershey School board of education. She worked at the school with Northeast native Pete Gurt.

“It was the opportunity of a lifetime,” she said of her time at the school.

MHS is a cost-free coeducational home and school to more than 2,000 students. While Redmond served on the board, the number of students grew from under 1,200 to more than 2,000.

“My passion for education came from my parents,” she said. “Growing up with working-class parents, they always emphasized education was a route to a good job and successful career.”

After more than 14 years on the board, Redmond is ready to step down and take some time for herself. She said plenty of vacations are on the horizon — she has a trip to Australia coming up soon.

The trip is well deserved.

“As I advanced in my career and had the opportunity to mentor others, I came to appreciate things like grit, resilience and perseverance are aptitudes that I not only had, but were important to pass on to others,” she said.

“I used the inspiration of my sister as my personal creed for encouraging others to unlock their potential.” ••

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