Jennings is calm under pressure

Published 2:24 am Wednesday, September 29, 2004

By Staff
Publisher's note: As the county began to recover from Hurricane Ivan, the unanimous feeling in The Standard office was that the only appropriate person to profile this week – EMA director David Jennings. However, no one wanted interrupt the important work he was doing to interview him. Instead, we asked his friends and family to tell us about him.
Carolyn Jennings said her son David was always the organizer in the family of four children.
"I had a huge calendar on the side of the refrigerator with dentist appointments and practices and lessons," she said. "Every morning after breakfast, David was the one who checked the calendar and said, 'OK, Mama. Today we have …..'
"I don't want to speak for him, but I'm sure that's part of his frustration level now – trying to get things organized."
His sister, Molly Ruzic, said he handles pressure well.
"He has always had the knack for reacting under stress," she said.
She agreed with her mom that he's a good organizer.
"And he always insists on having his way," she said.
Bentley Martin met Jennings as a fifth grader when her family moved to Brewton in 1979.
"He was my first boyfriend," she said. "And we've been big buddies ever since."
"I've always said that, put in the right situation, David would shine," Mrs. Martin said. "He's one of the most intelligent people I know. He's also very witty … You can't be that funny unless you're very smart."
Mrs. Jennings said her son has always been a good communicator.
"He's done a lot of volunteer work," she said. "Of my four children, he seemed to be the one who listened when I said 'You need to volunteer.'
"David cares about people," she said. "I think that's another quality you have to have in this job."
Escambia County Commissioner David Stokes is also Jennings' cousin.
"Of course, we had no idea something like this would happen," Stokes said. "David was in the process of building our EMA department up to get ready in case we had an event like this.
"He already had communication lines with the volunteer fire departments and first responders," Stokes said. "He really needed more time (on the job) before dealing with something like this, but he still did a wonderful job.
"He's really conscientious and really, genuinely feels for people," Stokes said. "He didn't really have anyone to help him. But the state sent in people from other EMA offices and those guys did fabulous jobs."
Being in the midst of public events isn't new to the Jennings children. After all, their father, Ted Jennings, has been mayor of Brewton for many years.
"I don't think David every imagined himself working with my dad," Mrs. Ruzic said. "Sometimes it's hard to work with your family, but he's done an excellent job."
Mrs. Jennings said she's not surprised by the way he's coped with the major disaster Ivan caused in Escambia County.
Not long after he took the job, about a year ago, there was an earthquake at Rock Creek in Escambia County.
"I never will forget David saying, 'Here I am in this position and I didn't even know we had earthquakes in Escambia County,' " she said. "Now he's had this."
David Jennings had damage at his home, but has had to focus on his job. A week after Ivan passed through town, he still had to depend upon his family to begin working on the damage – he was too busy.
When life passes at a more normal pace, all agreed, Jennings enjoys hunting, playing golf, and Auburn football.
"He loves to watch Auburn football, T.R. Miller football – anything sports related," Mrs. Martin said.
As a T.R. Miller student, Jennings played baseball, football and basketball. As an adult, he has volunteered his time as a coach in youth athletic programs.
"He's a great motivator," Mrs. Ruzic said, "and I think that plays into what he's doing now – getting people to work together."
Jennings is a good golfer, and several years ago, won a truck by hitting a hole-in-one.
"I was with him," Stokes said. "Right before he hit it, I asked if we were going to split if somebody one it. He said, 'I'm not going to split because my partner's already hit.'
"On the next shot, he won the truck," Stokes said.
"He loves being with his family and his extended family," Mrs. Jennings said. "He's a people person for sure."
His son, Stokes, is a four-year-old student at St. Stephens.
"David's a wonderful father," Mrs. Ruzic said. "And a great uncle."
She said someone told her children that their Uncle David was busy helping people.
"Every day when I come home from work, they ask me, 'Is Uncle David still helping people?' They've really missed seeing him," she said.
Are his friends and family proud of him?
That would be an understatement.
"I really feel this is what he's supposed to be doing," Mrs. Ruzic said. "At one time David was in law school. Part of being an attorney is negotiating and helping people. That's what he's doing now."
"I'm extremely proud of him," his mother said. "I'm proud of all my children. And I love how the others have pitched in to help him. They've made him look even better."