A FINAL KINDNESS: Rebecca Barksdale, longtime administrator to County Commissioner Gary Fickes, leaves Tarrant County family to care for a loved one of her own
By Joy Donovan
Photography by Olaf Growald
When family history includes your grandfather delivering some 2,500 babies and your mother helping found the Junior League of Arlington, it’s no surprise that a commitment to serving the community runs in your blood.
For Rebecca Barksdale, it’s just a way of life. She grew up watching her grandfather, Zack Bobo, a general practitioner for 56 years, care for others, and her mother, Barbara Bobo Barksdale, serve on nonprofit boards in Arlington.
“It’s been instilled in me since I was very young,” Barksdale says. “No matter who a person is, no matter their station in life, that you should be kind. I was really fortunate to have a servant background. It was the way I was taught, and I loved it.”
And now, Barksdale is stepping back from a paid job that allowed her to serve. She recently retired as precinct administrator for County Commissioner Gary Fickes to dedicate herself to another, much more personal act of devotion: caring for her elderly mother.
For 30-plus years, Barksdale has been an active participant in Northeast Tarrant County activities, including working the past 14 years for Fickes, whose constituency approaches half a million people in parts of 15 municipalities. Barksdale spent seven years in a community outreach position and the past seven in a job best described as the commissioner’s chief of staff.
“The county is really like one big family,” she says. “It’s an amazing place to work.”
That work has included assisting Fickes with allocating American Rescue Plan funds during the COVID-19 pandemic and creating two major North Texas events: the Empowering Seniors Health & Wellness EXPO, which attracted more than 3,000 participants and has been replicated countrywide, and the Tarrant Transportation Summit, which educates communities about transportation issues.
“It’s helping people and working with our team to help people,” Barksdale says.“What I feel the biggest pride over for our entire team and the commissioner is in the Empowering Seniors event.”
Barksdale was honored at a retirement party earlier this spring at the Northeast Courthouse in Hurst.
“She has got a heart that is big enough for all of us,” Fickes told community members invited to the celebration. “She’s kind, and she cares. Rebecca’s a people magnet. People radiate to her, and they always have. She’s just one of these really special people that everyone knows. They don’t make many of these.”
An Arlington native who graduated with bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Baylor University, Barksdale always has chosen outwardly facing positions.
Her easy manner and quick smile make her a natural for working with people. Many in Northeast Tarrant County first knew her through her marketing and community outreach position with Allen Samuels Auto Group.
In that role, she served on many nonprofit boards, where she doled out sponsorships, raised funds and solved problems. Barksdale continued working to help people when she took her county job.
“She represented the commissioner at a broad spectrum of events and meetings,” says Faye Beaulieu, a longtime civic leader and now retired senior vice president of community investment with United Way of Tarrant County.
“Thereby, she provided a means of two-way communication. She did it in a very gentle and unassuming way, but she got things done.”
Now her steadfast loyalty finds her taking a step back to be with her 88-year-old mother, who “is bravely facing dementia,” Barksdale says.
From going to a park to planting corn to dancing to Elvis Presley, Barksdale has chosen to give her time to the person who first gave to her — with no regrets.
“As bad as this disease is, you can’t believe the fun we have,” Barksdale says. “Every day is different. You have to laugh. If not, you’ll cry every day. But believe it or not, we do find moments of joy.”
Still, leaving the job she loved and Fickes, whom she calls an “incredible teacher,” was her most difficult choice, she says. Once the pandemic began to wane, she knew it was time to leave. Being with her mother is the right decision, but she knows the one thing she will miss more than anything else.
“The people,” she says. “I’ve never met better people than in Northeast Tarrant County.”