The Parsons open the doors on partnership, politics, public service — and most importantly, family.
Change can be daunting, particularly when that change has the ability to make a distinct impact on our lives. As you probably know, a big change occurred recently in Missouri — the shifting of our highest government positions. The Parson and Kehoe families, along with the people of Missouri, experienced an overhaul with the transition of Mike Parson and Mike Kehoe to governor and lieutenant governor respectively. Fortunately, this transition has been a smooth one. Both families have embraced the new roles and graciously allowed us a look inside their new lives. We were privileged to once again explore the Missouri Governor’s Mansion and talk with the people who now call it home.
The New Job
An unexpected promotion can stir up a lot of thoughts and emotions, particularly when governorship is involved. Being thrown into the thick of running a state would seem an obvious challenge, but it is one that Governor Parson and Lieutenant Governor Mike Kehoe, along with their wives First Lady Teresa Parson and Claudia Kehoe, have taken in stride.
“This is a very demanding job,” admits Governor Parson. “Any time you take that position on, you give away a lot of your time. It’s one of the more difficult parts of the job, particularly when you have grandkids. It’s an adjustment for the First Lady and myself, but we make the best of it. We get to do a lot of things that a lot of people don’t get to do. You have to put it into perspective and know you have a job to do. It’s a job with a tremendous amount of responsibility, and everyday you have to know that. You have to work hard to make sure you’re doing what you hope is a good job when you’re finished.”
While getting used to a new and very full schedule, Parson speaks with glowing pride about his opportunity to serve Missouri. With a background of local and national service, it isn’t difficult to see why.
“I think the first thing that opened my eyes to public service was when I was young,” he says. “I joined the Army when I was 19 years old, and I think that was the first time I realized the importance of what representing the Pledge of Allegiance and the flag of the United States was. It brought everything I’d learned growing up as a kid together — being loyal to our country and doing the right thing. That’s when I learned what public service really meant. It’s about doing things for others you may never meet.”
After joining the Army as a young man, Parson joined the Military Police and worked his way up to the Army Criminal Investigation Unit. He says that if it weren’t for his time in the military, he wouldn’t be where he is today. This journey is what led him to run for sheriff back in Polk County.
“When I became sheriff, it was another point that opened my eyes,” he says. “I was honored to win the election by the people that know me best from my community. It was a humbling experience.”
A Perfect Partnership
During this gubernatorial transition of power, a newly-formed relationship is shining bright: the partnership between Governor Parson and Lieutenant Governor Kehoe. From day one, the two men have worked closely together to ensure the best representation for our state.
When asked why he chose then Senate Majority Leader Kehoe to replace him as Lieutenant Governor, Parson pointed to the lieutenant governor’s attributes of leadership, humility, meaningful experience, willingness to listen to his adversaries, and his dedication to public service. As quoted by the Kansas City Star, Parson says, “The lieutenant governor position is an important position, not just because of duties assigned by Missouri law and the state constitution, but also to reassure Missourians that all operations of state government will continue.”
“When Governor Parson called me on a Saturday evening and asked me to fulfill this role, it was one of the most humbling moments of my life,” says Kehoe. “I agreed to do so because I support the governor’s focus on workforce development and infrastructure, but also because I want to help the governor move Missouri forward out of the uncertain direction the state seemed to be headed in the first half of 2018. Missourians are rightfully optimistic since Governor Parson took the helm on June 1, and I have enjoyed the opportunity to travel throughout the state and observe this newfound optimism first-hand.”
All About Family
Although the Parsons’ new positions come with an almost impossible schedule, they make sure to also keep their family a priority. “Although I enjoy this humbling opportunity we’ve been given,” says Teresa, “I miss the time we used to have with our children and grandchildren. However, we take every opportunity we have to work in a visit or outing with them.”
Both the governor and first lady speak at length about the pride they have in their children and grandchildren. Their daughter, Stephanie, is a teacher and mother of five, and their son, Kelly, is a community bank president.
Family is why the Parsons look forward to the holidays with joy and excitement every year.
“Thanksgiving and Christmas are very special times for us,” says Governor Parson. “That’s a tradition handed down from my mother, who really loved Christmas. We try hard to get everyone together every year.”
“Christmas is a time for family,” adds Teresa. “Our children and grandchildren, along with my mom and dad and my dad’s sister, all come to our house. On Christmas, we make a non-traditional meal of enchiladas. That’s also the one day during the year that Mike cooks! Mike’s mom and dad are no longer with us, but we celebrate them by making his mom’s enchiladas. Before the unwrapping of our gifts, we read the story of Jesus’s birth from the Bible.”
When asked what he wants us to know about his family, Governor Parson says: “We’re just like everyone else. We came from rural Missouri, and we’re just everyday people. What you see is what you get.”
JAG (Jobs for American Graduates) is a program near and dear to both the governor and first lady.
“JAG is an initiative that the governor and I became involved with while he served as lieutenant governor,” says Teresa. “JAG works with students who have academic potential but are at risk of not graduating due to significant barriers like poverty, challenging family situations, or histories of personal trauma. Through JAG, students are encouraged, empowered, and given the tools to unleash their potential by helping them graduate from high school and get ready to move into college, military service, or the workforce. This year, we implemented a new essay contest in each of the JAG schools. A winner from each of the 29 schools will be chosen, and they, along with their JAG Specialist and two guests, will be invited to the mansion for a reception and tour. They will also participate in the mansion’s Christmas tree lighting ceremony. We hope to make this an annual event.”
In addition, the first lady plans on working closely with special needs children.
“I hope to bring awareness to this issue and advocate how we as a state can better work with caregivers, teachers, and families to provide the best for each of these Missouri children going into adulthood,” she says. “I hope to work with many organizations in the future to support and advocate for the children and their families.”
“Charities and nonprofits, both secular and faith-based, are critical to enriching the lives of Missourians and helping those in need,” adds Kehoe. “Charities and nonprofits tend to personally know those they serve, and in many instances provide help far faster and more effectively than the government can. The United Way, Central Missouri Food Bank, Special Olympics, the Vitae Society, and the 4-H program are some of the many organizations Claudia and I are happy to be involved in.”
Traditions New and Old
“The first lady has made a point to let everyone know that this is the people’s mansion, so we’re going to do as much as we can to make sure people are welcome and to share it with them,” says Parson. “It’s fun to share the history with people, and we look forward to it.”
So how do they plan to do it? By creating a mascot, of course!
The first lady aims to open up the mansion more frequently for scheduled tours of the living quarters. She has also introduced Mr. Buzzaround, the mansion’s honey bee mascot, “to encourage younger Missourians to learn about the beauty and history of the ‘People’s Mansion.’”
As for the mansion’s holiday traditions, Teresa says: “We look forward to spending our f rst holiday season in the mansion. The Governor and I will continue the annual candlelight tours as well as the Friends of the Missouri Governor’s Mansion Holiday Gala, but look forward to bringing our Bolivar roots to the house. We are the 38th family to live in the mansion since it was built in 1871. I’m sure holiday customs have changed over the years, but faith and family will be at the center of our celebrations.”
The Kehoe’s holiday traditions will soon be changing a bit as well.
“Claudia and I officially became empty-nesters this year as our youngest daughter went off to college,” says Kehoe. “With four children, we have maintained a tradition for almost 30 years of celebrating Thanksgiving at our family farm in south central Missouri. Claudia and I feel strongly that our family has much to be thankful for, and this tradition gives us time to reflect and prepare for the most important day of the year, the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, Christmas. One day this will change as my children have families of their own, but we consider ourselves blessed to have this tradition and look forward to many more holidays together.”
Life in Jefferson City
And of their time in our “Most Beautiful Small Town”?
“We really like Jefferson City,” says Governor Parson. “We love to walk around downtown in the evening. It’s very quiet and peaceful. Everyone is so kind and friendly to us. I believe it is a huge honor to have the state capitol in your hometown. The people in Jefferson City do a wonderful job of making visitors, whether it’s legislators or people who work here part of the time, feel welcome.”
“We are truly enjoying our time,” adds Teresa. “The schedule has been a little hectic, but the community has graciously made us feel right at home. Jefferson City is a beautiful town. As we move into the winter months, we plan to spend more time enjoying the community and everything it has to offer.”
“I am very fortunate to call Jefferson City home for nearly 30 years,” says Kehoe. “It is a great place to work and raise a family because of the traditional values of faith, family, and hard work that are part of the central Missouri culture. Though I was born and raised in St. Louis, I consider Jefferson City home.”
Two things Governor Parson would like to leave us with:
- Remember the families of veterans and servicemembers when thanking them for their service. Those loved ones sacrifice for our country as well.
- The governor’s office staff is an incredible group of people who work hard every day to make Missouri a better place.