The ultimate tribute

 

Some families pass down heirlooms, a treasured piece of jewelry or furniture. In others, it’s flaming red hair or green eyes. In the Newsom family, they hand down a dedication to serving the community.

Brent Newsom, 46, has served on the Mansfield City Council since 2011, while his wife Michelle, 42, is winding up her first three-year term on the Mansfield ISD school board. Spouses serving in elected positions isn’t uncommon in small towns, but doesn’t happen often in a city with more than 60,000 residents. And it’s the first time that anyone recalls it happening in Mansfield. “The meetings are on different nights – we’re OK,” says Brent, a banker.

But Brent and Michelle Newsom aren’t even the most famous people in their family. That would be Vernon Newsom, Brent’s father (pictured to the right with his son), who served as Mansfield High School principal and later as Mansfield ISD superintendent when the district tripled in size. His name is now affixed to the city’s largest stadium, and his legacy is still felt almost a decade after his retirement.

“When I go to the TASB (Texas Association of School Boards) convention, they ask me if I’m related,” says Michelle, a nurse and vice president of operations for Encore Enterprises. “I sat next to the superintendent from Aledo. He started crying when he figured out who I was.”

Vernon Newsom served as Mansfield ISD superintendent from 1996-2009, guiding the district through a growth spurt to 30,000 students, building 26 new campuses (including three high schools, a career and technology campus and an 11,000-seat stadium) and six bond elections. After he retired in June 2009, he and his wife, Nadyne, set off on a tour across the country on a three-wheeled motorcycle.

They were attempting to pass a truck near Platte, S.D., when the truck began to turn toward them. Newsom steered the bike toward a ditch, the motorcycle flipped, he was killed and Nadyne Newsom injured. Vernon Newsom died on July 22, 2009, just weeks after leaving the school district.

“When Vernon died, that was one of the hardest things our family went through,” Michelle recalls. “I’ve seen a change in Brent since he has been on city council. It feels like he’s honoring his dad. It’s a healing of the soul.”

Brent Newsom said that serving the community was an expectation when he was growing up. His father served as his high school principal in Mansfield, then later as his superintendent when the family moved to Wimberley.

“It’s my home,” says Brent, who moved to Mansfield as a toddler when his father was hired as Mansfield High’s football coach in 1974. “You feel like you have a responsibility to serve. Whether you volunteer at church, a clinic or service organization, you feel that desire to serve your home. I’m lucky that I get to serve in the community where I grew up.”

Michelle Newsom’s family is from Louisiana and East Texas, but she attended 13 different schools before graduating from high school in Wimberley. That’s where she met her future husband at a graduation party in 1992. The two have been together since, recently celebrating their 20th wedding anniversary.

Her transient upbringing isn’t something Michelle wanted for her children. “We had a pinky promise that when we put our kids in school, we were going to stay,” she says.

And they have. After moving back to the area in 1998, the couple lived in South Arlington, then moved to Mansfield when their youngest daughter was starting first grade at J.L. Boren Elementary, which Brent also attended.

“When I went to register them, the lady looked at my paperwork, looked up and said ‘We’ve been waiting for you,’” Michelle recalls.

Superintendent Vernon Newsom’s granddaughters had come to Mansfield. Madison, now 19, graduated from Mansfield High and attends Stephen F. Austin State University. Raegan, 17, is a junior at Mansfield High. Both have felt the impact of the family name, but sometimes it comes slowly.

“Brent can be on city council, I’m on school board, and their grandfather’s name is on the stadium, but still teachers don’t know who they are,” Michelle says. “Then they put two and two together. The girls will come home and say, ‘Today was the day. They figured it out.’”

Like their father, the Newsom girls have been raised with an awareness and appreciation for their community. “It’s a family affair for us,”

Michelle says. “We drove around and looked at the land Lake Ridge is on and dreamed about what Mansfield would be.”

“Not that the kids liked it that much,” Brent replies. “But they grew up around my dad.”

While their grandfather may have been one of the more famous people in Mansfield, to Madison and Raegan, he was PawPaw. “When they were really little, he bought them both mums and took them to homecoming,” Michelle remembers. “On one streamer it said ‘Madison’ and on the other it said ‘PawPaw.’ On Madison’s senior mum, she put that mum in the center.”

The senior Newsom also had other skills that won his granddaughters’ hearts. While serving as Mansfield High’s football coach, he was also the driving teacher and promised to teach them to drive. He died before they were old enough. “The first driving lesson was at the stadium,” Michelle says, “so they could be with their PawPaw.”

They don’t have to look far to see Vernon Newsom’s influence. “His impact will always be felt,” says Mansfield City Manager Clayton Chandler, who became close friends with Vernon Newsom. “He would say, ‘I hope I’ve made permanent improvements in education.’ I think he did.”

Chandler believes Brent Newsom is a lot like his father. “Brent is cut from the same cloth, considerate, compassionate and intelligent,” Chandler says. “He tries to see others’ points of view. Like his dad, he will make the decision he thinks is right.”

Mansfield Mayor David Cook, who grew up with Brent Newsom, also sees the similarities. “Mr. Newsom is someone I’ve looked up to since high school, his calmness, professionalism,” Cook says. “Brent has the same demeanor, that calmness. They may not say much, but when they do speak they say so much more.”

While Michelle Newsom is more talkative than her husband, her commitment to the community is the same. “They both take time from their young family to serve the community, passing on the legacy of service to the next generation of Newsoms,” says Raul Gonzalez, president of the Mansfield ISD school board.

The Newsoms stress that serving on the council and the school board are team efforts. “We just happen to be married,” Brent says.

That doesn’t mean they share things discussed in executive session – something they learned from Vernon Newsom.

“With Vernon in his position, we knew there were things he couldn’t tell us,” Michelle says. “And if we knew something, we couldn’t talk about it.”

Both say they do not think the Newsom name gets them any special treatment.

“I don’t believe that people associate me with Brent or Vernon,” Michelle says. “I believe I have to earn my own way. I had a lot of people ask me when I ran if I was related.”

Brent doesn’t want to trade on his father’s name, either. “I don’t think putting my name down should mean anything,” he says.

That noted, Brent says the Newsom name does mean at least one thing, thanks to his father. “Integrity,” he says. “If I could be half the person my dad was, that … that would be great.”

Michelle knows the challenge her husband faces. “It would probably take both of us to continue his work,” she says.