Strangers might be attracted initially by Juanita M. Adams' silvery white hair, twinkly brown eyes and infectious smile.
But lasting impressions are sure to be made by the warmth of her heart, the depth of her commitment to public service and a contagiously positive outlook on life.
"Never allow anyone to tell you what you can't do," says Ms. Adams, 62, a vibrant woman who knows the wisdom of those words.
As a 1950s-era teen-ager from Cincinnati's West End, she was told by a school counselor to choose a career in sewing, cooking or power machinery - not the secretarial - business field she sought - because there would be no business jobs for African-Americans when she graduated.
"I said, 'I'm going into commercial vocation anyway. I will have to be the best I can, and maybe there will be some jobs when I finish." There were.
From a co-op clerical job at Lincoln Heights Elementary School at age 17 to a position as the first African-American physician's secretary for the Cincinnati Health Department, she rose through city ranks to become the city's Director - Registrar of Vital Records in 1980.
"It doesn't make any difference what's around you," says the Paddock Hills resident and avid flower gardener. "You have to follow your own course in life. And if you pray and be faithful to your Creator, he will guide you. With God, all things are possible." Ms. Adams retired in 1993 but remains busy.
Juanita Marie Adams|
Birthplace: West End.
Residence: Paddock Hills.
Occupation: Retired Cincinnati Registrar - Director of Vital Records (1980-93) after a 40-year career in various management positions with city of Cincinnati and Cincinnati Health Department. Family: Divorced. Children: Son Anthony is an attorney in Detroit and and daughter-in-law Deborah Ross Adams is a judge. Three grandchildren. Education: 1953 graduate of Old Woodward High School and its commercial - vocational program. Graduate of Project Blueprint Leadership Training of Community Chest. Studied at the University of Cincinnati.
Current project: Member of Gala committee for the Urban League of Greater Cincinnati and chairwoman of the Memorial - Building Fund for Greater New Hope Missionary Baptist Church.
Best advice received: From her father, the late Frank L. Jones: ''He always said we had 'one' in our name - the o-n-e in the middle of Jones - and it meant something. Whatever a person wants, they can go out and get it. You have to believe you are an important person in the world.''
She's a volunteer for the Urban League of Greater Cincinnati and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, a board member of Lincoln Crawford Nursing Home - Wesley Hall Service Organization in Walnut Hills and an active member of Greater New Hope Missionary Baptist Church in Avondale.
She sings alto in her church choir and belongs to a smaller inspirational choir that visits Drake Hospital monthly.
"Juanita has many quotes, but the one that has meant the most to me is, 'Whatever you want to be you can be, and wherever you want to go you can go,' " wrote Cathy M. Greene, patient care manager at Christ Hospital in one of Ms. Adams' nomination letters.
For Ms. Adams, community involvement emanates from the examples set by her late parents, Nannie Belle Jones, who frequently visited the sick and shut-ins, and Frank L. Jones, a union baker active in community affairs.
"That's the reason a lot of people call me 'Miss NAACP' or 'Miss Urban League' or 'Miss Greater New Hope Missionary Church,' " she says proudly. "When I'm out there, I feel like I'm representing those agencies."
She is a woman who works hard and enjoys life and her family just as readily.
She remembers driving to a football game with her 12-year-old son and 11 of his teammates in full football gear crammed into her 1966 Mustang. "You better win," she said as she extracted them like circus clowns (they won).
She's the grandmother who sews Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and Cruella DeVil costumes at Halloween.
During her career, she supervised the evolution of the city's Vital Records office from 1910-era alphabetically filed index-card files into the age of microfiche, computers, fax machines and direct computer links to hospitals - the first computerized records department in Ohio. And she was the supervisor who always had time to mentor her co-workers.
"She would help (young women) understand that it is not enough to have fast typing speed if you did not come to work on time," wrote former employee Sarah O. Anderson. "It was not enough to be able to work a complex telephone system if you did not know how to talk to the person on the other end of the phone with decency and respect." Ms. Adams says she was most touched by nominators who talked about her influence as a mentor and friend.
"You don't realize what you are doing sometimes," she says. "When you are out there doing it from your heart, you're not looking for any reward. You're doing it because you have some passion within you. You don't always realize the impact you have on other people." She credits her attitude and success to her family's philosophy of embracing all people and setting high standards for caring. "I don't care what your (position) in life is, I don't care how you dress or what you own," Ms. Adams says. "If you are not a friend to mankind, you are a loser."