MPA Trailblazer

PROVO, Utah – Sep 30, 2022 – A self-proclaimed “daddy’s girl,” Ruth Ann Jefferies followed her father into a public service career. While Jefferies pursued the field because of her father’s example, she has been a trailblazer herself, including becoming BYU Marriott’s first female MPA graduate in 1971 and establishing an extensive career at various levels of government.

Jefferies grew up on a farm in southern Idaho. Her father worked in several public service positions, including Cassia County assessor, state senator, and chairman of the Idaho State Tax Commission. Once Jefferies graduated from BYU in 1967 with a bachelor’s degree in political science, she moved to Washington, DC, and began her own career in government.

After eight months coordinating government aid in Latin America with the US State Department, Jefferies returned to Utah, where she married and began taking classes at BYU to obtain a teaching certificate. Her life changed dramatically a year later when her husband, Val Bunker, was killed in a hunting accident, leaving Jefferies a widow at age 22.

In dealing with the tragedy, Jefferies’s tenacious approach to life and her reliance on faith helped her push through the ensuing heartbreak. “Fear generally inhibits achievement and living a full life; if we can nail down fear, we can improve almost anything,” she says. “The bottom line is to have faith in God and high expectations for yourself.”

True to her own advice, Jefferies began working to live a full life despite her circumstances. While still taking classes to become a teacher, she enrolled in a public administration course because of her lifelong interest in the topic. Her professor, Karl Snow, was impressed with Jefferies’s background and performance in his class. “One day he talked to me about the MPA program. He explained that I would be the first woman in the program and convinced me that an MPA would benefit my career,” she says. “I worked hard and stuck out like a sore thumb as the only woman.”

Beyond the history she was making, Jefferies’s effort and desire to succeed paid off even before she graduated. Following her first year in the program, she landed a job as the associate state planning coordinator in the Utah Governor’s Office. After graduating a year later, Jefferies spent an additional nine years in her role coordinating federal grants.

She then took a 13-year break from formal work to raise two children from her second marriage, which later ended in divorce. But even while staying home as a mother, Jefferies never stopped being involved in her community, fulfilling a variety of duties with the state Republican Party. Jefferies returned to the workforce in 1990, spending a year managing the United States Census Bureau office in northern Utah. She then accepted a position at the Utah State Tax Commission, where she remained for 27 years.

“I have been involved with taxation for most of my life, beginning and ending with property tax. As a child, I helped count horses, cattle, and sheep with my father when he was the county assessor,” she explains. “As an adult, I helped lead the state’s effort to set property tax rates and codify tax statutes.”

While Jefferies remains passionate about public service, her greatest joy is her two children. Her daughter, Nicole, is a general manager and senior vice president for Advance Auto Parts; her son, Lon, was a certified financial planner before he passed away from a seizure in 2015.

Jefferies retired in 2017, but she hasn’t slowed down. She finds peace from her faith and continues to serve others in retirement. When she is not volunteering as board member or at museums and theaters, Jefferies maintains her lifelong political involvement, teaches church Sunday School classes, and enjoys taking care of her home and yard in Bountiful, Utah. “I’m happiest when I’m busy,” she observes.

Looking back on her career and life, Jefferies appreciates her opportunity to walk in her father’s footsteps while also creating a path for others to follow. “I feel blessed to have worked in the public sector,” she says. “I met amazing people and had many special opportunities, all while trying to make a difference in people’s lives.”

Ruth Ann Jefferies
Ruth Ann Jefferies

Writer: Mike Miller