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2023 Administrator of the Year Named for Advocacy Efforts

The Romney Institute recognized Debby Tucker for her work to end domestic violence and sexual assault.

The Romney Institute of Public Service and Ethics at the BYU Marriott School of Business annually recognizes an outstanding man or woman who has achieved distinction for management in the public or nonprofit sector. This year’s Administrator of the Year Award was presented to Debby Tucker for her work to end domestic and sexual violence.

A woman in her sixties sits on a coach inside a building.
Debby Tucker received the 2023 Administrator of the Year Award at BYU Marriott.
Photo courtesy of the Romney Institute for Public Service and Ethics.

At the award ceremony, MPA director and professor Robert Christensen described Tucker as a “fierce, wise, compassionate, and determined advocate for women and children,” and these qualities were on display throughout the night as she shared her experiences.

Tucker, an Alabama native, was prompted to begin her advocacy work by a traumatic personal experience. During her senior year at the University of Texas, Tucker and her two roommates started receiving threatening phone calls and notes, indicating that a man was stalking them and aware of their movements. The stalking escalated into violence when the man forced his way into the apartment and sexually assaulted a friend of one of Tucker’s roommates, who was sleeping on their living room couch.

Following police investigation, Tucker and her roommates were encouraged to move apartments for their own safety. But just six weeks after Tucker moved into her new place, someone burst through her door while she was home alone. Already on alert from her experiences at her previous apartment, Tucker responded immediately. “I was ready,” she says. “I started throwing things, screaming, and fighting him off.” When her neighbors began banging on the door, the man fled.

“That experience woke me up more than anything else,” Tucker says. After these back-to-back incidents, Tucker asked herself, “Wait a minute—does this stuff happen all the time?”

Then she learned the reality. “Law enforcement showed me the books of all the guys arrested and the stacks of reports women filed,” Tucker explains. “I realized that I needed to do something about this problem.”

Tucker began volunteering at the first rape crisis center in Texas in 1974. After a year at the center, she shifted from volunteer to full-time work. “Being in the action was healing for me,” Tucker says. Soon, victims of domestic violence began calling the center for help because they were physically and sexually assaulted by their husbands or boyfriends. For Tucker, those early years working with survivors of sexual violence fueled her passion to create change.

In 1977, she cofounded and served as the executive director of the Austin Center for Battered Women. She worked there until 1982, when she became the first executive director of the Texas Council on Family Violence. In that role, she assisted communities in Texas to establish shelters, offer services for survivors, and initiate Battering Intervention and Prevention Programs (BIPPs), which focused on helping those prone to violent action develop ways to control their behavior.

A woman in her sixties speaks at a podium.
Debby Tucker speaks to those at the award ceremony about ending domestic violence and sexual assault.
Photo courtesy of the Romney Institute.

Tucker worked closely with the Texas legislature, the governor’s office, and many state agencies as a representative for survivors of assault and many of the agencies that serve them. Tucker also promoted laws and policies to improve how the criminal justice and human service systems respond to domestic and sexual violence.

She also cofounded the National Network to End Domestic Violence and served as the first chair of its board. In that role, she worked with then congressman Joe Biden, the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence, and many other groups to craft the Violence Against Women Act. Tucker and the Texas Council on Family Violence then stepped up to initiate and establish the National Domestic Violence Hotline, which recently answered its six millionth call.

While these organizations and resources have helped tremendously, Tucker wants to extend services further. “There are still too many people falling through the cracks,” Tucker explains. “We need to reach out to everybody. What can people in the mental health field do? What can people of faith do? What can social clubs do?”

Tucker has made it her mission to work with anyone and everyone to establish safety and well-being for all. She currently serves as president of the National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence, which she cofounded in 1998, to provide customized training, give technical assistance, and offer violence prevention consultation both nationally and internationally.

“It’s clear to me that the effort to end sexual violence takes partnerships across sectors,” Tucker says. “We who have dedicated ourselves to ending violence cannot do it alone and need allies in government, education, faith communities, and much more. There’s a role to play from the smallest local social club to international corporations. We can do it together.”