TAMPA — She remembers walking into the city clerk's office 60 years ago and being greeted by a staff composed entirely of men.
Frances Henriquez couldn't imagine then that she would later serve as Tampa city clerk for 20 years, have the city archives named after her and, on Tuesday morning, listen as Mayor Bob Buckhorn presented her with the Josephine Howard Stafford Memorial Award for outstanding service to the city.
"Little by little, the town that was Tampa grew and grew and so did the women's movement," Henriquez, 83, said Tuesday. "Now the only thing left that a woman hasn't been elected or been appointed to is the president of the United States."
The award was given as part of the city's 18th Annual Women's History Month Celebration. Established in 1997, the Josephine Howard Stafford Memorial Award is presented to a current or former city female employee who demonstrates outstanding commitment to her position and the community. Stafford had served as assistant city attorney for 24 years.
This is the third year that the celebration has included a women's appreciation award for MacDill Air Force base. This year's honoree was Col. Elizabeth Decker, 6th Medical Operations Squadron commander.
In past years, the committee relied on nominations from city employees for the Stafford award, committee chairwoman Jillian Howard said. However, committee members discovered there were still many "firsts" within the city they needed to recognize themselves — such as Henriquez's status as the first female and first Hispanic city clerk.
During her tenure, Tampa was the first Florida city to create a municipal archive, and the Archives and Records Services was later named in her honor. Henriquez was also the last city clerk elected to the office, after which it became appointed.
"This award means a lot to me, not so much for me, but for the people that are going to follow me," Henriquez said. "Who would've thought when I first walked into the city clerk's office 60 years ago that I would be sitting here receiving all this love from all of these people?"
Buckhorn reminisced about getting to know Henriquez when he served as the mayor's administrative assistant.
"Frances knew me when I was a young whippersnapper, and she sort of took care of me and protected me and she made me look good," Buckhorn said.
Buckhorn said it is important to continue to recognize outstanding service of women to the city, especially as they lay the groundwork for the next generation, including his two daughters.
Howard said it is refreshing to live in a city that's nurturing of women and the diversity they bring to public service.
"It's no longer a man's world," Howard said. "It's a woman standing by a man and sometimes leading a man. We are the frontier of a great nation just because the city of Tampa is a location where women can be nurtured into CFOs and CEOs and presidents of companies, not just mothers."
Caitlin Johnston can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 661-2443.