Gary Jessee started his service in the Texas Health and Human Services system at the Department of Aging more than 20 years ago. He was one of 35 employees in the entire agency.
His career spanned the modern era of social services in the state, and he helped shape how it delivers services. Throughout his career, the one constant has been change.
“I’ve been through several transformations,” said Jessee, who will leave his post as deputy executive commissioner for Medical and Social Services on July 14. He believes the Health and Human Services system is better because of the changes, especially the current transformation. “I think we got it right. This system will improve the way people access services.”
Chief Deputy Executive Commissioner Cecile Young will assume many of Jessee’s responsibilities until a deputy executive commissioner is hired. But you don’t replace a person like Gary Jessee, Executive Commissioner Charles Smith said.
“The depth and breadth of Gary’s program knowledge is only matched by his heart and passion for service," Smith said. "His legacy of service will be felt across Texas for years. He is truly a HHS superstar.”
That legacy will be as much the people as the programs he left behind. Bustling with energy, Jessee challenged his people go beyond where they thought their limits were and led by example.
“I can't think of anyone who knows as much as he does about the medical and social services we offer and how they are connected,” said Emily Zalkovsky, deputy associate commissioner for policy and programs, who has worked with Jessee for more than four years. “He taught me so much about stakeholder relations, doing whatever it takes to get projects done, about supporting staff and keeping the beneficiaries in mind.”
Jessee, who started with the state after graduating from Texas State University in San Marcos, likened his move to leaving for college.
“I’ve been very emotional about leaving,” he said.
His faith in state employees has been justified time after time and that faith has been returned.
“I’ve had some great bosses, but he was probably the best," Zalkovsky said. "He always supported me and taught me to take risks.”
Jessee is taking his talents and experience beyond Texas and will work with other states to transform delivery systems and help providers strengthen their ability to deliver quality services.
His service to others began early. “I delivered Meals on Wheels with my mother and helped my father with his nursing home ministry,” he said. “I developed a connection with older people. I went to college intending to go to medical school, but I took a sociology class which changed my life direction. I went on to minor in gerontology and knew my calling was to make the world better than I found it.”
That mindset led to a career that included stints at the Texas General Services Commission, Texas Department of Aging, Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services and the Texas Health and Human Services Commission. At HHSC, he served as state Medicaid director before becoming the first leader of the MSS division, which is responsible for delivering the vast majority of HHS services.
Through it all, he has valued the partnerships he’s developed with fellow state employees, consumers, stakeholders and lawmakers.
“We must never lose sight of the mission of this system,” he said. “We all have to look for opportunities to make it more efficient and to continue working collaboratively to make it the best for the people who need us.”