September 30, 2014
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What You Don’t Know About Ann Scott

An inside look at Florida’s First Lady—her first date with Rick, fear of public speaking, why she loves Naples and more.

 

Walk through the shady, well-tended lawn up to the two- story brick house with white columns, pass through the entry hall and glance into the spacious dining room filled with tables for eight. Enter a glassed-in room that overlooks the grounds; once a patio, it now serves as a den, with comfortable sofas and plush chairs arranged for easy chatting. Family photos are prominent, especially of babies—babies playing, sleeping, smiling and dressed for special occasions—along with their young parents. It’s not so very different from any traditional home in an upscale southern neighborhood.

And yet.

This is Tallahassee’s Governor’s Mansion; the house Gov. Rick Scott and First Lady Ann Scott made home after he won election three years ago and they moved from Naples. Their private quarters are upstairs, not open to visitors. The downstairs is for public tours and events; the dining tables are formally set with a full complement of silver, china and crystal for dinner with 48 prominent community leaders who will travel from all corners of the state to join the Scotts that night.

Ann Scott enters the den dressed casually in a stylish cobalt blue
top and dark pants, carrying a smartphone loaded with family photos, including the Scott’s three grandbabies. The family dog, an older rescued yellow Lab named Tally, is by her side.

So are two staffers, who stay close at hand during a 30-minute interview, and a chef, who offers beverages before vanishing. Ann, petite and appearing much younger than her 61 years, is gracious with all. Her smile rarely fades and
her voice still carries a hint of her Southern upbringing. But she’s also cautious: Her husband is up for re- election this year, and her remarks include nothing that could give offense or appear extravagant.

When you’re married to the governor of the nation’s fourth-largest state—not to mention a man whose previous job was CEO of a multi- billion hospital chain—privacy is hard to come by. Casual, offhand comments can be misconstrued. Extended interviews with the First Lady are almost nonexistent; media requests for sit-downs with Ann Scott were refused for months after the election, with staff citing her wish for privacy.
 While she often visits schools and hospitals to promote literacy and healthy child care, and hosts groups of foster children in the mansion to talk about gardening and healthy diets, publicity is limited.

Despite all her community work and First Lady appearances, Ann Scott says she suffers from a phobia few would imagine. “I came into this job absolutely terrified of public speaking,” she says. “I wouldn’t say I’m completely over it, but it’s gotten a little easier.”

It started when she had to give a speech in her sixth-grade classroom, she explains. She was unusually anxious, and her hands and legs shook. When her classmates laughed at her, the teacher did nothing to stop them.

Public speaking was out of the question for years after that—until Scott’s bid for governor, when their staff told her she had to go out and talk about him as a person, and about their family life. Even then, she’d practice, finding a few moments to herself to read her remarks aloud, over and over. “It helps when you’re prepared,” she says.

“Sometimes now I can even ad lib a little. It
really depends on the crowd, how comfortable I feel. ... People may want me to talk about policy or issues, but I don’t get into that at all.”

But there’s still something she wants to tell people about Rick Scott. “He has a sense of humor,” she says, citing his ability to see the amusing side of a situation, or make off-the- cuff witty remarks. “He can be really funny. I don’t think the public sees that side of him so much.”

Ann Scott has seen all sides of Rick Scott. They were classic high school sweethearts, and she’s been by his side since.

Ann was born in 1952 in Mobile, Ala., and lived in Dallas and Columbus, Ga., before her family moved to Kansas City, Mo., during her senior year of high school.

She’d noticed Rick Scott in class; mutual friends told her he noticed her, too. “They said he wanted to ask me out, but he was so shy,” she recalls with a laugh. “He had curly hair then, and he wore glasses, at least some of the time.” She also needed glasses, and on their first date neither wanted to don their eyewear in front of the other.

“Then the movie started and we both had to put on our glasses, and we just looked at each other and laughed,” she says, still chuckling at the memory.

They married less than a year later, in 1972.

Rick started college right after high school, “but I grew up differently,” Ann says. “My parents told me if I wanted to go to college I had to pay for it myself.” So she worked and saved money to start classes later at the University of Missouri in Kansas City.

Rick, meanwhile, interrupted his college years to join the Navy. After he finished boot camp, Ann says, they were sent to his first posting at Newport, R.I., hundreds of miles away from friends and family. “I didn’t see my family again for 15 months,” she says. “I did a lot of crying then.”

After the service, Rick Scott went back to UMKC on the GI Bill for his business degree, then to Southern Methodist University for his law degree.

Ann dreamed of being an interior designer, but that didn’t work out. “The nearest (design) school was 50 miles away and we didn’t have money for gas,” she says. “But we moved a lot, and I’ve been able to re- do a lot of houses.”

She also resumed classes at SMU, graduating with a business degree
in 1980 and going to work doing corporate taxes for an oil and energy company. Their two daughters, Allison and Jordan, came two years after her college graduation. She stopped outside work then to concentrate on their girls.

Rick Scott, meanwhile, went to work for a Dallas law firm, and in 1987 started Columbia Hospital Corp. with their savings of $125,000. When he left Columbia in 1997—resigning in the wake of a controversy over its Medicare billing practices—it was the world’s largest health care company, with more than 340 hospitals and 285,000 employees.

Gas money was no longer a problem; they were millionaires many times over, able to put about $70 million of personal money in his 2010 campaign.

Rick Scott’s job also meant moving; over the years they lived in Dallas, Nashville and Connecticut, and in 2003—after both daughters were away in college—they paid about $11.5 million for their Naples home. Rick Scott knew Florida from his hospital work, and wanted to live there. “We talked to people and visited different places, but Naples just seemed special to us,” Ann says. “We just fell in love with it.”

Naples has the feel of the water, she says, a unique air of relaxation. But she’s also quick to praise Tallahassee for its green, rolling hills, brick homes and traditional Southern ambiance.

Naples, however, also has her daughter Allison, her husband and their two sons, one a toddler and the other still a baby. Daughter Jordan lives with her husband and infant son in Austin. Ann tries to see both as much as she can, and leaves no doubt of her devotion to the grandchildren—and children in general.

Florida’s First Lady always meets celebrities and important people, but Ann Scott demurs at singling out any as especially memorable. More important, she says, are
the children she’s met through her causes and community work. Raising awareness of foster care and adoption opportunities are among her top priorities as First Lady, and she says bringing those children to the mansion for daylong visits is a source of joy.

Sitting with them at a formal table and talking about good manners,
or helping them learn about healthy snacks, “is far more memorable to me than anything else,” she says.

Even before her move to the mansion, Ann was a valued volunteer at Liberty Youth Ranch, (a home for at-risk children), in Bonita Springs, says ranch founder Alan Dimmitt. Much of her work there was with the ranch’s Upscale shop, which sells donated and consigned goods.

“Ann had a real gift for creating vignettes with the furniture and décor items,” Dimmitt says. “It would be total chaos, and she’d pitch in and make it look good.” The work was physical, and included deep cleaning and heavy lifting, but Ann never hesitated.

She also spent time with the children, and brought other family members with her to do the same. “Ann is a warm, genuine person, and she has a gift for connecting with the children,” Dimmitt says.

Once, when Ann had car trouble while working at the ranch, Dimmitt relates, she refused all offers of help or rides and went home in the tow truck she called for her car.
“She didn’t want to inconvenience anyone,” he says. “She never expected special treatment.”

The Scotts also helped found Naples Community Church in 2006 and still attend when they’re in town. Pastor Kirt Anderson was the first minister, and says the founders wanted a church to “serve the local community free from denominational interference,” not subject to orders from elsewhere, and able to keep their aid close to home.

Collier has its own needs, he says, and Ann shared the mission to help children in nearby communities. Rick Scott, meanwhile, was more involved with the new church’s business side. “They really complement each other. There’s some yin and yang there,” he says. “Ann is the softer side. She’s very warm, very friendly; she’s the girl next door. But she’s not frou-frou, either.”

Susan Mullican, another church founder, says that’s where she first met Ann Scott and developed a lasting friendship. They play golf, go to lunch, do weekend getaways, “all the things you do with your girlfriends,” Mullican says.

Ann’s themed dinners, including one with an African safari setting and another based on Italy, were events that Naples friends now miss. “She’s so much fun to be around,” Mullican says. “Of course, now she has the grandchildren, and all the work that goes with being First Lady, but she still likes to get together with her friends here.” If a friend needs her support or help, “she’s just a phone call or a text away.” If Ann herself is ever frustrated by the inevitable criticism that governors face, Mullican says, it doesn’t show.

Ann makes it clear that her grandchildren are a major priority. Having them live so far away from Tallahassee can mean time demands, but she schedules carefully and months in advance, balancing First Lady activities and family time. When her daughters talk about staying in their own homes, with their husbands and children, for Christmas, she understands. “That’s what we did. We traveled so much for the first 10 years, then after we had our family, we stayed home for Christmas,” she recalls. “It’s more relaxing.”

That memory, that harkening back to earlier times and family history, isn’t just a one-time remark. It reflects an influence on all Ann Scott’s work—her involvement with less-fortunate children even now; her speeches on her husband’s behalf even when she’d rather do almost anything else; her devotion to her family, while releasing her daughters to find their own way with their children.

Ann Scott may be a wealthy First Lady of Florida, but she’s also “a very caring person who has compassion and does a lot of hard work to help other people,” Anderson says. “She’s never lost touch with her roots.”

 

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