It was January, 1996.
The historic blizzard that swept across the eastern United States had just dumped several feet of snow across West Virginia, leaving many stranded, without power and in freezing temperatures.
It was still the days of landline telephones and my grandfather called and said, “Talley, do you know how to drive in the snow?”
In fact, I was just learning to drive with a learner’s permit and I surely didn’t know how to drive in two or three feet of snow.
He let out his big laugh and said, “Great – I’m on my way to pick you up. Even though my patients can’t come see me, I need to make house calls and go see them.”
It was a routine that we started that day, that continued nearly every Sunday in high school and that sticks with me still to this day, many years since his death in 2001.
My grandfather, Dr. Homer Cummings, exemplified the Greatest Generation of Americans. While he grew up during the Great Depression, like so many other West Virginians, he was called to service during World War II and helped make the United States the global superpower it is today. And just like so many of our parents and grandparents, he also taught me life lessons on that snowy day in January that guide me today.
Put simply: for me, life is about making house calls, going the extra mile and looking out for each other.
During house calls, I would often not even see the patient we went to call on. My grandfather, Papa as we called him, would always be greeted by a loved one who would welcome him and whisk him into their home. And that is the way he wanted it – he was there to serve, not to show and tell.
For me, though, I could tell. I’d wait in the car and listen to our favorite band, The Glenn Miller Band, and he would come back with either a look of worry or a sigh of relief. He’d share the stories of their families, their old, worn-down homes, and their faith. His patients would share their thanks in so many different ways – some would come mow his lawn, others would bake a fruitcake at Christmas, and my favorite was listening to one of his patients singing old hymns that she had recorded for us to listen to on a cassette tape. Even today, I meet his former patients who share how much they appreciated his service – both medicine and ministry.
For me and for you, house calls are part of who we are as West Virginians.
It’s about going the extra mile – even if it is a country mile in the snow. It’s about serving others, not self. It’s about taking an obstacle and turning it into opportunity.
It is not just the house calls we’ve made throughout our shared past that define us, it is also the ones that we will make together that shape our shared future.
That’s why I’m running for Congress.
It’s about going the extra mile to grow a new economy that works for us in West Virginia – one that is built on hard work, earning our fair share and creating more job opportunities right here at home.
It’s about going the extra mile to improve healthcare, not take it away, so that every West Virginian has the care they need to live their best life.
It’s about going the extra mile to make sure we stop the opioid epidemic dead in its tracks – the pharmaceutical companies that dump pills in our towns and the criminals who operate in an underworld in our backyards. We must go the extra mile to ensure another generation of West Virginians do not suffer from the disease of drug addiction. For me personally, this means protecting all of our children, including my own niece and nephew, from the hopeless cycle that drug addiction brings.
It’s about going the extra mile to create opportunity right here in West Virginia – to get a good education and start in life, to start a small business or even a startup, and to raise a family — a new generation of West Virginians — who truly believe that Mountaineers are, as our state motto says, always free.
Public service is about making house calls.
Service above self.
Obstacles into opportunities.
I’m Talley Sergent and I’m running for Congress to serve the people of West Virginia’s Second District.
While I live in Charleston now, my story starts in Huntington.
I am the daughter of public school teachers – and the third of six children. Growing up, we always did everything as a family: there were enough of us to field a basketball team, sing in church as a small choir and fill a large van for post-church Sunday drives past houses and land that my parents would never be able to afford. And like many West Virginians today, for several years growing up, my parents moved often – to Kentucky and North Carolina – because just like far too many West Virginians today, they couldn’t find jobs here at home.
After graduating from Huntington High School in 1998, I attended college on Pell Grants, student loans and church scholarships at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In addition to my classes and social activities, I also participated in work study, which allowed me the opportunity to work on-campus jobs to help pay my way through school.
A Career Rooted in Public Service
Following graduation – literally the day after – I started my first official job working for U.S. Senator Jay Rockefeller in his Capitol Hill office. I’ve never worked for a better guy who cared more about West Virginia. Needless to say, I learned a lot about public service and taking care of people from Jay. He created the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), he helped write the COAL Act, which keeps the promise of health care to our miners even if the company goes bankrupt, and he fought hard to ensure our veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange in Vietnam received the care they earned. Jay helped shape my core values about what public service really means — that we stand up for every West Virginian no matter who they are or what side of the tracks they come from.
As my career in public service continued, I was fortunate to serve my country at the U.S. Department of State where I focused my work on the United States’ global efforts to empower women and girls. To start, I worked with our embassies and non-profit partners around the world to fight human trafficking through public awareness campaigns. Whether it was forced labor or sex trafficking, I’ve heard first-hand the stories of the terror of human trafficking and I’ve seen first-hand the power and resilience of the human spirit to overcome the crime of modern-day slavery.
While at the State Department, I also built public-private partnerships to support the United States’ policy of empowering women. One of my favorites was a global mentoring program I helped create with ESPN on the 40th anniversary of Title IX – which leveled the playing field for women in sports. We brought a lot of public-private partnerships together and I believe it is a great model to put to use in West Virginia to bring business, non-profit organizations and government together to grow our economy and strengthen our communities.
After leaving the State Department, I worked for The Coca-Cola Company at its headquarters in Atlanta. While my brother likes to say I was an official taste tester, my work there was actually focused on ways that the company can give back to the community. Whether it was supporting the Special Olympics World Games or healthier drink options, it was important to me that the Company was a responsible global citizen and community partner, using the prestige of the Coca-Cola brand to do good.
Just like the lessons that I learned with my grandfather on snowy roads in West Virginia, the lessons that I learned at the State Department and with Coca-Cola were invaluable in shaping who I am today.
No matter where I am or who I meet, I bring those same West Virginia values that I learned making house calls with my grandfather to the task at hand – go the extra mile, service above self, turn obstacles into opportunities.
Today, I am back home in West Virginia. I am proud to be a small business owner in Charleston, where I work with non-profit organizations and companies who are looking to share their story with you. It’s great to be able to start a small business and work right here in West Virginia.
Life Beyond Career
Throughout my life, it has always been family first. I am the third of six children, one of 35 first cousins and the proud aunt of 5 nieces and nephews. Growing up, the annual Thanksgiving Day family football game was always one for the ages. Today, since I don’t have kids of my own just yet, I enjoy spending time with my nieces and nephews at their swim meets, baseball games or just jumping into the lake on a hot summer day.
In the early morning you can find me running the country roads and city streets of West Virginia. Like you, enjoying West Virginia – her people and her natural beauty – is important to me. You can find me up on the Elk River in Clay County on some weekends and climbing Seneca Rocks in Pendleton County on other weekends. I’ve been known to enjoy a fair and festival or two – whether it’s the Strawberry Festival in Buckhannon, the Apple Harvest Festival in Martinsburg or the Putnam County Fair in Eleanor – it’s always a great time with good people and good food!