Harold Moss didn’t know he was going to be walking across the 11th Street Bridge until he got there March 8 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the march on Selma.
The 85-year-old former mayor of Tacoma thought a car would take him to the speeches at the end.
But as perhaps only a persuasive daughter can, Tacoma City Councilwoman Victoria Woodards had Moss, wearing dark glasses and a striking blue suit, led the march, alongside other local civil rights giants.
She later introduced him to the crowd as both Tacoma’s Martin Luther King Jr. and as her father.
To be accurate, they’re not biologically related, but they are family.
Moss helped Woodards buy her first house. He’ll walk her down the aisle if she decides to get married. And he helped pave the way for her to serve in public office.
Moss: “I love the living daylights out of this woman.”
Woodards: “He is the dad that I got to choose, and he is the man who represents to me what daddies are really supposed to be to their girls.”
Most people don’t question their arrangement, because: “Nepotism is alive and well in politics,” Moss joked recently, when he and Woodards, 49, talked to The News Tribune about their relationship and how they think they’ve influenced each other politically.
In 1997, Moss hired the 32-year-old Woodards to be his assistant while he served on the Pierce County Council.
He was a sort of legend to her at the time, she said. He’d been Tacoma’s first black City Council member and became the city’s first black mayor in 1994.
He said he knew Woodards was doing good work as the assistant with the Tacoma Urban League, so when his own deputy said he was going to leave to go back to school, he decided to poach her.
They both remember the meeting well.
Moss lied and told her he had a young man he wanted to set her up with. When she got to the Clock Tower Grill for lunch, she knew something was up, because Moss was sitting with his departing assistant.
Moss confessed he wanted to hire Woodards for the position, and he wasn’t going to offer the job to anyone else until she decided, he told her.
“It was always her,” Moss said. “That’s the only person I’d consider.”
She accepted the offer, and they’ve supported each other – personally and professionally – for about two decades since.
“I hated to see her leave,” said Tom Dixon, the head of the Urban League when Woodards worked there. “But that was an opportunity for her to be what she is today.”
Woodards heads the organization now. Dixon says he works with her and Moss as part of the Black Collective, a volunteer group of leaders that deals with issues that affect the black community in Tacoma and Pierce County.
It’s clear to anyone who sees Woodards and Moss interact that the two are like family, Dixon said.
“Victoria and I, maybe we’re more co-workers,” he said. “Harold and Victoria step higher.”
Working for Moss, Woodards quickly made a habit of getting to know everyone. Moss said he’d arrive to talk to constituents or groups of other elected officials, and they’d shake his hand politely, then promptly turn to his assistant.
“‘Hi, Victoria, how are you sweetheart?’” Moss mimicked. “She would have already formed a relationship that made it so much easier to do business with these people. I had the greatest admin assistant of the bunch.”
But medical emergencies, she warned him, weren’t her forte.
Moss had trouble with arrhythmia, and wanted the office prepared in case he had a heart attack. Woodards, who describes herself as a sympathetic vomiter, told Moss she probably didn’t have the nerves to help with that sort of crisis.
“I said: ‘Well, just call 911 and leave the door open,’ ” Moss remembered, laughing.
They say they never really got on each other’s nerves, but a few times Woodards almost got in trouble.
“There are some things Victoria scared me half to death with,” Moss said.
She once disappeared at a conference, and Moss was getting angry at her absence. Then Woodards showed up with a bottle of his favorite booze, Macnaughton whisky.
“It took a little doing, but I found this,” he remembered her saying.
He couldn’t get mad at her for that, he decided.
Similarly, she took off while they were in Milwaukee on business.
They’d just watched the roof of the art museum — designed to look like the wings of a bird — open and close. Moss is fascinated by mechanics, and she knew he’d want to know more about what they’d seen.
“She went out and found the video on how they made the damn thing,” he recalled.
He did threaten to fire her once. Neither remembers the exact circumstances. Moss said he wasn’t serious and instantly regretted the threat.
“She started crying,” he said.
As they started working together, the father-daughter bond was almost immediate, they said.
Woodards was living with her mother when she took the job. After working for Moss for six months, she had bought her first house, along Burkhart Drive in Tacoma.
Moss helped her pick it out, and talked her out of a bunch of other houses, some that would have required work.
“I’m saying, ‘You’re forgetting you’re a single woman with no construction skills at all,’ ” Moss said as Woodards laughed.
He built the shelves in her garage, installed the dishwasher and helped her haul a set of bookcases she found to the house. (The home was damaged by an electrical fire last year, and Woodards is rebuilding.)
When Moss divorced in 2002, he moved into a new house himself, and Woodards helped him get settled.
“My decorator was my daughter,” Moss said of Woodards. “It was just so comforting to have your daughter with you doing those things.”
She was around as well when Moss met his current wife.
“I was at the meeting,” she said. “I’d never seen him dance so much,”
On Christmas Eve, Woodards exchanges gifts with the Moss family, including Moss’ twin sisters, Woodards’ “aunties.”
And she’s on the list when the Mosses host get-togethers.
“I’m a partier,” he admitted. “I always have been.”
For Moss’ 85th birthday, she gave him a fake birth certificate for herself with his name on it as her father, signed by her mother.
“If I could have got it notarized, I would have,” Woodards said.
Her biological parents divorced when Woodards was 12, and her father moved to Mississippi.
“That hole that was missing for me wasn’t filled until I was 32,” she said. “Harold did it for me.”
Over the years she’s called several people in her life Dad, but Moss has a special title.
“I have an incredible community of adopted people,” she said. “I have never called anyone else ‘Daddy.’ ”
Moss has two sons and an adopted daughter who passed away in 2007.
He’s also “adopted” more than Woodards.
“He calls me son,” said City Council candidate Keith Blocker, who sees Moss as a sort of grandfather figure and who has sought the former mayor’s advice as he runs for the council.
Blocker, 33, said he became close with Moss when they started going out to lunch on Saturdays after meetings of the Black Collective.
“He’s opened doors and made it easier for the people who have come after him,” Blocker said.
Woodards said she inherited Moss’ off-the-cuff, from-the-heart style of speaking, and his practice of acknowledging people for their work.
“Harold will be the first to give credit to someone for their own idea,” she said.
He’d acknowledge everyone who worked on a project in his office, including the manager and the janitor sweeping up afterward, she said.
He showed her, she said, that it was possible to help people and be honest while sitting in elected office.
“All those people in the office loved that man,” she said.
Woodards said she also learned from the stories Moss told about being in Tacoma in the days when being black was an obstacle to buying a house or being served in downtown restaurants.
“There was a time in life when I didn’t really think about race very much,” she said. “My mother is white. Racism is not blatant here. It’s not overt. I came into my consciousness of being black when I started working at the Urban League. And Harold continued that.”
Moss’ upbringing was opposite in that regard.
“My father talked about race every day,” he said. “I came with a different set of baggage, but I share it with her. My old man gave it to me in spades.”
When it was time for Moss to retire from public office in 2004, he swore Woodards in to an appointed seat on the Tacoma Metro Parks Board.
She had said she didn’t wanted to run for office, but when she and Moss learned over lunch at Primo Grill that someone on the Parks Board was stepping down, “Harold and I just looked at each other, and voilà,” Woodards remembered.
“It was on then,” Moss said.
She had her first campaign party at Moss’ house on her 40th birthday.
“I wouldn’t be an elected official if Harold hadn’t been an elected official first,” she said. “He is why I got into politics.”
Asked if they see Woodards carrying on Moss’ work on civil rights and other issues, their responses differ somewhat.
“I do think I have a responsibility to carry on the work that he started,” she said.
“I see her continuing her work,” he said proudly.
Talking about the Tacoma march commemorating Selma, Woodards teared up and spoke about Moss and other civil rights leaders in Tacoma.
“You know they paid a price for me to do what I do,” she said.
As they looked at photos from the march, Moss kissed Woodards on the forehead.
“It’s the most wonderful relationship a father could have with a daughter,” he said.