Always looking forward

Annette Driver has become the first African American woman elected president of a Jefferson City Rotary club.

Annette Driver has become the first African American woman elected president of a Jefferson City Rotary club.

“Visionary” is one of the words Annette Driver used when asked to describe herself.

“Today, I am calm, confident, determined,” Driver said.

Many Mid-Missourians may recognize her as the long-time promoter of “Driver’s Bar-B-Que,” started by her father, Clarence Driver.

After graduating from college in 1980, Annette lived in Atlanta and Phoenix, working in the restaurant business among other business opportunities.

She “moved back in 1989, to help my dad start Driver’s Bar-B-Que. That was his brainchild — he always wanted to make his hobby an official business.”

She continued the business after Clarence, then 55, died in 1993.

For awhile, she operated restaurants, then focused on selling the barbecue sauce in retail stores.

“I’m a little too old to do the restaurant business anymore,” she said. “I have been waiting for that window of opportunity to come around, to put those products back on the market. ...

“It’s very close, but you have to move the right way. You can’t move haphazardly and expect to have the staying-power.”

Her life in the last few years has been busy in other ways.

Earlier this month — about six years after joining the group — Driver took over as the Evening Rotary Club’s president. She is the first African American woman to be elected to that post in any of the city’s Rotary clubs.

“The opportunity I was given to become president of the club has been one of the biggest things that has ever happened to me,” she noted.

“How we’re able to help the local community along with some of the international projects that we have going on, like ‘Meds and Kids’ in Haiti, and we do literacy projects here in the community.”

Her working career has taken a new path, as well — last year she began working as a contract lobbyist for the Missouri Association of Social Welfare, and is looking to add clients in the coming years.

“I’ve always wanted to be a lobbyist, but that door never opened to me until recent years,” she said. “I interned for the first two years,” before working this year for MASW.

She said it’s important to be passionate about a subject while not getting emotionally involved in it, so that emotions don’t get in the way of the next issue.

For the last 14 years, Driver’s volunteered as a DJ at KJLU, Lincoln University’s radio station.

“Music is in my background,” she said. “My grandfather was a great fiddler musician down in Miller County, and music runs in our blood.”

The radio station work has led to numerous requests to provide entertainment at events.

Driver said her faith helps her get through the sometimes chaotic days in her life.

“I don’t try to impress anybody, anymore,” she said. “I put a lot of faith in God, and I trust Him for the direction and the things that happen in my life that I can’t really explain.”

That faith was tested last fall, when her younger brother, Darryl Driver, 49, died at his law office.

“His death was a rude awakening,” she said, fighting back tears.

“I can remember my father telling Darryl and me — in fact, the way he raised all of us — he told us not to waste time.”

Driver’s father grew up in Mid-Missouri, and met her mother while he was in the Navy.

Driver called her mother, DeLois Blackwell Driver, who still lives in Jefferson City, “a true inspiration and support system for me.”

Driver noted she rarely takes the “easy” way when going through life.

For instance, she became pregnant at age 19 and gave her daughter up for adoption.

Today, she said, “I try to mentor to young people about making good decisions.

“I just always want young people to be so very careful, because it can take just one situation like that to put you off track — and then it takes many (situations) to get back on.”

Her daughter now would be 36, and Driver has contacted the adoption agency about trying to find her.

Driver’s mentoring opportunities included a Lincoln University job she had for several years — until it got cut by funding issues.

“I was a successful administrator with LU’s Department of Agriculture/Environmental Science,” she said. “I was the creator of ‘The Virtual Experience Career Fair,’ and partnered with Monsanto Corp. to go to the urban schools (in 2008-10), to share the opportunities that agriculture and the STEM area (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) offered the students.”

Even though she expects her life to be a continuing ride of challenges and joys, she’s ready for it.

“I feel like I’m coming into my own — and very comfortable in my skin these days,” she explained. “I’m finally getting to a very peaceful place in my life.”


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