Edith Washington became fascinated at an early age about putting things together by watching her grandfather, Reed Stubblefield, work as a carpenter and farmer.
Today, as president of The Stubblefield Group in Toledo, she is a certified construction specifier and considered one of the best in the country.
In June, Mrs. Washington will become president of the Construction Specifications Institute, the national professional organization of the trade.
Mrs. Washington, a 1966 graduate of Scott High School, will be the first African-American woman to lead the 18,000-member institute in the organization's history.
“My grandfather taught me the work ethic by example," said Mrs. Washington, 54. "My grandmother convinced me, at a young age, that I could do anything I believed in my heart and put my mind to doing."
Certified construction specifiers develop the written documents of how construction projects are put together. The documents produced by the construction specifiers are as crucial to constructing a building or facility as the blueprints.
“They are very important,” said Robert Miller, an engineer with Finkbeiner, Pettis, and Strout, Inc. “When a project is designed and drawn, there is a written document detailing everything from materials and how things are done. This document goes hand-in-hand with the construction of the project.”
Mr. Miller, who is also a construction specifier, said Mrs. Washington's services are much sought after. “She's one of the best,” Mr. Miller said. “She's knowledgeable, conscientious, and knows where to get the answers to questions. This is a business in which you have to do it to learn it, and she's learned it very well.”
So how did this woman who went to a small Arkansas college on a music scholarship end up in the mostly male world of construction?
In high school, a singing audition over the phone at Braden United Methodist Church won her a scholarship to Philander Smith College in Little Rock, the alma mater of her pastor, the Rev. Al Reed.
She changed her major to English, though, because of her love of reading and writing. She met her husband, Clarence Washington, while in college as well. He went on to play professional football and for the next several years she supported him in his career.
In 1974, while the couple were living in Birmingham, Ala., Mrs. Washington joined Rust Engineering as a technical writer and clerk. She said she stumbled onto specification writing because it was a job that few people at Rust wanted to do.
“I was actually fascinated by it,” she said. “I've always loved to read and write, and this job just seemed perfect for me. When my son was 7, I listened to him tell his friends what I do, and I couldn't have said it better myself: `My mom writes books that tell people how to build buildings.'”
The couple moved back to Little Rock and Mrs. Washington continued her work as a construction specifier and joined the Construction Specification Institute.
In 1986, Mrs. Washington returned to Toledo to work for SSOE as its chief of specifications. She struck out on her own in 1994, starting The Stubblefield Group.
Mrs. Washington has prepared construction specifications for some of the most prominent projects in the Toledo area, including the Toledo Correctional Institute, Fifth Third Field, and the Ohio Museum of Military History at Fort Meigs. She will be a construction specifications writer for Toledo Public Schools.
Her company has completed projects in Japan, the Netherlands, the Philippines, and Mexico. In 1997, she was certified a fellow in the Construction Specification Institute, the organization's top classification.
One thing Mrs. Washington said she's most proud of was sharing her message of diversity and mentoring with others. She said she was often the lone African-American at construction meetings, conferences, and seminars and values efforts of mentoring men and women in general and minorities, especially in the construction field.
Mrs. Washington has been a diversity speaker for the Toledo Public Schools New Teachers Academy. Nan Zawisa, a co-chair of the academy, said Mrs. Washington speeches have received some of the highest evaluations from new teachers.
“She has personality plus and that's what gets her through the door,” Ms. Zawisa said. “She has these kind and gentle ways and then she would hit you with the message. I think she can relate to them so well and she cuts to the chase.” Mrs. Washington now teaches people how to become construction specifiers as well.