July 24, 2018

Janet Ray reflects on remarkable 44-year career with AAA Washington

By: Jason Hagey   Comments: 0
Janet Ray is retiring after 44 years at AAA Washington. (Courtesy photo)

Janet Ray was looking for work in 1974. She had just finished a temporary public affairs position at the state Department of Ecology and had previously worked as an intern at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

Based on those experiences, she knew she was more interested in a public affairs career than newspaper reporting, but she also enjoyed writing. So, she started looking for an organization that produced a publication but was engaged in other work as well.

AAA Washington fit the description. In those days, the association published a newspaper, so she cold-called the editor and talked her way into a job. And that’s how she started a remarkable 44-year career that’s coming to a close in early August.

In an era when no one is expected to stay in the same career — let alone work for the same employer — for four-plus decades, Ray stands out. Over the years, she has held numerous job titles at AAA and served on many outside boards, including AWB’s.

More recently, she was part of the committee that led AWB’s first major brand overhaul in three decades.

Variety and Challenge

The secret to her success, Ray said, was the variety of jobs she’s held and the ability to constantly challenge herself.

“I was always asking, ‘What am I going to do make sure I’m continuing to grow?’” she said. “I always found that change was exhilarating.”

Her first job was working with the traffic safety and public affairs programs and writing for the Motorist newspaper. She wrote her own job description and developed a bicycle and pedestrian safety program to present to elementary schools throughout the club’s membership territory. It wasn’t long before she was on the radio, as well, filling in when AAA’s traffic reporter had a day off. Back then, the KIRO traffic reporter was a AAA employee who worked out of the AAA office.

She honed her on-air radio skills and learned how to write scripts for a network of small radio stations that aired updates about places to visit in the state (spring and summer) and winter driving condition advisories (fall and winter).

In 1977, after several staff departures, Ray ended up leading the public relations department.

“All of a sudden, I was the senior person at age 27 and with three years of experience,” she said.

Three years later, she stepped down from a full-time position to start a family. For the next nine years, she worked as an independent contractor, taking care of her children during the day and laying out the AAA Motorist newspaper in the evening after they went to sleep.

She returned to the office in 1989, leading the public affairs department. That included lobbying, the traffic safety department and publications. She’s retiring as Corporate Secretary and assistant vice president for corporate affairs and publishing.

The Future of Travel

Just as Ray’s career grew and evolved over the years, AAA has evolved to stay relevant to its members. The AAA newspaper, gave way to a modern bi-monthly magazine, Journey, in 1997

Emergency road service requests, once hand-written on slips of paper and put on a rotating stand to ‘send’ to dispatch, gave way to automated systems in call center and eventually app-assisted dispatch, that allows folks to monitor the technician’s progress in reaching them via their cell phone.

Now the organization is looking into ways that predictive analytics can help locate and dispatch vehicles, as well as constantly evaluating the scope of travel services it offers to members.

“Where are people going to find the value of service?” Ray said. “We want to be the entity that gives our members peace of mind and become their advocate.”

One day, that might include self-driving cars.

“We’re as interested in autonomous vehicles as anyone,” Ray said.

Road Trip

As she prepares to leave the office behind, Ray and her husband are using AAA’s travel service to help plan an epic road trip to Alaska. They plan to take a ferry to Skagway, explore the Alaskan inland in their camper and return home via the famous Alcan Highway.

At the same time, they’re preparing to move from their longtime home in Snohomish County to a lake home in Mason County, where they will be closer to their three grandchildren.

It will be a change of pace, for sure. But Ray has demonstrated over the last 44 years that she’s not afraid to shift gears.