Fort Bend County Commissioner hopes to be remembered as the most effective and longest serving Fort Bend County Commissioner in history
For many people who are familiar with the political landscape in Fort Bend County, the name Grady Prestage always seems to rise to the top.
Prestage is not just a regular elected official, he has become a household name for many and has established an extremely impressive record of public service across Fort Bend County.
From his signature Black Tie Party that is held every December to his annual Precinct 2 Holiday Luncheon; these are just two of the most familiar events that most people know him for, but there is so much more to this political stalwart.
Some of the notable accomplishments that Prestage can lay claim to are centered around the public projects that he has successfully completed and delivered to the Fort Bend community.
Prestage was instrumental in bringing forth and influencing the development of numerous county facilities including parks, community centers, libraries, annex buildings, major mobility projects, the Missouri City Landmark Community Center (formerly Missouri City Middle School gymnasium), and the new 230,000 square foot Fort Bend Epicenter that opened in August, to name just a few. Prestage has initiated the development of the Fort Bend County Community Development Department, the Fort Bend County Housing Finance Corporation, the Fort Bend Toll Road Authority, and the Fort Bend County Parks and Recreation Department. He is also responsible for building three publicly owned and privately operated Boys and Girls Clubs and for making significant staff and capacity upgrades to the Fort Bend County Health Department.
As you can see, Prestage has done quite a bit in his role as Fort Bend County Commissioner—a seat he was elected to in November 1990. His journey to serving in this capacity wasn’t easy and was filled with a little political heartbreak to start.
Prestage ran for Fort Bend County Commissioner in 1986, as an ambitious and fearless 27-year-old engineer by profession. Much to his disappointment, he fell short against the incumbent, losing by only 92 votes. Not to be deterred, Prestage regrouped, re-strategized, and reapplied to run for the same seat four years later. This time he was successful in his quest to become Fort Bend County Commissioner for Precinct 2. His victory was extremely historic, in that it would become the first time an African American would serve on the Fort Bend County Commissioners Court since the 1880s reconstruction period. Prestage has not looked back since.
Prestage has since been re-elected eight times, since 1990, and has served for over 33 years.
So, in addition to serving as Fort Bend County Commissioner, who is Grady Prestage?
Prestage was born on July 30, 1958, in Iowa City, Iowa, while his parents (Dr. James and Dr. Jewel Prestage) were still in graduate school at the University of Iowa. He grew up in a political household in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where his parents had moved and had become college professors and administrators who were active in local government.
Prestage became active in student government throughout high school, as well as in college at Southern University, a Historically Black College and University (HBCU) located in Louisiana. He received his bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from Southern University in 1980.
After graduation, at the age of 22, Prestage moved to Fort Bend County, taking an entry-level position as a civil engineer. He also was following his future wife who had accepted a job in Houston six months prior to his graduation. Prestage worked as a civil engineer for several oil and gas companies, consulting engineering firms, and later became a partner in a marketing consulting firm, as part of his career journey.
Upon arriving in Fort Bend County, Prestage immediately got involved in civic and community organizations across the county, and after observing the rapid growth and demographic changes that created opportunities for Blacks to serve in public office—positions that would represent the new communities in East Fort Bend County—he decided to pursue public office.
Once elected in 1986, Prestage learned quickly that taking on this new role—as a neophyte politician, Democrat, and being the first African American in that seat since Reconstruction—would prove challenging and require him to step up his game.
Prestage shared some of those challenges with the Forward Times.
“The biggest challenges that I have faced in my public service career have come from having to operate in the political minority for an extended period of time,” said Prestage. “Other challenges have involved making sure that the minority community is heard and that the needs of traditionally underserved areas are addressed.”
Prestage believed that he had more work to do in the role and didn’t want to be a one-hit-wonder, so he started the holiday Black Tie Party in 1987, to keep his name identification high for a second run for county commissioner.
“I always wanted to go to an event where people dressed up,” said Prestage. “I thought it would be a nice tradition to start in Fort Bend County. The event has far exceeded my expectations.”
Prestage tells the Forward Times that he enjoys being involved in creating opportunities for citizens as well as being a catalyst for the growth and development of public infrastructure, programs, and services. He believes he still has much more to do before leaving the office.
“I have so much more to do,” said Prestage.
Some of the key goals that Prestage wants to accomplish before leaving office include:
The extension of the Fort Bend Parkway Toll Road across the Brazos River to connect with US 59
The development of a Fort Bend County Convention & Conference Center with a full-service hotel at the Fort Bend Epicenter campus
Completing Mobility and Parks Bond projects that were recently approved by Fort Bend County voters
Establishing a Fort Bend County minority business development program
The redevelopment of the Fresno community
When asked who his greatest inspirations have been, Prestage was quick to mention his parents.
“My parents, Dr. Jewel Prestage and Dr. James Prestage, have been my biggest influence in my career as a public servant,” said Prestage. “They set a good example of how to be involved, informed, insightful and reverent. My parents were also the consummate mentors. I find mentoring to be very rewarding and gratifying.”
Prestage states that, for him, legacy is important, and he strives to add to his daily.
“I would like to be remembered as the most effective County Commissioner in the history of Fort Bend County,” said Prestage. “I would also like to be recognized as the longest serving County Commissioner in the history of Fort Bend County, along with being thought of as a kind and decent person, who was a skilled politician and used his talents for the greater good.”
When it comes to advice that he would give any young, aspiring African Americans seeking to follow his career/political path, Prestage was straight-forward with his response.
“My career advice to young, aspiring professionals, regardless of one’s specific path, is to understand that success is about both ‘Competence and Relationships,’” said Prestage. “Learn your craft or vocation and remember that relationships really do matter.”
Prestage, who is a Registered Professional Engineer in the State of Texas, also serves as the President of the Texas Organization of Black County Commissioners, a former member of the Board of Directors of the National Organization of Black County Officials (NOBCO), the National Association of Counties (NACo), the Texas Association of Counties (TAC), the Alliance for I-69 Texas, Central Houston Student Housing Inc., the Houston Area Water Corporation, the City of Houston Planning Commission, and is a Senior Fellow of the American Leadership Forum. Former Texas Governor Ann Richards appointed Prestage to the Board of Regents for the Lamar University System and the Texas County and District Retirement System.
Prestage represents Fort Bend County Precinct 2, which includes portions of Houston, Missouri City, and Stafford. He is married to his wife, Fheryl, and they have two children—one son, Dustin, and one daughter, Erin.