“12 weeks ago I was just a working-class mother, a working class woman going to work every day. I take care of my mom as a senior citizen, I’m a daughter, and didn’t have this on the radar for me.”
And yet, weeks later, Rhonda Fields is still getting used to having “Representative-elect” placed before her name as she prepares for service in the 2011 General Assembly.
The arc of a tragedy in one’s life can thrust a person into positions that never had been anticipated. For Fields, the unthinkable murder of her son and her son’s fiance in 2005 have now brought her to elected public service; she is soon to be the next state representative of House District 42 in Aurora.
Fields came to Colorado after her early years were filled with the moving and travels required by military life. Her father served in the military for 35 years, including tours in Vietnam and Korea. After graduating high school in Baltimore, the family moved to Fort Carson, where Fields began to settle down. After obtaining degrees from the University of Northern Colorado, Fields went to work for Denver University and, then United Airlines, where she is still currently employed.
But the defining moment of her life came in 2005, not only indelibly changing Rhonda Fields but also changing the way some will think about criminal justice in Colorado forever.
Fields’ son, Javaad Marshall Fields, had agreed to give testimony of his knowledge of a 2004 murder near Lowry Park in Aurora. Javaad Marshall-Fields and his fiancee, Vivan Wolfe, were brutally gunned down in their car in June of 2005, before Fields could give his testimony. Since that time, two men, Robert Ray and Sir Mario Owens, have been convicted of killing Fields and Wolfe. Both Ray and Owens have been sentenced to death for their part in the murders.
In the wake of the tragedy, Fields gave testimony on two different criminal justice bills at the Capitol. Her performance and persuasiveness were remembered years later when incumbent state Rep. Karen Middleton, D-Aurora, decided to drop out of her race after winning her primary contest earlier this summer to take up another job. When Middleton decided to stop running, she recruited Fields.
Fields remembers the recruiting call from Middleton, admitting that the proposal initially caught her off guard.
“I said, ‘Me? Why me?’ She (Middleton) reminded me of the two pieces of legislation that I had (helped pass) that have to do with witness protection after losing my son. And so I’ve testified, I’ve been down to the State Capitol not as an elected official but just as a citizen trying to craft policy and legislation to promote public safety. And she saw that and said, ‘I think you might be good.’”
Fields says she consulted just about everyone she knew before making her decision. But in particular, she said, her conversations with former House Speaker Terrance Carroll proved to be decisive. And in many ways, the lengthy murder trials she endured also laid a groundwork to prepare her for public service. Because of the trials of Ray and Owens, Fields now has had a close working relationship with the Aurora Police Department as well as 18th Judicial District Attorney Carol Chambers and key constituents in her district.
Also, because of the the tragedy, Fields also has served with numerous public safety councils such as the Colorado Organization for Victim Assistance. In 2007, Fields was appointed by Governor Ritter to serve as a board member on the Colorado Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice.
She recalls her first political campaign with an almost exasperated laughter.
“It’s not as easy as it looks. It was a hustle. I’ve never worked so hard in my life,” she said. “And everyone kept saying to me, ‘You can do it.’ But no one really explained how much work it would be.”
She adds, “… the discussion and the dialogue were so rich.”
And now that the ballots have been counted and she knows she’ll serve? Fields has her eye on the pressing issues of the day, such as unemployment, job creation and health care. But the defining issue of her life will likely define her legislative career, as well.
“When you have a tragedy like that, for me, I’m much more sensitive than I used to be. My heart, has been shaken, my soul has been shaken because of the tragedy I’ve experienced. So, I have a strong connection to people who are underdogs, people who are less privileged, people who have been impacted by crime.”