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Lonnie Pressley’s Life of Community Service

By Nicole S. Daniel
The Birmingham Times

If there’s anyone who takes servant leadership to heart it would be Birmingham’s Lonnie Pressley.

Pressley spent 30 years with the Jefferson County Department of Health in the Environmental Health Department where she shared information about lead testing, tobacco prevention and vaccine-preventable diseases.

After she retired from that job, she worked at a University of Alabama at Birmingham’s vaccine clinic during the 2020 COVID pandemic as lead of registration at the Cathedral of the Cross site on Roebuck Parkway. She’s also worked in Montgomery, Ala. as a disease intervention specialist, in Birmingham as a community health advisor and currently works as a clinical researcher data coordinator II at UAB’s O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center.

She was also one of the first graduates for the Personnel Board of Jefferson County 360 leader’s class. “I took every class they offered … and then they developed another track called ‘servant leadership’ I was first to graduate from that as well.”

Asked what drives her, Pressley replied, “my passion for people. In all of my positions, I was able to directly impact them, advocate and provide assistance for those in the community.”

While working at Jefferson County Department of Health, Pressley served in a number of positions such as tobacco control prevention coordinator, lead poisoning prevention program coordinator.

She was also in disease control where “I investigated vaccine preventable diseases such as hepatitis A and B., pertussis and various diseases that you could take a vaccine to prevent,” said Pressley.

In 2021, Pressley retired from the Jefferson County Department of Health. One area of her job that stood out and many don’t pay attention to is lead poisoning, she said.

“When you think about lead poisoning, think about houses built before 1979 where there’s lead paint. There are still older houses, especially public housing that may have lead poisoning,” she explained.

Lead poisoning can be very detrimental to children ages six and under who may have to be “hospitalized to have it taken from the body,” she said. In addition, it can cause health issues such as developmental delays and brain damage, she added.

Pressley, who was featured in the City of Birmingham’s StrongHer campaign during Women’s History Month in March, said she wants to see more testing for lead poisoning.

“People are only associating it with peeling paint … but [lead poisoning] can be caused from dust as well,” she said.

A lot of older homes are being remodeled and if not cleaned correctly with a wet rag rather than a dry rag it’s a chance you won’t disperse dust particles, she said.

A Drive For Something New

From JCDH, she helped distribute vaccines during the COVID pandemic before taking a job as a disease intervention specialist in Montgomery. “That consisted of investigating infectious diseases and handling outbreaks. That can include food borne illnesses, West Nile virus, just anything that came in and may not be as known. Monkey pox is a great example,” she said. Money pox is an infectious disease caused by the monkeypox virus and can cause a painful rash and fever.

However, the drive from Birmingham to Montgomery and back Monday through Friday became too much. She would have to wake up at four in the morning and be at the Commute Smart Van stop at six to make it to work by 7:45 a.m.

“Coming back in the evening was the most draining because of the traffic. We wouldn’t get back until about 7:30 at night.”

She returned to UAB where she is currently a Clinical Researcher Coordinator at the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center.  “I put in the data for clinical trials.”

Returning to the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center was like coming back home. “They have an outreach department and I have been a community health advisor for almost 20 years where I go out and volunteer to educate people on the early diagnosis of cancer.”

‘An Old Soul’

Pressley, 56, was born and raised in Birmingham’s Pratt City, Ala. community in a two-parent household with seven siblings. When she was born her oldest sister was 18 and got married.

“We were generational so the year I was born my sister got married. I always hung out with teenagers that’s why I say I have an old soul.”

She attended Jackson Olin High School where she played percussions. “My older sister was in the band before me and just hearing the music and watching her and her friends practice made me want to join. “

In the marching and concert bands Pressley played the drums, the timpani, xylophone, and the bells.

She graduated in 1984 and attended the University of West Alabama on a full tuition scholarship and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in biology. After graduation, she went on to work at Southern Research, an organization that conducts research for commercial and non-commercial clients across several divisions including drug development and drug discovery.

In addition to her bachelor’s degree, Pressley obtained two master’s degrees, one in environmental management from Samford University and another in public health from the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

In 1989 she got married then moved to North Carolina because her husband at the time was in the military.

After giving birth to her son, Jojuan, who is now 32, Pressley returned back to Birmingham in 1990 and began to work for the Jefferson County Health Department. Her daughter, Ayana is 28.

To decompress, Pressley loves to watch Netflix. “I like romance and action movies. I also like to go walk at Railroad Park.” In addition to watching movies, Pressley likes to bowl at her church Faith Chapel Christian Center, in Wylam and read inspirational books.

Updated at 6:26 p.m. on 5/21/2023 to include name of daughter.