Shirley Lightsey, Detroit Retiree Leader, Honored With Lifetime Achievement Award


Ann Arbor, MI, July 22, 2020 – The Joyce Ivy Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to the academic advancement of talented female high school students from the Midwest, today announced the addition of a Lifetime Achievement Award to the annual awards the Foundation presents to high-impact female leaders. Given for the first time in 2020, the award recognizes the achievements and contributions of important female figures over the course of an entire career.

The Foundation is pleased to honor Shirley Lightsey, Past President of the Detroit Retired Civil Employees Association, as the inaugural recipient of this new award, which coincides with the 15th anniversary of the Joyce Ivy Foundation, and the sixth anniversary of the successful ballot campaign Lightsey led to approve the City of Detroit’s Plan of Adjustment.

Lightsey, who came to prominence as the person who coined the slogan “You can’t eat principles” during the bankruptcy, has a long career of public service including working in key roles at Focus:HOPE and for the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department. The octogenarian continues her service today in many formal and informal roles.

“I am delighted to see Shirley Lightsey get the recognition she so richly deserves, because she is the most inspiring woman leader I know,” said Valerie Brader, a board member of the Joyce Ivy Foundation. “She has been a model of service and integrity throughout her career and I admire her deeply. There is no individual I credit more with limiting cuts to retirees in the City of Detroit’s successful emergence from bankruptcy. Our Joyce Ivy Scholars will benefit tremendously from hearing her story.”

The Joyce Ivy Foundation is the leading provider of summer academic scholarships for high-achieving, low-income female high school students from the Midwest. Selected Scholars participate in summer programs at Joyce Ivy partner institutions, including some of the nation’s most rigorous colleges and universities: Harvard, Stanford, Brown, Yale, MIT, Johns Hopkins, Emory, Cornell, Barnard, Smith, and Washington University in St Louis. The Foundation also holds an annual fall college admissions workshop and spring college admissions symposium, which provide critical information to over 500 high school students, families, counselors, community-based organization leaders, and educators throughout the Midwest.

In addition to the Lifetime Achievement Award, the Joyce Ivy Foundation annually honors a Leader of the Year and Women of Impact, awards that recognize women at various stages in their professional careers. All the award recipients provide the Joyce Ivy Scholars with inspiring examples of success, perseverance and impact.

“The addition of the Lifetime Achievement Award to our annual awards represents the full arc of leadership and impact for a woman,” said Brittany Knight, Executive Director of the Joyce Ivy Foundation. “It is an honor to launch this award as we celebrate fifteen years of the Joyce Ivy Foundation. We are delighted to present it to an inspiring woman who has broken barriers in so many ways throughout her life. I’m grateful to Ms. Lightsey for sharing her story with our community.”

Throughout her career, Shirley Lightsey has had a significant impact on the city of Detroit. Her professional career began with the City of Detroit Water & Sewerage Department, where she rose to lead the Human Resources team of one of the largest City Departments by personnel. After her retirement, she was employed by Focus:HOPE, a nonprofit with a major focus on improving employment for Detroiters, as the human resources manager.

Lightsey is currently a Board member and is a past President of the Detroit Retired Civil Employees Association (DRCEA), which represents and serves the interest of over 9,000 Detroit retirees. During the City of Detroit’s historic chapter 9 case, Ms. Lightsey was involved in the process as both the DRCEA President and as a member of the Official Committee. Ms. Lightsey was instrumental in advocating for pensioners to vote in favor of pension reduction, ultimately bringing the City to greater financial stability. Had that vote not been secured, the “Grand Bargain” funds would not have come in and pensioners faced the potential of catastrophic cuts at the end of a drawn-out bankruptcy for the City.

Lightsey presently sits as an appointee of a local municipal Administrative Civil Service Board, is a trustee on the Detroit Civil Retirees VEBA Board, is a board member of a local retirement system and a trustee of a local municipal retiree health care benefit plan. In addition to her civil service, Ms. Lightsey is an avid jazz enthusiast, active in her church and enjoyed reading to elementary students to stay grounded and to give back to the community.

Lightsey is a graduate of Cass Tech High School and Wayne State University, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Sociology while working full time.

Shirley Lightsey will receive her award during an upcoming celebration this fall, details will be posted at The celebration will also celebrate the 2020 Joyce Ivy Foundation Summer Scholars and honor the Joyce Ivy Foundation Leader of the Year, Chief Justice of the Michigan Supreme Court Bridget McCormack, and the Woman of Impact award recipients: Denise Fair, Chief Public Health Officer, City of Detroit Health Department and Amy Peterson, Co Founder and CEO, Rebel Nell.