Class of 2020 Endorsed Candidate: Maryellen O’Shaughnessy

Maryellen O’Shaughnessy is an experienced public servant and is currently serving her third term as the Franklin County Clerk of Common Pleas. Prior to her current position, she served on Columbus City Council for eleven years. O’Shaughnessy is passionate about giving strength to women, which she demonstrates in her actions related to both her personal and professional tracks. In the past, she successfully advocated for a starting wage of $15/hour for her division and is still fighting for access to on-site childcare for her employees.  

In 2021, Maryellen O’Shaughnessy will continue to serve as a Franklin County Commissioner.


Meet the Candidate: Maryellen O’Shaughnessy

1) In your interview with the Endorsement Committee, you shared a personal life experience that led you to the decision to run for office. Can you tell our members a little bit about your journey to filing as a candidate?

In 1992, I was a reporter for Business First. In prior years I had been fairly critical of the local Democratic Party for not being able to field candidates. I felt strongly that people need voting choices. Early that year I got a call from Fran Ryan, chair of the Franklin County Democratic Party at the time, who was frantically trying to field a candidate to challenge Dorothy Teater, Franklin County Commissioner. With only hours to go until the deadline to file, Fran asked. I found myself in a place where I was challenged to put my words into action, and so I gulped, and said yes. By the end of that day I was a candidate, and I was walking out of the newsroom with my belongings in a box. I was jobless, a new face on the campaign scene, facing a strong and well funded incumbent Commissioner with $175,000 in the bank. Needless to say I had butterflies in my gut for at least two weeks. I sure learned a lot, and quickly.

2) Many of you cited a family member whose strength was an inspiration to you. Tell our members about a friend or family member who inspired you to become a leader.

Well, I must mention two. Of course the positive inspiration that Fran Ryan offers can’t be overstated. She is a true star and always challenges me to be my best. But I have to say my mother, Helen Juntunen O’Shaughnessy, has had an enormous influence on me. She was smart and capable, and stepped out into uncomfortable territory with confidence. As a first generation American she felt a strong passion to support our country. She was influenced strongly by her teachers in public schools, primarily in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She learned a trade in the allied medical field as an Xray technician, and put those skills to work as a Navy WAVE during WWII. She met my father, also a Navy vet, at this time, and they were married, and she came to Columbus with no friends or connections other than my father’s family. She raised four kids while being involved in the League of Women Voters, the Tri-Village Democratic Women’s Club, as well as working at the polls for many years. She was proud of me stepping out as a candidate.

3) Some of you are military veterans, some small business owners, some professionals, some mothers and grandmothers, some homemakers. How did one of these experiences shape who you are as a person and leader?

I am a fourth generation funeral director and continue the funeral business my great grandfather founded in 1889. After my father died, and after my first run for office, I became more involved in helping my brother with the business. As a kid of a funeral director I had of course helped out in small ways from time to time, doing chores like answering the phones or running the vacuum. But now it was different. At some point I finally walked through the entire process of planning and executing a funeral with a family, and they were so grateful. And something clicked for me. I realized at that moment that I was wired for service to the community as a funeral director, (and eventually as an elected leader, running for City Council in 1997). I asked my brother to accept me as an apprentice, served my two-year stint, then sat for the Ohio Board exams to become a licensed funeral director in 1996.

4) The Matriots PAC has a goal to see 50% of all elected offices in Ohio held by women by 2028. What is your vision for Ohio in 2028?

I love this vision and will do what I can to help make it happen. I hear that there are more women running for Congress this year than any other time in history. This is just great! The work the Matriots is doing is paying off, as well as earlier organizations supporting women such as the defunct Columbus Area Women’s Political Caucus, the defunct Ohio Women’s Commission, and of course the very active Emily’s List, which has broadened their reach to local women candidacies and not just Congress.

5) Tip O’Neill famously said that “all politics is local.” What are the top-two issues your community or our state face today?

The answer to this is quite clear: we need to address COVID-19 effectively, by listening to community health leaders, staying safe, and working for an effective vaccine soon. We also need to directly address our systemic racism, America’s original sin.

6) Now for fun: Tell us something personal about yourself.

Most people don’t know that I had a full career in Thoroughbred horse racing, and traveled for more than 10 years, before coming home and completing my degree at Ohio State in 1987. I dropped out of Ohio State in 1970 when the riots on campus happened and the students were killed at Kent State. I ended up taking a job as an exercise rider at Darby Dan Farm, and was one of the first three women they had ever hired. I learned the trade there, breaking Thoroughbred yearlings. After four crops of yearlings, I wanted to see what life was like at the track, so I left and got a job in Florida, got picked up by a big New York outfit, and worked at the big tracks in Florida and New York for a few years. I also traveled to Canada and worked there for a bit. In 1980 I decided to go west and experience horse racing in California. I worked at all the big tracks in California before coming back home in 1985 to finish my degree, in Journalism. Before leaving Ohio State in 1970 I auditioned and was accepted into the Dance Department at Ohio State. We were the first OSU department to support the student strike in 1970.