FAIRFIELD — When Jan Hewitt became the first chairwoman of the Solano County Board of Supervisors, County Administrator Dave Balmer was not sure how best to address her.
“He asked, ‘Mrs. Hewitt. How should be address you?’ ” Hewitt remembers. “I replied, ‘You can call me madam chairman.’ ”
It was Hewitt’s concern over the future of Green Valley and a suggestion from then-Supervisor Tom Hannigan that prompted her to run for the Board of Supervisors in 1978, becoming the first woman to successfully do so.
She joined a very small group of other female county supervisors in the state, which included then-supervisors Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein.
“There were very few of us and we banded together because many of us had agricultural issues,” said Hewitt, who said that in her case, it was the battle over the future of Green Valley.
Hewitt, who grew up on the ranch she still owns in Oklahoma, came to Vacaville with her husband Al after he retired from the Air Force in 1973. Al started teaching in Vacaville schools and she got involved in successfully petitioning the city to buy a vacant parcel at the corner of Buck Avenue and Alamo Drive to turn it into a park.
“It was 13 acres and the school district didn’t want it,” Hewitt said.
The city didn’t want to develop it as a park and Hewitt remembers being told, “You can’t fight City Hall.”
“I said, ‘Oh, really?’ and we collected petitions,” Hewitt said.
In the end, the land became a park. That was how Hewitt was introduced to local politics and planning. It also helped land her a seat on the Vacaville Planning Commission, where she was involved with planning for the Nut Tree complex and the Interstates 5 and 505 triangle area.
The Hewitts moved to Green Valley in the mid-1970s to be closer to Solano Community College, where Al Hewitt moved to teach. Hewitt joined the landowners’ association, which was working to keep Fairfield from annexing that area.
In 1978, Hewitt successfully ran for that area’s Board of Supervisors seat. Substantial majorities from the Benicia and Vallejo portions of the district proved instrumental in getting her the seat.
She was slated to take office Jan. 8, 1979. But Hannigan was resigning Dec. 3, 1978, to take his seat as state assemblyman the next day and he did not want to see his supervisor’s seat left empty for the intervening five weeks.
Hannigan, in one of his last acts as board chairman, successfully petitioned Gov. Jerry Brown to allow Hewitt to start as District 3 Supervisor on Dec. 12, 1978.
She described her biggest initial challenge as “being accepted and I would not let them do otherwise.”
Hewitt’s emphasis while supervisor included struggles with Fairfield over plans to annex and develop parts of lower Green Valley, helping disadvantaged children and boosting Suisun Valley’s wine industry, which was replacing the valley’s peach and apricot orchards.
She was instrumental in getting The Children’s Network started during one of her brown bag lunches with county leaders on children’s issues. Child Haven created better oversight of children’s services in the county and ended the shuffling of children between different county and nonprofit agencies.
“From there Child Haven came,” Hewitt said.
Hewitt was also heavily involved in the creation of the Fairfield Adult Day Health Center and Parents United, as well as leading the movement to renovate the historic Solano County Courthouse, a building she loved.
When it came to state issues, she was a stalwart opponent of the peripheral canal “and I took a wheelbarrow full of petitions to stop it,” she said of the successful local referendum campaign against it.
Hearings held by Hewitt helped determine that Suisun Valley’s growing conditions were similar enough to nearby Napa Valley’s that Suisun Valley grapes could be combined with Sonoma and Napa grapes.
“We showed them that you don’t need to go to Napa for your grapes,” Hewitt said, expressing her pleasure at how the Suisun Valley and Green Valley wine industry has grown since.
Hewitt was not able to get a third term on the board and stepped down in 1987.
“That was fine and it was time,” Hewitt said.
Hewitt and her husband recently moved from Green Valley to Paradise Valley Estates where they now live, enjoying travel and more time with their family.