Saluting Texas Lone Stars

September 29, 2023

Cathy Terrell

Deputy Executive Director

Employees Retirement System of Texas

Public career highlights and education: I graduated with a degree in journalism from Texas A&M University and immediately put that degree to work as a reporter and editor for two small-town Texas newspapers. I then moved to marketing and public affairs for private sector employers and a public non-profit. I joined ERS as communications director and, as ERS evolved, I did too. Through the years, I was promoted to lead the first consolidated customer service department, followed by the governmental affairs division, before landing in my current position in 2016. In my various roles at ERS, I’ve been able to work on many great projects, from helping to design a self-service benefits administration system to designing and leasing an ERS headquarters building. I still love communications and marketing, and I particularly love the challenge of communicating complex issues to our members to ensure they understand the value of their lifelong benefits. 

What I like best about my public service is: Public servants. State employees are smart, hard-working and dedicated, doing difficult, sometimes life-threatening jobs. They are the magic behind the state’s success. Throughout my time at ERS, I have promoted treating our members with the highest levels of respect as a way to reflect their dedicated service to us all. We are proud to serve those who serve Texas. 

The best advice I’ve received: You can’t judge a party from the dance floor. If you’re in the middle of the dance floor at a party, you’re having a different experience than the other partygoers around you. Your job as a leader is to get out of your bubble and work to understand everyone’s perspective. It’s too easy to think that you have a complete understanding, so it’s important to slow down and get real input. 

People might be interested to know that: I am a cancer survivor. It’s made me incredibly grateful for the technology that helps treat cancer, and for the health care providers who worked throughout the pandemic to take care of people like me. I’m also thankful for the health insurance that the state provides its employees and retirees. ERS administers these comprehensive benefits that cover 1 in 56 Texans. This coverage allows the state’s employees and retirees, and their family members, to focus on getting well, rather than on the cost of treatment. 

One thing I wish more people knew about the Employees Retirement System of Texas is: ERS just celebrated its 75th Anniversary, thanks to the foresight of Texas voters in the 1940s who thought it was important for the state to amend its constitution to establish a pension plan for state employees. Much has changed since ERS wrote that first annuity check and the agency continues to progress. Even though “retirement system” is in our name, we now also administer health, life, disability, dental and vision benefits, as well as a $5B deferred compensation program and a cafeteria plan. The Texas Legislature also just modernized the pension plan for state employees, elected officials and judges. The new cash balance benefit structure continues to offer a lifetime benefit. It lowers the salary contributions for participants and builds in benefit increases based on the investment performance of the ERS Trust Fund. 

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