This attorney and advocate strives to make a difference
The interview with Melissa Kingston has barely begun when the door to Mudsmith swings open and Philip Kingston walks in.
“Speak of the devil,” she says, then quips, “He stalks me.”
The Lowest Greenville coffee shop is blocks from the couple’s Belmont Addition home. The councilman orders his drink then bypasses our table en route to the pick-up counter.
“I’m not even here,” he says.
Silence is not common for Philip Kingston or his active social media accounts, where he doesn’t hold back.
Melissa Kingston, on the other hand, keeps a lower profile. She says she avoids Twitter because she sees it as “an insider channel.” Much of her Facebook commentary is both public and political, but her account blocks followers. She doesn’t avoid the limelight — she is “undoubtedly the most vocal councilperson’s spouse,” she says — but neither does she crave it.
She is not, however, the proverbial strong woman behind a successful man. Melissa is an accomplished attorney and a fierce advocate for Dallas neighborhoods and public schools — advocacy that began well before she was District 14’s first lady. And though she is less visible than her spouse, she is no less active.
Or, as she puts it, “I have my fingers in a lot of pies.”
It’s an appropriate adage for a woman who honed the practice of canning while growing up in Alvarado. Her chutney, pickles and jam have won State Fair of Texas ribbons, and her preserves have rewarded donors to political campaigns she supports. Backing multiple candidates keeps her busy during election seasons, whether she’s hosting fundraisers or posting yard signs.
“I’ve got a pickup [truck], and I am not too proud to put on my tennis shoes and run all over town,” says the lawyer, dressed in a business suit that day.
Her relationship with Philip began in the late ’90s, when they met at Baylor University’s law school in Waco. Philip had been in Washington, D.C., where “he was going to make it,” Melissa says, “and after a year of starving and being freezing cold, he came back.” They married and moved to what is now the Belmont Addition Conservation District, a zoning ordinance that the Kingstons and their neighbors worked to create.
In the early 2000s, residents of the neighborhood’s five streets foresaw the looming teardown trend as property values increased. They wanted to preserve the architecture that had been developed in the early 1900s. Creating the district was a long process, “and at the end of three years, people who didn’t really know each other had become friends,” Melissa says.
Such “common traumatic experiences,” as she calls them, produce the kinds of engaged neighborhoods involved in the Dallas Homeowners League. Melissa is serving her fourth year as president of the league, which educates community leaders on the ins and outs of City Hall and also advocates on neighborhoods’ behalf.
The league’s history goes back to the ’60s, when East Dallas residents “strapped themselves to the front of a bulldozer and saved these neighborhoods,” Melissa says. “I don’t know if I’m a neighborhood advocate because I moved to East Dallas or if I’ve been a neighborhood advocate at heart all along.”
Championing neighborhoods led her to public education advocacy. Though the Kingstons don’t have children — Melissa says parenthood never really interested her — she came to realize that public schools were “the missing link.” She worked to reinvigorate Robert E. Lee (now Geneva Heights) Elementary, and she currently sits on the board of the Woodrow Wilson High School Community Foundation, an umbrella group supporting neighborhood schools.
Young families now abound in Belmont Addition, where the Kingstons are on their second home in 18 years. Their Prairie-style residence was “painstakingly renovated and restored” by an architect who purchased it from the original family. Then he was offered a job elsewhere. No “for sale” sign went up in the yard; he simply “made it known they were selling it, and they were interviewing potential buyers,” she says.
The Kingstons had just poured buckets of money into updating everything in their first Belmont Addition home. But that didn’t stop Melissa, too buried in work to do anything about it, from telling her husband, “Philip, that’s my house. Go get it.”
The home became a frequent social venue for the Kingstons, who love to cook and entertain. The parties tapered off, however, near the end of Angela Hunt’s eight-year run on City Council.
“Angela was looking for someone who could be a successor, who could be a good fit for the ‘Fightin’ 14,’ as we call it,” Melissa says. Hunt and Oak Cliff Councilman Scott Griggs “put the hard sell on Philip.”
Several people thought Melissa might run. At the time, she was representing Lower Greenville neighborhood associations pro bono in negotiations with Walmart over lighting, parking and other quality-of-life issues as the retail giant moved into Whole Foods’ original East Dallas spot on Greenville at Belmont. She later made news when she beat up a would-be carjacker who held a gun to her head, and also when she became embroiled in a lawsuit with Belmont Addition’s “barking dog,” Avi Adelman, who had made Melissa one of his targets.
It was Philip, however, who found the prospect of City Hall more appealing. She, on the other hand, enjoys commercial litigation too much to give it up.
His successful election put a strain on their life, though.
“There’s always something opening, always a meeting,” Melissa says. “It’s way more than I ever imagined.”
Five months after Philip was elected, and 13 years after they married, the Kingstons divorced. It lasted only six months, however.
“The divorce didn’t take,” Melissa says. “Life happens. I think we both probably wish it was a little different, but we can’t change what happened.”
Their status these days? “We are a unified front as Team Kingston,” she says.
Speculation is that Philip will run for mayor eventually. He isn’t denying the rumors and has even told the Advocate he intends to run. When asked if he’s running, his standard response is, “If I decide to, can I count on your support?”
Speculation also is strong that Melissa is behind the @Wylie_H_Dallas Twitter account, which anonymously retweets Dallas political news and commentary.
She denies any association with Wylie H, however, brushing aside the rumor with, “I only have so much time in the day.”
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