Crystal “Crys” Cardwell quickly became an involved community leader after coming to the Fort Worth area in 2008, but she never saw her latest challenge coming. 

The media and brand consultant’s career has seen the 39-year-old take on major roles at  The Parenting Center, GCG Marketing (now Agency Habitat), TopGolf, RideTV and Studios 121, as well as her current role as a partner at Pugnacious, a branding, public relations and events agency. 

She’s also been an eager and sought-after volunteer for a variety of organizations, including Accelerate DFW and The Ladder Alliance. But in May she added a new title that she had not predicted for herself: mayor. Cardwell was elected mayor of Newark, a town of about 1,200 located in Wise County, northwest of Fort Worth. 

As a nearly five-year resident of the community, she gradually became more involved in community life in the small town. She knew many people wanted someone with a fresh outlook on the area. Cardwell had advised others in the community to get out and do something about it. They, in turn, thought she could do the job. 

I just kept saying, ‘No, no, no.’ And everything else started saying ‘Yes,’ ” she said. 

Her supporters pointed to her business sense, nonprofit background and the fact that she had chosen to raise her family here. 

“I wanted a place where we had some land and a place where my kids could just have room to be kids,” she said. 

She used a tried-and-true method she has employed for all major life decisions. 

“I thought about it and prayed about it,” she said. 

There was an election coming up in May, so Cardwell filed to run as mayor. 

Several people in the community said she was not qualified for the job. Cardwell had an answer. 

“They’re absolutely right is how I answered that criticism. My background is not political, in any way,” she said. “But what I do know is, if you want someone who’s going to look at it from a family values standpoint or someone that’s going to look at it more as a business and a way to get the community closer together, that was my No. 1 goal.” 

She ended up defeating her opponent 63 to 51, according to the Wise County. 

(Alexis Allison | Fort Worth Report)

“It’s been one of the coolest experiences I’ve ever had, but also the most vulnerable,” she said. “I have never been in a position where I didn’t know fully that I was 100% capable of it. You’re ripped completely bare when you’re running for office or any type of position like that.”

Serene Fletcher, Cardwell’s business partner and co-founder of  Pugnacious, said Cardwell leads with passion and determination. 

“She cannot be easily swayed,” she said. “When we formed Pugnacious, we said, this company is going to represent us 100%, our personalities, and how we tackle life. We’re not going to be shy about it because we want our clients to know that we will be that for their brands.”

Much as she has done in her business life, Cardwell began to rally the community.  She and others are working to re-open the library, which has been closed since the pandemic. 

“I understand it’s a financial thing, but we have volunteers,” she said. “And the county will give you money if you open it and show that it’s a running library.” 

She and others worked with local officials and expect to have the library open early next year. 

“It’s a big deal out here,” she said. “There are a lot of people without good or any internet access, and that’s important. Because if we can open that library, I don’t want it to just be a place you can read books. I want it to be an opportunity for the community.” 

Many in the community donated time and products to help open the library and students from Northwest ISD choose the library as one of their community projects. 

“We’ve already got kids that are excited to help the younger generation with tutoring,” she said. “You name it. That’s the cool thing about this place is it can be more than just the library. “ 

She and other council members also started a once-a-month elders’ lunch. 

“That is big for folks that may have spouses that have passed or their family’s no longer around, so we come together once a month as a community and provide friendship,” she said.

Cardwell is proud of the small community, which she compares to the fictional town of Mayberry from “The Andy Griffith Show.”  

“We have a small volunteer fire department, but whenever there’s a call for help in a big fire, we’re one of the first, if not the first, to answer that call,” she said. 

Newark and the whole Wise County community recently gathered together to support the family of Athena Strand, a 7-year-old from nearby Paradise, who was kidnapped and murdered in early December.

“When our sister cities hurt, we all hurt,” she said. “It was devastating for our community.” 

Because the last election was a special election, Cardwell has to run for the position again in May 2023, and she plans to run again even as Pugnacious, the agency she co-founded with Serene Fletcher, takes off. 

“We have a lot planned for 2023,” she said. 

Cardwell was working in the entertainment industry in Los Angeles and her husband was in the defense industry when they decided to move back to her husband’s home state where he had an employment opportunity. 

She didn’t know how she would fit in in Fort Worth, but quickly had two job offers. She ended up at Studios 121, a studio and broadcast center off Highway 121 in Haltom City. 

Within a few months, she had a title there, Chief Joy Officer. 

“That’s what they called me, because everytime everyone came to the studio they asked, ‘Where’s Crystal?,’ which I just loved,” she said. 

It was also there where she met her business partner, Fletcher. 

“It was great,” she said. “I’ve just found so much opportunity.” 

Crystal Cardwell 

Education: Attended Gulf Coast State College in Panama City, Florida, where she studied theater. She also studied at New York Film Academy 

Work experience: The Parenting Center, GCG Marketing, Ride TV, Pugnacious  

Volunteer experience:  Board member, The Ladder Alliance. American Advertising Federation Fort Worth, co-chair of the Accelerate DFW Foundation. 

Family: Husband, Curtis, three children. 

First job: Serving barbecue at a Panama City, Florida barbecue restaurant. 

Advice for someone learning to be a leader: “Don’t say no always. Sometimes things pull you in a direction that you’re not always sure of. But being vulnerable is OK. I would say follow your passion and then, really go after it. But if you’re going to go after it, go after it. I did research, I listened to every meeting. I have smarter people in the room constantly, and I’m learning. I’m never going to be the smartest one in the room, because they’ve got 20 years of experience in this, with construction, with developers. But surround yourself with such an amazing team that you don’t mind being vulnerable and learning, because you also bring something to the table. Just don’t be afraid to try is what I would say. I’m a small country girl, that didn’t come from a lot, and I never thought it would be where I’m at today.”

Best advice ever received: “I would say, in business,  Neil Foster, (CEO of Agency Habitat) told me not to come into a meeting with a client expecting to have an answer. Let the person talk. Sometimes it’s best to let them paint their own story. Time sometimes provides solutions.”

“As far as personally, my daddy (Jimmy Barfield) always said, ‘You’re only worth the salt that built you.’ I live by that saying. When I used to call him from L.A. or New York, I’d cry, and I’d be like, ‘I’m messing up. I’m doing this, I’m doing that.’ And he’d say, ‘Baby, did you get up every day? Did you work your butt off? Did you give it your all today?’ I’d say, ‘Yes, sir.’ He said, ‘Then you earned your salt. You’re only worth the salt that built you.’ Every single day when you wake up, you make sure you earned your salt, and that’s all you can do. Other than that, as long as you tried and you gave it your all, doesn’t matter. So earn your salt.”

Bob Francis is business editor for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

Newark, Texas 

The community was named after Newark, New Jersey, perhaps because that was the hometown of G. K. Foster, the civil engineer who helped survey the town, according to the Texas State Historical Association

Incorporated: 1951 

Population: 1,149

Form of government: Mayor and five council members

Businesses: Several local restaurants and the Victory in Christ Classical Lutheran Academy

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Bob FrancisBusiness Editor

Robert Francis is a Fort Worth native and journalist who has extensive experience covering business and technology locally, nationally and internationally. He is also a former president of the local Society...