Patsy Ticer: Alexandrians remember legacy of service-oriented former mayor, state senator

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Then Delegate Adam Ebbin, then State Senator Patsy Ticer and former Alexandria City School Board Chair Mollie Danforth (Photo Credit: Louise Krafft)

By Denise Dunbar and Alexa Epitropoulos

Patsy Ticer, Alexandria’s long-serving, iconic former mayor and state senator, died early Monday at age 82 of complications from a fall. Almost immediately, accolades began pouring in from politicians and members of the community.

Her death was first reported by Mayor Allison Silberberg, who called Ticer a friend and mentor.

“She was incredibly dear to me, a touchstone and trailblazing mentor, as she was to many others,” Silberberg said. “An amazingly good listener, she was always encouraging with a big heart and endlessly astute, witty and generous. I will miss her all the days of my life.”

Ticer was known, first and foremost, for her civility and strong call to service. Both qualities were informed by her strong faith, according to her long-time minister, Rev. Oran Warder, rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.

“Her vocation to be in public service came out of her Christian faith,” Warder said. “In fact, she held our feet to the fire, though gently. She said we were only a church in that we served the community.”

Warder said Ticer pushed St. Paul’s to continue supporting the

Then State Senator Patsy Ticer with Joe Viar (Photo Credit: Louise Krafft)

nonprofit organizations it helped form, such as ALIVE!, Carpenter’s Shelter and the Child and Family Network. Ticer’s colleague and seatmate in the Virginia State Senate, Mary Margaret Whipple, remembers her collegiality and persistence.

“She was a serious legislator who studied the issues and had the information to back up her legislation. She ‘worked’ her bills: talking individually with members of the relevant committee and presenting well when she appeared before a committee to defend her bills,” Whipple told the Times when reached by email.

Born January 6, 1935 in Washington, D.C. as Patricia Keyser Smith, she moved to Alexandria with her family in 1947. Ticer graduated from George Washington High School, then Sweet Briar College, where she received a bachelor’s degree in political science.

She married John “Jack” Ticer in 1956 and, while raising four children, worked as a real estate agent and embarked on what would be a lifetime of service to the community. Her volunteerism included serving on boards for the United Way, Humane Society, Athaeneum and Alexandria Library, among others, according to the Washington Post.

Alexandria native Steve May has fond memories of the Ticer household during those years, from his friendship with John Ticer, Jr.

“I’ve known [Patsy] all my life,” May said. “Johnny and I couldn’t have been more than three or four when we met. My parents were good

Patsy Ticer and husband John “Jack” Ticer at a victory party in 1995 following her election to the Virginia state senate (Courtesy Photo)

friends with them. They ran in the same circles. My mom worked a lot with Patsy on different things when we were growing up. My earliest memories were of them doing … community and political work together.”

May said Patsy and Jack made their home a welcoming place for their children’s friends.

“My recollection was that I was over there quite a bit with Johnny. It was one of those houses where you go in and it was active and cheerful and vibrant,” May said. “You felt at home. They treated you as their kids. You felt like you were in your own home.”

In addition to her other volunteer community service work, Ticer held leadership positions on the St. Paul’s vestry beginning in 1969. She served as vestry senior warden in 1978, 1979 and from 1981 to 1983, according to a church history written by Ruth Lincoln Kaye. According to Warder, her service to the church continued a family tradition, as Ticer’s mother was St. Paul’s secretary to a previous rector.

At the urging of her husband and friends, Ticer ran for and was elected to city council in 1982. She became vice mayor in her second council term, meaning she tallied the most

Willard Scott, Sheriff Dana Lawhorne and Patsy Ticer at the 2008 Scottish Christmas Walk (Photo Credit: Louise Krafft)

votes of the council contenders.

When then Mayor Jim Moran stepped down in 1991 after being elected to Congress, Ticer ran to replace him and won, becoming the first elected female mayor in Alexandria’s history.

Ticer was quoted in a 2007 “Living Legends” article published in the “Alexandria Gazette Packet” as saying she faced extra scrutiny when she first won the mayor’s seat.

“My style was different from that of a lot of the men,” she said in the article. “Often, I didn’t make up my mind until I heard the discussion, rather than organizing and steering a vote ahead of time,” she said.

Ticer was quoted as saying she felt her approach was the right one. “If you, as an elected official, have an agenda, it’s punitive to the other side, which deserves to be heard before Council.”

Despite her graciousness, Ticer wasn’t afraid to speak difficult truths to people.

“If the term ‘velvet glove’ had not been invented, it would have when Patsy started in politics,” former city councilmember David Speck said. “She was a lot tougher than people thought, but she was always so nice about it. When I served on the council with her, you couldn’t help but like her and respect her … even when she told me ‘no.’ What a loss for Alexandria,” Speck said.

Ticer also had a well-developed “B.S.” meter.

“She had very little patience for nonsense,” Warder said. “She cut through all of that.”

Patsy Ticer endorses Dana Lawhorne for sheriff with other Democratic city leaders in October 2005.

As mayor, Ticer was best known for standing up to then Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke, who wanted to build a new stadium for the team in the Potomac Yard area of Alexandria. In the state senate, she worked to advance legislation that helped families and children and advocated for environmental safeguards.

According to a Democratic Caucus press release, Ticer also championed Virginia’s land conservation program.

Her legislative successes included “laws to test infants for Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia, a developmental disorder that can result in the death of a newborn child and require hearing tests for all infants,” the release said. She also successfully spearheaded legislation that required insurers to provide coverage for prosthetics.

Warder and May said two of Ticer’s defining characteristics were her genuineness
and tolerance for opposing viewpoints.

“I think she was so authentic,” Warder said. “She was real. Whether you agreed with her politically or not, she was real.”

May concurred, saying, “She was open-minded and listened to people

Patsy Ticer with grandchildren Marcel and Sandrine Janowsky (Photo Credit: Louise Krafft)

with different views. She would have a discussion with you even if you disagreed. Even though she had her own ideas about what was right, she would listen.”

Ultimately, they both said, she just wanted to serve others.

“The common good was at the base of things for her,” Warder said. “She wanted to do the right thing. … Her integrity was never questioned.” May said Ticer “…took to things and did them genuinely. [She had] a genuine spirit of serving others and helping others and making others feel welcome.”

Ticer is survived by her four children: John T. Ticer Jr., Margaret Ticer Janowsky, Catherine Ticer, Virginia Ticer Baechler and five grandchildren.

Funeral arrangements for Ticer were announced on Thursday afternoon. A visitation with the Ticer family will be held at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on Aug. 17 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. The funeral service will be held at St. Paul’s on Aug. 18 at 11 a.m. Following the funeral service, a reception will be held at The Lyceum, which is located at 201 S. Washington St. 

The family requests that donations be made to St. Paul’s, Sweet Briar College and the Northern Virginia Conservation Trust instead of flowers.