Remembering Vola Lawson

Remembering Vola Lawson

By Erich Wagner (File photo)

Officials — past and present — remembered Vola Lawson December 14, calling her a truly caring individual who also was a leader and advocate for progress.

Lawson, the first female city manager in Alexandria, died earlier this month at the age of 79. City councilors held a moment of silence for her at the start of a marathon session Saturday and then shared their memories of how Lawson impacted their lives.

Former City Councilor Robert Calhoun recounted how they chose Lawson for the position, despite recommendations to the contrary by an outside search firm.

“I asked, ‘Why isn’t Vola Lawson’s name on the list?’ because she had applied, and [the search firm] said, ‘Well, she doesn’t have a master’s in public administration,’” Calhoun said. “[Former Mayor] Chuck Beatley said, ‘Well that’s just stupid. We ought to pick Vola Lawson.’ And everybody at the table said, ‘Yeah, we agree with that,’ and we were out of there in an hour.”

Mayor Bill Euille said he got to know Lawson early in his adult life, soon after starting his business in the city, and he quickly saw her compassion for residents.

“She had such success in the [Alexandria] Office of Housing, addressing the affordable housing needs of citizens,” he said. “You could just see her devotion and commitment to people in general.”

While City Councilor Justin Wilson didn’t get to know Lawson until after her tenure at City Hall, he quickly recognized her legacy as he entered public activism.

“We had some great chats about all of the things going on in the city, and it was fascinating to pick her brain,” he said. “I got to understand the context that all of the things, so many things that I had kind of picked up, that she laid the groundwork for most of that.”

City Councilor Tim Lovain said Lawson wasn’t just a great public servant, but also a great leader.

“She was just a true leader,” Lovain said. “It was not only her vision and her dedication, but that she inspired others to step up their game as well.”

And City Councilor Del Pepper spoke about her close relationship with Lawson, which dated back to the 1960s. She said one of her earliest memories of Lawson summed up her friend well.

“We were both working on [a] convention … and my first memory of her is the two of us in the basement of a church stuffing envelopes,” Pepper said. “That was Vola. There was no job too small or too large; she could handle it.”