By Missy Schrott | [email protected]
Lionel Hope, Alexandria’s first African American vice mayor and a World War II veteran, died in his sleep at his home in Edenton, North Carolina, on Sunday. He was 92.
Hope was born on Feb. 10, 1925, in Hampton, Virginia. He was an avid athlete while growing up in the Hampton public school system, serving as the football team’s quarterback, basketball team’s captain and a member of the track team. In 1946, Hope was discharged from WWII as a Navy Storekeeper Technician First Class. He earned a bachelor’s degree in business management from Hampton University in 1950.
He became an active community member after moving to Alexandria in 1965, culminating with his election to city council in 1982. During his time on council from 1982 to 1992, colleagues knew Hope to be community-minded, soft-spoken and genuine.
Hope’s granddaughter Summer Shtay-Edwards said she was just a child when he started on council.
“I was a kid when he was in politics,” Shtay-Edwards said. “When he was elected the first black vice mayor, I was 10, so for me, I was like, ‘Wow, he’s a first, is he going to be in the Guinness Book of World Records?’”
Former Mayor Bill Euille met Hope early in his political career; one of Euille’s first post-college work experiences was helping on Hope’s inaugural city council campaign.
“He was a very popular individual. He liked being in public and networking with folks, particularly citizens,” Euille said. “He always wore a big smile. He loved handshaking and patting you on the back and everything.”
Euille said Hope was a strong advocate, supporter, role model and mentor when he decided to run for public office himself. Euille, along with several of Hope’s other colleagues, remembered his kind and inspirational words, even after he had moved away from Alexandria.
“The thing I mostly remember about him, even if was just a friendly phone call, a lot of time he would just call me out of the blue and say, ‘Hey man, how are things going?’ and I would say, ‘Fine,’ and the one thing he would always say to me: “Be strong, be tough, it’s not an easy job, folks are gonna come after you, but believe in yourself and it’ll all work out.’”
Councilor Del Pepper remembered Hope’s kindness when she was a newcomer on council.
“When I first came in, he said something like, ‘you’ll do just fine,’” Pepper said. “I thought to myself, that just seemed so encouraging, to have somebody who’s been there all that time to say something … that I guess gave me some confidence. I always appreciated that.”
During his time on council, Hope advocated for public education, fought to decrease local crime and worked to create more affordable housing in the city as chair of the Community Development Block Grant Board.
“He was instrumental in being accessible within the community and different neighborhoods,” Euille said.
Hope’s other city involvement included the Alexandria Economic Opportunity Commission, Alexandria Hospital, Alexandria Industrial Authority, Budget Ad Hoc Committee, Community Development Block Grant Commission, Hopkins House, Mica Housing Incorporated and the Potomac Yard Small Area Planners.
“He was a very nice, very decent kind of guy who I felt always came down on the right side of issues,” Pepper said. “He was involved in his community, and that was always good, and I think he was very well respected throughout the community.”
Both Pepper and Nancy Lavalle Perkins, who knew Hope through his work with the city, applauded his approach to politics.
“Nothing showoff-y about him, just a very solid and a good contributor – you know, he contributed to the conversation,” Pepper said.
“He was very low-key,” Perkins said. “He was not flashy, flamboyant, not like what we have now. Very quiet and very soft spoken and very diligent. He knew his stuff. He wasn’t brash – he didn’t feel the need to dazzle everybody with his extensive knowledge of the budget and housing, but he knew it.”
Lawrence “Robbie” Robinson knew Hope through the Departmental Progressive Club, a social organization composed of black leaders in Alexandria.
“I was president when he was here,” Robinson said. “Lionel Hope says ‘fantastic.’ If you ever have a conversation with him, he says, ‘faaantastic.’ He was a great guy.”
“He loved Alexandria, not only as a politician, but he loved it as a citizen taxpayer, and he’ll be missed, so my prayers and condolences go out to his wife and family,” Euille said.
Upon retiring, Hope moved to North Carolina with his wife, Emma. He continued his political activities in North Carolina by campaigning and fundraising for candidates in local and statewide offices.
He was the recipient of appreciation/outstanding service awards from AFSCME Local 2087, Alexandria Hospital, Annie B. Rose Foundation and the Alexandria Society for the Preservation of Black Heritage. He was also recognized by the Chamber of Commerce, Friendship Veteran Fire Engine Association, Hopkins House, Liberty Bell Lawyers Club, Northern Virginia Chapter of the Hampton University Alumni Association, Potomac West Trade Association and the T.C. Williams High School Distributive Education Club. He was also a lifetime member of the NAACP.
Hope was predeceased by his father, Merritt Hope; his mother, Rebecca Griffin Hope; his brother, Earl Hope; his sisters, Dorothy Brown, Violet Northington and Felicia Jones; his stepmother, Eva Hope; and his step-siblings, Horace Taylor, Bruce Taylor, and Ernestine Taylor.
He is survived by his wife of 54 years, Emma; his four children, Lionel R. Hope, Jr., Matheline L. Pugh, Debbie Hawkins Shtay and Joseph Hawkins; his five grandsons, Daniel W. Dennis, III, Timothy Dennis, Melvin Lunsford, Jr., Lionel R. Hope, IV and Reginald Hawkins; one granddaughter, Summer Shtay-Edwards; four great grandsons; eight great granddaughters; and several nieces, nephews and cousins.
A memorial service will be held Nov. 19 at 3 p.m. at Blair Funeral Services in Edenton, North Carolina. Interment will take place Nov. 20 at the Albert G. Horton Jr. Memorial Veterans Cemetery in Suffolk, Virginia.