Former Republican City Councilor Carlyle “Connie” Ring dies at 90

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Former Republican City Councilor Carlyle “Connie” Ring dies at 90
Carlyle "Connie" Ring. (Photo/Steven Halperson)
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By Cody Mello-Klein | cmelloklein@alextimes.com

Carlyle “Connie” Ring, a former Republican city councilor and member of the Alexandria School Board, died on Aug. 19. He was 90.

Ring helped define the local Republican party with moderate views molded in the image of former Virginia Gov. Linwood Holton. Ring was known by political allies and rivals alike for his ability to work across the aisle and for his persistence in raising the Republican party’s profile in Alexandria.

After chairing the Alexandria Republican City Committee from 1961 to 1968, Ring jumped into city service himself. From 1969 to 1978, he served on the School Board before joining City Council in 1979 and serving three terms until 1988. Ring would go on to run unsuccessfully for mayor in 1988 against incumbent Mayor Jim Moran, a good friend, in a campaign that focused on reducing taxes and city spending.

Ring was born on May 25, 1931 in upstate New York, where he attended Hamilton College and graduated summa cum laude. He went on to graduate from Duke University School of Law in 1956 and moved to Alexandria the same year to begin his career in law.

After moving to the city, Ring quickly became active in the community and in shaping city policy, even prior to his career in politics. At the time, Alexandria was still a segregated city, and Ring fought to desegregate the city’s school and expand voting rights, even going so far as to sue the local board of elections. His lawsuit resulted in the city adopting a standardized registration form.

When there was something that needed to be fixed, Ring was there with a lawyer’s attention to detail and gift of persuasion as well as an idealist’s tenacity and deep belief in politics as a force for change.

“I mean this in the nicest possible way: He was a bulldog. When he felt that there was something that could be done, changed, improved, he was always really prepared and he articulated why he felt the way he did in ways that were persuasive and he stuck with it,” David Speck, a former city councilor and state delegate, said. “… He stayed with it until he felt he had made his case as best he could, and sometimes he got everyone to agree and sometimes not, but you always knew what motivated him. And that was a sense that there was something that needed to be done better.”

As committed to his causes as he was to the law, Ring made a name for himself at a time when the Republican party still had a strong political presence in the city. In 1982, Alexandria had the most elected Republicans of any city in Virginia, as politicians like Ring and fellow former state Senators and City Councilors Bob Calhoun and Wiley Mitchell brought moderate views and an emphasis on compromise to the political process.

“He was a good man, and I will miss his insights, I will miss his commitment to Alexandria, but the most important thing that I will miss is what he represented: honor, decency, compassion and the genuine will to make everything he undertook just a little bit better,” Speck, who worked alongside Ring as a Republican before joining the Democratic party in 1995, said.

A self-described “straight arrow” and self-identified Rockefeller Republican, according to his Living Legends of Alexandria entry, Ring’s strength as a politician and community member was in his ability to bridge the ideological divide without losing track of his own values.

“He was just an ingratiating individual. He never compromised position, but he would certainly listen to people, and that makes a big difference,” Pete Benavage, the current chair of the Alexandria Republican City Committee, said.

Ring’s capacity for compromise helped him greatly when, in 1970, Holton appointed Ring as commissioner on uniform state laws. Ring served in that capacity for more than 40 years, with a focus on information technology.

During his time in the role, Ring helped shepherd many laws into existence, including the Uniform Computer Information Transactions Act in 2000. The law, which was passed in Maryland and Virginia, aims to address the issue of uniform, valid online contracts.

“The art of politics is compromise,” Ring said when he was inducted into Living Legends of Alexandria in 2011. “If there is any secret to my success with uniform state laws it is my ability to bring people together and develop consensus. Always we must find common ground.”

Locally, Ring worked as chair of the ARCC to revamp and expand the local GOP’s recruiting and precinct operations. His efforts helped find and recruit Republicans in every precinct, even at times when party membership was stagnant.

“Connie was sort of the glue that held the party together through some rough years,” Benavage, who Ring helped recruit, said.

“He was very influential. … There were very few Republican events that Connie did not support monetarily as well as with his sharp mind,” Mike Holm, a lawyer and former Republican candidate for City Council, said. “He’s someone that you’d go to in confidence. He was held in very high esteem.”

Frank Fannon, the most recent Republican to serve on City Council in Alexandria, agreed.

“Connie was a true leader in Alexandria through his years of service to our community. He was always available to share [his] thoughts and advice when needed,” Fannon said. “He had incredible institutional knowledge and was always a great resource to consult with on controversial issues.”

Ring was also known for the welcoming attitude that he and his wife Jane, who is also a Living Legends of Alexandria honoree, brought to politics and his work in the community.

“He always had a smile on his face, and it didn’t matter if you were the lowliest captain of a precinct or recruit in the Republican party: He and Jane would always invite everyone to their home and make you just feel absolutely like part of the family,” Benavage said.

Active in local politics even while he lived in Goodwin House, a life plan community for older adults, Ring was involved and voiced his concerns during the 2018 special use permit process for an affordable housing project at the former site of the Church of the Resurrection, which neighbors Goodwin House. Benavage recalled walking around the development site of the St. James Plaza apartment complex with Ring in order to better understand the project firsthand.

For Ring, community service was a lifelong commitment not based on grabbing headlines but on finding ways to improve one’s community.

“Happiness really comes from being of service to the community,” Ring told Living Legends of Alexandria. “A lot can be accomplished by being in the background and sharing the limelight with others. Grab the limelight too soon and you can stumble.”

Ring is survived by his wife, Jane, and children, Rusty, Roddy, Donna and Libby. The memorial service is set for 11 a.m. on Friday at Westminster Presbyterian Church. Masks are required for the in-person service, and Westminster is also providing a virtual service on its website: https://wpc-alex.org/connie-ring-memorial-service.

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