Early in the year, we published a remembrance of community strategist Lillie A. Estes. Since then, other bright lights and spheres of influence have left us, including University of Richmond Chancellor E. Bruce Heilman on Oct. 19. Here, we remember a few of them.
Born in Massachusetts, Oman moved to Richmond from the Northeast in the early 1980s and became the Community Foundation for a Greater Richmond’s first full-time staff member in 1985. Over the next 30 years, she would rise to become the foundation’s president and CEO. Her tenure saw the foundation grow from six to 850 charitable funds and from $36,000 to $700 million in grants awarded to support charitable causes and organizations, according to the foundation. Described by her husband as an “adventuresome spirit” who loved to travel and ride motorcycles, Oman excelled at working with Richmond’s power players to channel philanthropic resources.
Roy A. West
A son of Washington Park on the city’s North Side, West rose from poverty to become the principal at John Marshall High School and later Albert Hill Middle School. He served as Richmond’s second black mayor, from 1982-88. His tenure as mayor was considered divisive in Richmond political circles after he joined the City Council’s four white members in voting for himself to replace Henry L. Marsh III, the city’s first black mayor. It was one of several moves seen as payback for slights during his time with Richmond Public Schools. The building of 6th Street Marketplace occurred during his mayoral term, as the city tried unsuccessfully to stem the flow of residents and businesses to the suburbs.
The graphic designer had told friends that writing the word “hope” on his hand every day using a Sharpie was a reminder not to give up. With his vibrant presence in Richmond’s creative community, it was a gut blow when the VCU graduate and former VMFA designer took his own life. News of his death spread quickly and sparked a conversation around mental health and the need to reach out to those struggling with depression. Sarah SeoYun Choi and other friends set up a memorial in front of the “Love 24 hrs” mural Robertson had painted with Emily Herr on the side of Jade Multicultural Studio in Church Hill.
Originally from Vietnam, Pham was a jovial presence behind the bar at Mekong, where he worked for nearly 10 years at the epicenter of Richmond’s burgeoning beer scene. When regular customers stopped by, he’d slip a beer in front of them, leading to a guessing game of what he had poured. Outside of the restaurant, Pham and his wife had two young daughters and were active in the local Vietnamese community. In recent years, he had begun cycling seriously and was participating in his first triathlon when he drowned. In July, The Veil Brewing Co. released a namesake beer in his honor — an imperial chocolate milk stout — with proceeds supporting his family.
When Myrick was diagnosed with stage 4 colorectal cancer at age 36 in 2016, the former Hanover County teacher was determined to share her journey in an effort to educate others. She did this through a blog, titled Peg’s Cancer Journey, and through advocacy with various organizations. Her blog offers an unflinching look at the experience from diagnosis to hospice, with the detail and humor her friends and family saw in her life and work. At its base, Myrick’s message was simple: Pay attention to the signs and get tested. In May, U.S. Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-7th District, delivered a short speech on the House floor televised by C-SPAN, calling Myrick a friend and role model.
S. Buford Scott
Regarded as a classic Southern gentleman, Scott was a business executive, philanthropist and dedicated University of Virginia alumnus and fan. The longtime chairman of the BB&T Scott & Stringfellow brokerage and investment banking firm told this magazine several years ago that what he loves about Richmond is “that we have so many people who are really interested in seeing that the town not only survives but thrives.” With his leadership in organizations such as the Virginia Mentoring Partnership, the Micah partnership, Elk Hill Farm and the Richmond Community of Caring, he certainly fit that description.
Sara Belle November
Her passing felt like the end of an era for a certain type of gentility and patronage of the arts. A graduate of Randolph-Macon Woman’s College, the Georgia native embarked on a 40-year medical career and a 67-year marriage to Neilson Jay “Neil” November. The kind of influence the couple had on Richmond’s arts scene — including the naming of seven theaters after them — would be difficult to repeat. Sara Belle had been an actress in her early days, often performing in Gilbert and Sullivan operettas, and by all accounts, Neil loved to honor her passion.