Years, decades and centuries are merely artificially constructed timelines that humankind has created to lend order to the chaos of our lives. Life’s events and history proceed on their own schedule, oblivious to our attempts to order their occurrence. Nonetheless, here is a look back at some of the past decade’s events that significantly impacted central Virginia.
In 2010, the United States saw a watershed moment in election history. Republicans captured the U.S. House of Representatives with numbers not seen since 1948. They also grew their ranks among governors and state legislatures. The year saw the grassroots birth of the tea party. In March, President Barack Obama signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the most significant expansion of the nation’s health care system since Medicare and Medicaid in 1965. Iran moved forward with a nuclear program.
With the arrival of 2011 came the socio-political Occupy movement. The protests, originally begun in New York, spread to more than 600 American communities — including Richmond. The protesters originally evoked sympathy from the left — until sanitary issues grew out of hand. By the end of October 2011, the majority of camps, including Richmond’s, had been removed.
The 7th District’s Eric Cantor established himself as the most consequential Virginia politician since the elder Harry Byrd. In August, the earth under Mineral shook, and tremors rolled through Richmond and beyond. The Washington Monument suffered cracks; damage afflicted the National Cathedral. Virginia Commonwealth University advanced through the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s basketball bracket to the Final Four.
2012 was dominated by the presidential election. Virginia ranked among the battleground states. Obama repeated his 2008 victory. Democrat Tim Kaine defeated Republican George Allen in the U.S. Senate race. The GOP lost seats in the Senate, a chamber it had expected to reclaim; they held the House of Representatives but with a diminished share. Locally, Richmond Mayor Dwight Jones won re-election in a landslide. Discussion continued on the Redskins training camp. There was more talk of a new stadium for the Flying Squirrels and a new art museum for Virginia Commonwealth University. Henrico County announced the retirement of longtime county manager Virgil Hazelett.
The arrival of 2013 ushered in one of the nastiest gubernatorial races in memory. Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Ken Cuccinelli worked hard to destroy the other’s character. Bob McDonnell established himself as a governor of consequence with a transportation package, education reforms and the restoration of voting rights to nonviolent felons who had completed their sentences. But instead of basking in victory, McDonnell was besieged by Giftgate. Virginians learned their laws regarding gifts to officeholders were far too lax.
We lost a Richmond champion in Mike Hughes, who led the Martin Agency to prominence and gave more than he received. And, the knife attack on state Sen. Creigh Deeds and the subsequent suicide of his son drew attention to problems society would rather not confront. We still await reforms. The Washington Redskins inaugurated the Richmond training camp, and the Richmond Ballet celebrated its 30th season.
In 2014, the commonwealth led the nation in extraordinary news. The most stunning event occurred on June 10, when college professor Dave Brat defeated House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in the 7th District Republican primary. The incumbent erred decisively in ignoring his constituents during the campaign. Sen. Mark Warner, who vastly outspent Republican Ed Gillespie, saw his re-election too close to call on election night.
Virginia’s reputation for integrity took hits. A federal jury convicted McDonnell and his wife on corruption charges. Following a precedent set by McDonnell, Gov. McAuliffe restored the voting rights of thousands of nonviolent felons who served their sentences.
Rolling Stone magazine disgraced itself with a false story on an alleged gang rape at the University of Virginia. Virginia lost Beverly Reynolds, an unsurpassed patron of the arts; Bill Bosher, a beloved educator; and Cameron Gallagher, a teen whose life and passions drew attention to depression among the young.
In 2015, ISIS attacks in Paris and Islamist terror in San Bernardino killed scores of innocents. Islamist atrocities also occurred in Africa and the Middle East. Presidential hopeful Donald Trump’s meteoric rise surprised everyone. Across the South, states and localities began to debate questions related to the late Confederacy. A proposed children’s hospital in RVA hit a wall. The world bicycling championships proved Richmond can put on a show. VCU’s Shaka Smart moved to Texas to coach the Longhorns. Chesterfield and Hanover counties searched for new superintendents. Republicans kept their majorities in the state Senate and House of Delegates. McDonnell appealed his corruption convictions.
As years go, 2016 was full of surprises — not all good. Virginian Tim Kaine got the nod for Democratic vice presidential nominee and elevated the campaign’s tone — until his debate with Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, held at Longwood University in Farmville. The Supreme Court vacated McDonnell’s conviction. Richmond elected a promising young mayor, Levar Stoney. The economy continued to add jobs and paychecks began to grow. To the shock of millions, Trump won the Oval Office.
The untimely death of Jamycheal Mitchell at the Hampton Roads Regional Jail in Portsmouth shocked Virginians. The state got fleeced by a fake Chinese subsidiary called Lindenburg Industries. UVA dean Nicole Eramo won a measure of justice after being defamed by the Rolling Stone’s false story of rape.
We lost a lot of big names in 2016 — David Bowie, Prince, Antonin Scalia and Harper Lee. Nancy Reagan, Merle Haggard, Shimon Peres, Elie Wiesel and Muhammad Ali. Carrie Fisher. Debbie Reynolds. And the tyrant, Comrade Fidel. RVA lost J. Stewart Bryan, Oliver Singleton and Harry Jacobs — who all left the city better than they found it.
In a blink of an eye, 2017 was here and gone. It began in fury with Trump’s inauguration and the raging protests against him. Questions about Russian interference in the 2016 election continued to percolate, punctuated by revelations from a dubious dossier. Trump’s firing of FBI director Jim Comey troubled many. Republicans produced a boon for the country by cutting taxes. Revelations about Harvey Weinstein led to the birth of the #MeToo movement. On Aug. 12, the descent of racist goons upon bucolic Charlottesville culminated in street fights and murder. Americans recoiled in horror. The Confederate monuments question consumed Richmond and Stoney appointed a commission to make recommendations. The Virginia State Police reported hate crimes in Virginia spiked nearly 50% from 2016 to 2017.
The electoral tsunami of Nov. 7 took a huge bite out of the Republican majority in the House of Delegates — including conservative luminaries Scott Lingamfelter and Bob Marshall, who lost his seat to Danica Roem, the first transgender person elected to the legislature. Richmond Public Schools announced new leadership. Stoney continued efforts to improve City Hall. Richmond unveiled a statue of Maggie Walker. The state’s Board of Education overhauled — and improved — accreditation for the public schools. Fort Lee celebrated 100 years.
In 2018, the General Assembly live-streamed House and Senate committee hearings. But, failing to pass a budget during regular session, the legislature was forced to reconvene in May. The final fiscal product presented to Gov. Ralph Northam included Medicaid expansion. November elections saw several GOP strongholds fall, including Virginia’s 7th District, where Democrat Abigail Spanberger narrowly beat the incumbent, Republican Dave Brat.
Richmond residents saw their restaurant meals tax increase another 1.5%. The Virginia ABC announced it was moving its distribution warehouse to Mechanicsville. We cheered Facebook’s decision to invest an additional $1 billion to expand its data center in eastern Henrico and Amazon’s announcement that it was building a second headquarters in Northern Virginia. We were shocked to learn of a drop of 3 percentage points in reading scores for Virginia third graders.
We lost many beloved Americans in 2017, including Richmond’s own Neil November, Tom Wolfe and Marcyne “Cene” Owdom Jones, matriarch of Sally Belle’s. Other notables include John McCain and both President George H.W. Bush and his beloved wife, Barbara.
Finally, 2019 flew by in a web of contradictions and questions. The year began with Gov. Ralph’s Northam’s blackface scandal, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax’s sexual assault allegations and Attorney General Mark Herring’s blackface confession. Despite calls for their resignations, including The Times-Dispatch’s to Northam to step down, all three seem to have weathered the ignominy. The scandals had little impact on Virginia voters. Indeed, the 2019 election saw a tidal wave of Democrats elected that resulted in both houses of the General Assembly turning solidly blue.
Virginians celebrated when a local hero, RPS teacher Rodney Robinson, was named National Teacher of the Year. On June 6, the commonwealth paid tribute to the “Bedford Boys” and all the other Americans who participated in the D-Day invasion 75 years earlier. We mourned the senseless acts of violence that continue to plague the commonwealth and the country — shootings in Virginia Beach, El Paso and too many other places to name. We wept at the passing of little 17-month-old Nariah Ivy Brown, who died after being brutally sexually assaulted, and 9-year-old Markiya Simone Dickson, killed by random gunfire while playing in a Richmond park. We said goodbye to notable Virginians Gerald L. Baliles, E. Bruce Heilman and Jerry Finch.
Nationally, we watched as Trump’s impeachment hearings moved forward in the House of Representative and Americans of differing political thought moved further apart. In a year that saw little peace or quiet, even the final day of 2019 brought news that the U.S. embassy in Iraq was under siege.
Let us hope for a brighter, less violent decade to come.
— Robin Beres