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Column: A citizen’s empowering relationship with Ruth Hodges Fraser, Virginia Beach’s city clerk

Virginia Beach City Clerk Ruth Hodges Fraser, seen during the recent Sister Cities International Conference. [John-Henry Doucette/The Princess Anne Independent News]

BY LINDA RUSSELL

VIRGINIA BEACH — Unless you attend the city council meetings or other events, such as those involving the Sister Cities chapter in Virginia Beach, you might not recognize her face or know her name. She is not a politician but rather one of the “behind the scenes” people who makes sure Virginia Beach is a city that you can be proud to call home.

Ruth Hodges Fraser is one of the five city officials who are appointed by the Virginia Beach City Council members. She is our city clerk and is the custodian of the city’s official seal. She records actions taken at council meetings and is responsible to attest, record and maintain all of the city’s official documents.

Fraser has also played an important role with my own activities as a citizen here in Virginia Beach.

I first met Fraser when I received a letter from her in July 2008 that said I was invited to come to the Virginia Beach Convention Center to share my vision for the future of our city. There was a number for her office for me to reserve my place at the table. 

I called the number and was surprised that the city clerk herself answered the phone. I explained that there surely was some mistake, that the invitation had been sent to the wrong person.

She patiently listened while I explained that I was a outsider. I moved here in the 1960s with my husband while he was still in the Navy. We retired here.

Fraser said that she would take my name off the list, but she also told me that the very reasons that I had given her were the reasons that I had been chosen to come.

Not only did I attend that meeting to participate, but I received another letter from Fraser’s office in November 2014.

This one was from the mayor and members of our city council. They wanted my ideas to set goals and plan their actions for the future so policy would reflect and ensure a true “community for a lifetime” in the “best city in the world.”

I was already attending our First Police Precinct Citizens Advisory Committee meetings, but Fraser encouraged me to attend other city meetings. I have done that.

I remember attending a Sister Cities event during which there was a tree planting in the courtyard at City Hall. Our city clerk was busy making sure that we were all in the pictures, and one of the people visiting from Japan made sure that we all got to place a shovel of dirt around the tree.

As we were leaving to go back in the building, Fraser paused to empty dirt out of her shoe. I noticed that there seemed to be more city folks than citizens there. I asked Fraser whether I was supposed to be there.

Her answer was that this was my city, and I could be there. She even invited me to come to the ball that night.

Fraser always looks like she should be on the cover of a fashion magazine so I asked what I should wear? I was surprised when she said what I was wearing would be fine. I’m sure that she meant without my floppy hat.

I knew that her husband was ill and asked how he was doing. She said that he was in hospice care in one of our nursing homes. She cooked dinner for him and went to see him before going to the ball. I ask if there was anything that I could do to help. Of course, the answer would be “no,” and I understood. My husband had passed in 2005.

It wouldn’t be long until we would receive the news that Ruth’s husband, Donald MacKay Fraser VIII, had passed on May 21, 2014. I went to pay my respects. When I entered the funeral home, I was not surprised that she was there, along with Vice Mayor Louis Jones. She thanked us for coming. She made sure we had a seat.

I’m not one for making New Years Resolutions, and this year seemed to be a good year not to make any. Achieve success or don’t achieve it. Who cares, when sometimes everything seems so pointless? In the end, we all die, and it will only take a few generations before the most successful person is forgotten.

I marched myself into Fraser’s office to tell her how I felt and that I was taking a break for a while. She got up from her desk and shut the office door – the same door that is always opened –behind me. I’m not sure that she didn’t lock it. 

I got a real “pep talk” from her. I figured that I’d better come around to her way of thinking if I was going to get out of there. And I came away thinking that success is not a collection of achievements but a path you follow to win at life.

I really don’t know when Ruth sleeps. I have received emails from her at 7 a.m. and as late as 9:30 p.m. She’s always working because what we do together matters. And she’s always reminding us that we, the citizens, are part of that work, too.


Russell lives in Cardinal Estates.


© 2017 Pungo Publishing Co., LLC

The Independent News

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