Former Alexandria City Manager Vola Lawson Dies

Page archived as of November 19, 2015

On December 11, 2013, Mayor William D. Euille issued the following statement: 

The City of Alexandria has lost one of its true Living Legends with the sudden passing of retired City Manager Vola Lawson. Vola and I have been close friends and colleagues for more than 30 years; she was like a second mother, always concerned about my well-being and safety. She loved Alexandria, its history, and its people; she strived to make the City one of the best in America.    

She worked diligently to preserve affordable housing and to help City residents in need. Vola was proud of her public service, had a special love for our City employees, and the staff and animals at the Vola Lawson Animal Shelter. She founded the Alexandria Walk to Fight Breast Cancer, an effort to raise funds to provide access to mammograms for all Alexandria women.  

I want to extend our heartfelt sympathy to Vola's sons, David, Peter and MacArthur; and their families. 

Vola Therrell Lawson, former City Manager, died on Tuesday, December 10, at the age of 79. Lawson, Alexandria’s first female City Manager, served 15 years, from 1985 to 2000. In addition to her service as City Manager, Lawson was a community activist, deeply involved in issues ranging from civil rights to animal welfare.

A native of Georgia, Lawson came to Alexandria with her family in 1965. A resident of the Parkfairfax community, she helped found their neighborhood civic association; she also joined the Urban League, participating in civil rights demonstrations and becoming an advocate for Alexandria’s lower-income communities.

Lawson began working for the City as Assistant Director for the Economic Opportunities Commission in 1971. She was appointed Director of the Community Development Block Grant Program in 1975; and in 1981, was named Assistant City Manager for housing. As Assistant City Manager, Lawson was responsible for overseeing commercial and residential redevelopment projects, which included the construction and completion of nearly $250 million of properties in downtown Alexandria.

In February 1985, Mayor Charles E. Beatley, Jr., and City Council appointed Lawson as Acting City Manager, after former City Manager Douglas Harman left his position. Eight months later, after a nationwide search, City Council named Lawson as the new City Manager.

As City Manager, Lawson helped guide the City during the financial issues of the 1980s, and helped the City retain and improve its top bond ratings; managed the development of a diverse, professional City workforce; and supported efforts to modernize the Alexandria Police Department. Lawson, an animal lover, helped establish the City’s contract with the Animal Welfare League to operate the animal shelter that was ultimately named in her honor.

In the 1990s, Lawson, a breast cancer survivor, formed a group comprising representatives from Inova Alexandria Hospital, the City’s Office on Women and Commission for Women, Office on Aging, the City Manager’s Office and the Alexandria Health Department to raise funds to provide education and funding for mammograms for lower-income women, and founded the annual Walk to Fight Breast Cancer.

Lawson was inducted into the Virginia Women’s Hall of Fame in 1993, received the National Award for Innovative Leadership and Accomplished Professionalism from the American Society for Public Administration in 1997; and was named a Living Legend of Alexandria in 2007.

A memorial service will be held Monday, December 16,  11:00 a.m. at Christ Church located at 118 North Washington St. A reception will be held immediately following the service.