By Pauline Hovey
To live with courage, dedication, passion, and integrity—what more could one ask of a public servant? When former Greene County Supervisor Jeri Allen died on February 10, she left such a legacy, as attested by those who knew her.
Allen served in Greene County government from 1996 when she joined the Planning Commission for a six-year stint, through December 2009, after completing two terms on the Board of Supervisors. But she continued her life of public service by serving on various boards until she lost her six-year battle with cancer. Along the way, she was instrumental in moving the county forward in the areas of economic development and financial stability, working hard for approval and construction of a water and sewer infrastructure project, a new elementary school in her growing Ruckersville district, and a new library/senior center, among other accomplishments.
Board Chairman Steve Catalano (at-large) spoke fondly of Allen, whom he has known since 1999 and served alongside during her years as supervisor. “From a business standpoint, her single biggest accomplishment was the water and sewer infrastructure project,” Catalano said. “She had a vision to make that happen, and it was very complicated in the beginning. But her strong desire and her wisdom and understanding of business helped put that infrastructure in place.”
Allen was known for her well-informed decisions and well thought-out ideas, her understanding of the county’s current and future needs, and her ability to listen and to communicate. “She was a better communicator than any of us,” Catalano said, “and that facilitated a lot of things with the board because of how she conducted herself. Being the only woman on the board, she kept us all in check, presented a more sensitive side, and built a lot of bridges along the way to move things forward. And she was proud of that fact.”
Jim Frydl, current supervisor for the Ruckersville district, agreed that his predecessor’s greatest achievement on the board was the sewage treatment plant, “because it set up the county for potential economic growth. She singlehandedly pushed that so hard. She was like a little pit bull. Her passion and drive were as large as she was diminutive.”
Despite her small stature, Allen did not back down at the county level or the state level. She took on VDOT to pave a badly potholed gravel road leading into the county park—a park that many residents frequent and that hosts countless sporting events. “She found the [state] grant and pushed for 2 ½ years to get that road paved,” Frydl said. “You wouldn’t know that about her, but she was hard core and pushed and pushed.”
Despite the red tape involved and the length of time such VDOT projects normally take, “she got aggressive with VDOT and got that road paved,” Catalano said. “She used to tell me she was on it like a cheap suit.”
In addition to her support of the County Parks and Recreation Department, Allen was a strong supporter of the Greene County Technical Education Center (GCTEC), once donating a truck she had won from a county fundraiser to the school’s automotive program. She was also instrumental in bringing the Free Clinic to Greene County—a nonprofit dedicated to providing free health services to county residents unable to afford health insurance.
A dedicated public servant, Allen served on numerous boards while residing in the county: the Thomas Jefferson Planning District, which she chaired for three years; the Rapidan Service Authority for seven years; Greene County Social Services; the Piedmont Workforce Network, a state-funded agency to facilitate job training and placement; the Greene Free Clinic; and GCTEC.
“People didn’t realize how many boards she served on,” Frydl said, “and she was active on all of them and just as passionate about every one of them. Everybody who knew Jeri knew she was somebody you could count on to work hard and improve things.”
Ray Dingledine, former superintendent of Greene County Schools, remembered Allen’s conscientious support of county schools. “Jeri was really proud of the schools,” Dingledine said. “She toured the facilities before making a decision to be sure she fully understood what she was voting on. She asked good questions about the school budget and always wanted to know the facts, and I respected that.
“The last school building project she voted for —the high school/middle school expansion project—it took two years to pass it,” he said, “and she was one of our #1 supporters. She totally supported our schools and community, and her opinion was always respected. She was willing to stand up for something even if it meant a battle.”
As a fellow supervisor, Catalano sometimes witnessed those battles. “At times we argued to the max,” he said, “but we respected and liked each other very much. She was a great confidante of mine, and she made me a much better supervisor than I would have been without her. She taught me that it’s not about being right, it’s about building consensus.”
Allen brought many years of business experience with her when she moved to Greene County in 1992, and she was president of Redding Consultants, an international business consultancy founded by her husband, until she retired in 1996. In addition to the countless hours she gave as a supervisor and offered as a volunteer, Allen donated her supervisor salary each year to organizations such as the Greene County Rescue Squad—just another demonstration of her desire to make a difference.
“Jeri wasn’t ego driven,” Frydl said. “She served to try to make things better.”
Pauline Hovey is the Greene County Field Officer for the Free Enterprise Forum a privately funded public policy organization. If you find this report helpful, please consider supporting the Free Enterprise Forum. To learn more visit www.freeenterpriseforum.org
Photo Credit: Greene County