It’s time, Tom

Story by Chris Graham
freepress2@ntelos.net

Tom Reynolds can hear his dad’s voice today.

“Dad used to tell me, Son, you have bigger fish to fry here. I’ve got a church that’s looking for a significant amount of leadership. They’ve been gentle with me as a part-time pastor, but as a full-time pastor, there’s going to be significantly more in terms of expectations for my time and my efforts,” said Reynolds, who is retiring from Waynesboro City Council today and tomorrow begins a new chapter in his life.

Reynolds will be taking over as the full-time pastor at Jollivue United Methodist Church south of Staunton effective tomorrow. The eight-year city-council member and outgoing mayor has been serving as a part-time pastor at Jollivue UMC since 2005.

Reynolds was elected to city council in 2000 after serving on the Waynesboro School Board and the board of directors of Waynesboro Downtown Development Inc., among other community-service activities. He won’t forget his first matter of business on city council. “I didn’t know what I was doing and how to do it. I was absolutely green. But I thought it was important for Waynesboro to have its own tourism office. And I got that through in spite of the mayor and vice mayor not supporting it and believing it was necessary. To the point where when we took the vote, and Lem Irvin voted in favor of my motion, Chuck (Ricketts, also a former mayor) leaned across me – I sat between Chuck and Lem – and said, Lem, did you mean to vote that way?” Reynolds said.

Tourist spending has increased steadily since the move, Reynolds points out. And another Reynolds initiative, establishing a community vision that could serve as a guide for city planning now and in the future, has also done us quite well.

“We never really had a formal plan or a formal vision of what Waynesboro should look like. So we did a weekend-long visioning session so that we as individuals could come up with a corporate vision,” Reynolds said of that first visioning session, in which I was able to participate, in 2003.

“We’ve been moving toward that vision, and that’s what has allowed us to accomplish what we have accomplished, and to control what we’ve accomplished. Because we knew where we were going. It’s like somebody said, If you don’t know where you’re going, you won’t know how to get there,” Reynolds said.

And where are we now? A lot further along than where we were in 2000 when Reynolds asked former economic-development director Brent Frank to get in touch with the folks at Target to gauge their interest in opening a retail store in Waynesboro.

“They sent us back a nice corporate reply. Thank you, but no thank you. You don’t meet our demographics,” Reynolds said. “And last year, they opened a store in Waynesboro. That’s got to say something for what we’ve done. We’ve been moving in the right direction. And unless you’re willing to step out in faith, unless you’re willing to invest in your community, you’re not going to just luck into something like that. You’ve got to be ready for something like that.”

Reynolds admits to being concerned about the future direction of the city given the change in leadership that is coming with the start of the new fiscal year tomorrow. “I’m concerned about that corporate vision now. Because it’s been announced by Frank (Lucente, the leader of the new majority on city council) that that’s not his vision. I’m not sure what his vision is. Quite bluntly, I’m not sure that it is a vision. I think it’s more of a set of operational management principles. The city-management team is supposed to do the management principles. The city council is supposed to say, Here is what we want Waynesboro to look like, now figure out how to make it happen,” Reynolds said.

That having been said, Reynolds is also confident – which for those who know him is not surprising. “I love this place. I’m excited about what was going on. And I have the greatest confidence in this community that no matter who is in the elected positions, this community knows what it wants, and it’s willing to do what is necessary to bring it into fruition,” Reynolds said.

But it will be harder to see things continue to move forward without Reynolds part of the effort. “I’ve always been one to say that change is a good thing. But in terms of somebody like Tom, I really can’t hold to that train of thought. Tom brought something to the table that is unique in terms of his consistency and in terms of really having Waynesboro at the forefront of each and every issue,” City Councilwoman Lorie Smith said.

“Tom filled the role of mayor wonderfully. He took it very seriously. He represented the city beautifully,” Vice Mayor Nancy Dowdy said. “I attended many state meetings with him, and regional meetings, and ribbon-cuttings, and it didn’t matter whether the event was a ribbon-cutting for a local business or a meeting in Richmond with dignitaries, he always represented our city well. He always took it very seriously, and he loved this city tremendously. I think that’s part of having grown up in this city and lived here all his life.”

Reynolds hopes to be able to do the same at Jollivue United Methodist Church. The journey that led him there began in 1987, when Reynolds had an experience that changed his life in an instant that he describes as “being so filled with the Holy Spirit that I didn’t know what it was, but I knew I had to do something.” It took him a while to get to the leadership of a church, but Reynolds, with an appropriately self-deprecating view of the matter, thinks that could have been part of God’s plan. “And then at some point, God had to say to me, OK, Tom, I’ve been patient enough. It’s time.”

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