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    Thomas Jefferson believed that ignorance is the greatest enemy of democracy:

    "Whenever the people are well-informed,
    they can be trusted with their government."

    The Richmond First Club, celebrating more than a century of public service, was organized with this principle firmly in mind-that our city can thrive only with a well-informed, well-motivated citizenry supporting its good governance.

    With young soldiers returning from World War I and a new century underway, Richmond was ripe for reform and innovation in 1919. Action was needed for better roads and bridges, excellent schools, new library systems, a more efficient city government, a modern airport, a deeper port, and other pressing municipal matters.

    Richmond's business and professional leaders banded together to form what later would become known as the Richmond First Club. Over the decades, the non-partisan organization provided guidance and support for major studies and initiatives to move the city forward.

    The story of the club is really the history of Richmond government, spanning 10 decades. In his history of Richmond First, Peter Boisseau covers major initiatives that the organization has studied and supported:

    •A city public library system

    •A city-owned airport and a city-owned sports stadium

    •A nationally recognized, comprehensive study of municipal government to improve efficiency during the Great Depression

    •Change to a professional city manager form of government after World War II

    •A joint public water agreement with Henrico County

    •Building I-195 using federal funds rather than tolls

    •A major James River Corridor study

    •Regional cooperation through a planning district commission, economic development and a conference center

    •Another change in the city's form of government: elected mayor-professional management

    Dr. Dice Robins Anderson, a highly regarded professor of history at the University of Richmond and one of the founders of the organization, noted:

    "In informing themselves first, and then spreading information to other groups and individuals, the Richmond First Club has and will continue to perform a most useful service to our city."

    Today, the club strongly supports regional good-government initiatives, such as fair, non-partisan redistricting for Virginia elections. Monthly programs inform members of issues central to the success of the city and the surrounding counties in the metropolitan region

    Speakers include area government officials; educators; candidates for office; specialists in transportation, economic development, tourism, and regional cooperation; health care and non-profit service providers; authorities on housing and challenges of the homeless; and political analysts, among other metro region leaders.

    As the club moves forward into its second century of public service, Richmond First welcomes new members from all neighborhoods in the region who believe with Jefferson that well-informed citizens are essential for a better government for everyone.

    For more information about the important heritage of the Richmond First Club, please enjoy this excellent video prepared for our 100th anniversary celebration.

    2022-23 Officers and Directors

    President--Howard Owen

    Acting Vice President, Programs-- Suzanne Munson Jernigan

    Treasurer--Debbie and Chuck Epes

    Secretary--Lorraine Waddill

    Communications Director--Jazlyn Green

    Membership Director--Chris Couturier

    Director at Large--Sam Seeley

    Director at Large--Judy Philpot

    Director at Large--Bernie Henderson

    Meet our Officers and Directors

    Howard Owen, President, is a retired journalist and the author of 21 published novels. No. 21, Monument, comes out in November of 2021. Owen's 10th novel and first mystery, Oregon Hill, won the 2012 Dashiell Hammett Prize for best crime literature in North America, given by the International Association of Crime Writers. Owen was an award-winning newspaper reporter and editor for 44 years. He was, among other things, deputy managing editor and sports editor of the Richmond Times-Dispatch and editorial pages editor of The Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg. He was born in Fayetteville, North Carolina. He and his wife, Karen, live on Richmond's North Side.

    Suzanne Munson Jernigan, Acting Vice President, served as Executive Director of Historic Garden Week in Virginia following a career in corporate communications. A former president of the Richmond Public Relations Association, she recently completed a comprehensive biography about Founding Father George Wythe, "Jefferson's Godfather: The Man Behind the Man". Suzanne teaches college-level courses and gives frequent lectures about the Wythe-Jefferson legacy. She holds an undergraduate degree from the University of Maryland and a master's degree in education from Virginia Commonwealth University and attended The Executive Program of the University of Virginia's Darden School of Business.

    Chuck and Debbie Epes, Treasurers. Chuck and Debbie are retirees who have lived in Richmond for over 50 years. Debbie is a former teacher, having taught fourth grade at St. Christopher’s School for 36 years. Chuck retired as Communications Director for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and is a former reporter and editor for the Richmond News Leader (the city’s former afternoon newspaper). Chuck and Debbie are keenly interested in Richmond civic affairs and volunteer at various community organizations. They have three adult children and reside in Northside Richmond.

    Lorraine Waddill, Secretary, is a graduate from Virginia Commonwealth University with a degree in Political Science. She worked for over 15 years as a Legislative Aide in the Virginia General Assembly. She has been a member of the Virginia State Advisory Commission of the U. S Commission on Civil Rights and Chairman of the Board of John Tyler Community College. Today she is active in The League of Women Voters Richmond Metro Area, the Huguenot Republican Woman's Club, and Mt. Pisgah Church in Midlothian.

    Jazlyn Green, Communications Director, is a Richmond native who is working in the Human Resource field at the Virginia Housing Development Authority as the Talent Development Specialist. She graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University with a dual degree in Business with a concentration in Human Resources and Real Estate.

    Christine Couturier, Membership Director. A native of western Pennsylvania, Chris has lived in Richmond since 2001. She majored in business at Penn State and worked in the banking industry for most of her career, with an additional interest in real estate. Currently, she manages several rentals and enjoys getting to know the tenants. With a grown daughter and son, her children now consist of a horse, six ponies, two puppy dogs, and a cat--all keeping her fully engaged.

    Bernie Henderson, New Director at Large. Bernie is President Emeritus and Celebrant for Woody and Nelsen Funeral Homes. He has served for 30 years in Virginia's government as Administrator of the Bureau of Insurance, Assistant to the Commissioners of the State Corporation Commission, Director of the Department of Commerce, Director of the Department of Health Professions, and Senior Deputy Secretary of the Commonwealth. He was Assistant Tally Clerk of the U. S. House of Representatives during the 91st, 92nd, and 93rd Congresses. He has been an educator at the Old Dominion University, the University of Virginia, and Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government. He is a former President of The Shepherd Center of Richmond, Jewish Family Services of Richmond, and Moderator (presiding officer) of the Richmond Baptist Association. He is married to Marie Jimenez, and they have two daughters and four grandchildren.

    Sam Seeley, Director at Large. Sam has worked in public relations and marketing for over 25 years mainly running her own communications consulting firm. She has been an adjunct professor in the VCU School of Business for over 10 years teaching marketing and communications. Additionally, she has also taught as a visiting faculty member of the Anglo-American University in Prague. Sam holds a BA from Furman University and an MA from UVA. She served as president of RFC for two terms: 2011-13.

    Judy Philpott, Director at Large. Judy spent a career in various endeavors: education, advocacy and research. I graduated from the College of William & Mary with a degree in political science and education. My graduate work was at Virginia Commonwealth University in Special Education and Criminal Justice Administration. I also did Leadership Studies at the University of Oklahoma. I worked with several state agencies as legislative liaison and program administrator. I served in the Office of the Secretary of Health and Human Resources during the Wilder administration and worked as a research analyst with the Virginia State Crime Commission. After a short stint in the Peace Corps in South Africa, I served as Assistant Superintendent of Adult Academic Programs in the Department for Correctional Education. Happily retired for 10 years, I have worked in various volunteer capacities; CASA, hospice, and other organizations. I enjoy reading, antiquing, gardening and, most of all, being with family, especially my grandchildren.



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