In the 137 years since Roanoke has been chartered as an independent city, all the 44 mayors have been male. Only a few women have served in the capacity of vice mayor. Those numbers mirror the reality across the country. According to the United States Conference of Mayors, less than 20 percent of U.S. cities with a population of at least 30,000 currently have women serving as vice mayor.
Trish White-Boyd, Roanoke’s current vice mayor, follows Anita Price and Joe Cobb who served in the role from July 2016 to June 2018 and July 2018 to Dec. 2020, respectively. White-Boyd’s humble journey from Chipley, Fla. to become Roanoke’s second-ranking official, has been filled with life lessons, tough love, indelible memories, self-discovery and unbreakable bonds.
White-Boyd’s introduction into politics came in 2000. As she puts it, “The presidential election between George Bush and Al Gore is something that I will never forget. Gore won the popular vote. When all the votes were recounted, he won my home state, too. I was beyond frustrated when the Supreme Court got involved. I was so irate that from that moment on, I made a promise to passionately support the candidates I believe in with every fiber in my being.”
Before Star City voters elected her to vice mayor, White-Boyd was a successful business owner and community activist who worked on numerous Democratic campaigns on the local, state and national level. The list of notable Democrats she has worked with include President Barack Obama, President Bill Clinton, President Joe Biden, Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, Gov. Ralph Northam and Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax.
What most people don’t realize about running a campaign, said White-Boyd, is the toll it takes on you mentally and the level of discipline it requires. Due to the many campaigns White-Boyd had worked on over the years, she was exceptionally prepared to run her own. Her first run for elected office was in 2016. Mayor Sherman Lea persuaded her to run for a seat on Roanoke City Council. The Roanoke Valley Realtors Organization and the Roanoke Valley Business Association endorsed her during the campaign, but she lost by 47 votes to John Garland. White-Boyd recalls that election night was a heartbreaker. “I was with Anita, Mayor Lea and some others. Initially, I was told I won. Shortly thereafter, someone said the Registrar’s Office had made a mistake. Fifty votes from Eureka Park apparently were applied to my total in error and should have gone to John Garland. Of all the places to make that mistake, it seemed strange that it happened in a predominantly black neighborhood. I did not get angry. In fact, when all the news stations reached out for comment, my response simply was: ‘I’m pleased with God’s decision.’”
White-Boyd did not let that disappointment keep her from moving forward and making a difference in the community. When Garland resigned in 2019 due to a conflict of interest related to his job as a developer, he sent an email to his colleagues expressing sentiment that White-Boyd would be a great replacement to finish his term. Garland’s colleagues agreed.
In November, two Democrats and an independent candidate captured most votes. White-Boyd garnered 23.5 percent of the vote, followed by Robert Jeffrey (D) with 14.2 percent and Stephanie Moon (I) with 13.9 percent. Once the results were certified, White-Boyd said she heard from a former high school teacher in Florida.
“Her name is Mrs. Donna, and she went on to say just how proud she is of me,” White-Boyd said. “We discussed many things, including me returning to talk to some younger students. Once we get through this pandemic, I told her I plan on doing just that.”
White-Boyd always has lived her life by a simple adage: “Nobody accomplishes anything by themselves.” It is not a coincidence that many of White-Boyd’s closest confidants are women that she shares an unbreakable bond.
Michelle Hamilton-Terry, for example, was instrumental in White-Boyd’s November victory. Because she is inherently honest and trustworthy, White-Boyd knew early on that she wanted her to be her campaign strategist.
“I first met Trish at a downtown restaurant in 2019 for a meeting about her campaign. What was initially supposed to be a quick gathering turned into a four-hour planning session. My role within Trish’s campaign was to lead her in overall strategy,” Hamilton-Terry said. “Trish’s diligence and commitment to the citizens of Roanoke was so evident that I knew she and I could create a winning formula together.”
Price is someone White-Boyd considers a mentor. The two became extremely close during their time together on city council. Never shy about seeking advice or asking questions, White-Boyd always has welcomed feedback from those around her.
“I describe Trish as a dynamo, a true go-getter. Once she puts her mind to something, she is tenacious and will see a project through to the end,” Price said. “As a council member, she is committed to serving her community and the city. I have loved my role as mentor to Trish. I am so proud that she has earned the title of vice mayor. But make no mistake, it is more than a title, it is an enormous responsibility. It is not only stepping in for the mayor at official events or chairing council meetings; it is also representing our Star City as a role model in the capacity of public servant. Knowing my dear sister as I do, she will handle that role with great dignity and class.”
Delta Sigma Theta, her beloved sorority and sisterhood founded in 1913, has more than 300,000 college educated women with over nationwide 1,000 chapters. White-Boyd also is a member of The Links, which was established in 1946 and consists of more than 16,000 professional women of African descent in 292 chapters located in 41 states, as well as the Girlfriends, Inc, another organization White-Boyd is passionate about.
“Not only is Delta Sigma Theta a sisterhood, but a sisterhood that works in tandem to create opportunities for the black community and our young black youth,” she said. “The Links do the same thing. It is a very illustrious group of women and it is all about community service and giving back. You have to report your hours, have to document what you are doing and what you’ve done. Regarding Girl Friends, Inc., we also meet monthly for lunch and give scholarships out throughout the year.”
With an African American population of nearly 20 percent, Roanoke is one of the more diverse cities in Virginia. As a result of voter turnout numbers being so high, history has been made in the Star City.
For the first time, Roanoke has a majority black council Mayor Lea, Vice Mayor White-Boyd, and incumbents Jeffrey and Reynolds.
Traditionally, council members are all sworn in together. Because of COVID-19 restrictions, two separate ceremonies were held on Dec. 3 and two on Dec. 4 at the Oliver Hill Justice Center. The four-year term for each member will start on Jan. 1 and conclude on Dec. 31, 2024.
White-Boyd, 58, and her husband of 27 years, Colbert, have a blended family of seven children and almost twice as many grandchildren. My life story, she said, serves as a reminder that if you surround yourself with amazing people, put in the necessary work and approach life from a selfless perspective, you can truly make a difference in the world.