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Getting to Know: Mary Katherine Greenlaw

Describe what the Fredericksburg area was like growing up: I lived at 1410 Prince Edward St. until 1957, when we moved a block and a half to 405 Fauquier St. A significant difference between then and now for those of us who lived in town is the roads. Route 1 ran from Maine to Florida right down Princess Anne Street. When traffic was heavy, it overflowed to Prince Edward Street. The Route 1 bypass was built in 1952 and made a big difference. Prior to that, Princess Anne was a major commercial artery of filling stations, hotels and motels.

I walked to school; not many of us had cars even in high school. It was not the usual thing for families to have more than one vehicle. I recall when Mother got a car. We might get a ride to school if the rain was really heavy! Walking to school is one of my best memories: I knew every honeysuckle bush on the way. And every dog that I avoided.

Community events were well-attended and mostly held at Maury ball field or auditorium. The PTAs were very active. Parents were at school all the time. Thanksgiving afternoon, JM and Stafford played football at Maury and everybody came. The players and cheerleaders all attended the community church service.

Now bear in mind that I am talking about the white community; things were very segregated at the time. Hard to imagine it today. I had African–American playmates who lived in my neighborhood, but by high school we were going our separate ways.

Your family: I do not have a single ancestor who lived more than 30 minutes from here. I have an ancestor who was mayor of Fredericksburg, and one who owned and edited the first daily newspaper. My father’s family is from Spotsy and Mother’s from the city.

Both of my parents were active in the community; Daddy was on the hospital board and Mother was chair of the School Board. Mother ran for City Council along with another lady in an attempt to put the first woman on the council. Mother lost by a very few votes; the other lady was elected.

I am married to Wilson Greenlaw, who is retired from farming. I am most proud of our four sons, who are wonderful husbands and fathers.

Your career background: I majored in English literature in college. I taught at JM for four years and in Prince William County for two. I became a farm wife, chief cook and bottle washer, gofer (go to town for parts) and bookkeeper when I married Wilson Greenlaw. I got into commercial real estate when M.C. Moncure and Hunter Greenlaw convinced me they needed help at Greenlaw Properties.

Your dance background: My avocation is dance. I studied locally with Olyvee Folden Limbrick, and at the Washington School of Ballet with Lisa Gardner. I never danced professionally. I owned a dance studio with a friend at Camp Lejeune. I continued to study dance at Mary Washington College with Sonya Haydar as an adult.

I now dance with the Sacred Dance Ensemble of Fredericksburg. I enjoyed preparing for “Dancing With the Stars” (at UMW last year) so much that I am continuing ballroom lessons at Strictly Ballroom studio.

Your community involvement outside the political realm: Over the years I have been fortunate to be able to work with many remarkable citizens. We have such dedicated volunteers here. When my first husband, Chip Houston, and I moved back to Fredericksburg after military service, I became active with the local mental health association. We were then, and still may be, underserved in that area, and Pratt chapter met a real need by creating such groups as the Personal Counseling Service. A doctor on that board nominated me for the hospital board, in the hope I would encourage the hospital to add more mental health services. That was 1978. I now serve as chair of the Mary Washington Hospital Foundation.

My other interests—dance, music and art—led me to be a founding member of the Fredericksburg Festival for the Performing Arts. I have also served on the executive board of the Thurman Brisben Center.

When and why you decided to get involved in local politics, and the positions you have held: I have always been interested in community affairs. My parents were involved in the community, my mother on the school board and my father on the hospital board. When Wilson and I moved into town from the farm, I was asked to apply for the Planning Commission. I enjoyed that work and thought it a natural continuation to serve on council. It is an honor and a privilege to serve the city I love as mayor.

How have you enjoyed being mayor and what you see as the mayor’s role: Yes, I have enjoyed being mayor. I was surprised at the number of speaking requests, and it has really been a pleasure to meet with so many worthwhile organizations that really make this community work for all of its citizens.

The mayor has essentially two roles: To speak for the city and promote it, and to lead the council to consensus on the many important and sometimes difficult decisions elected leaders have to make.

What you hope to accomplish as mayor: A stable economy with encouragement for economic growth that protects our valuable heritage—which is our history, not just in our historic district but also our attractive neighborhoods. I hope to see plans evolve for a performing arts center.

Your thoughts about where Fredericksburg’s economy is now and where it will go: We are fortunate in our strategic location near the national and state capitals and in that we have managed to maintain our small town with the advantages of a larger metropolitan area. We are poised to take advantage of the improving economy.

We have in place technology and tourism zones that allow us to offer incentive packages to potential new business; we have passed a Unified Development Ordinance; we have taken advantage of our HUBZone designation both in our marketing and in workshops for local businesses; and we have set up a Main Street Initiative for downtown. We have a proactive Economic Development Authority and a strong economic future. Fredericksburg is open for business.

Hobbies: Dance, reading, music, cooking.

Favorite books: “Night Falls on the City” by Sarah Gainham, “Berlin Diary” by Bill Shirer, “Wait Till Next Year” by Doris Kearns Goodwin, and any of David McCullough’s and Goodwin’s biographies.

Favorite movies: “The Philadelphia Story,” “Wait Until Dark,” “Sleepless in Seattle,” “Singin’ in the Rain” and anything with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.

Favorite local restaurant: Tough question. My husband and I draw straws for La Petite Auberge, Bistro Bethem or Foode. And don’t forget Parthenon!

Something people don’t know about you: I am afraid of the dark. One of the hardest things I ever made myself do was spelunk into a cave down a narrow hole in the ground. My curiosity overcame my fear.

—As told to Bill Freehling