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TOWN AND GOWN – It’s all about community

In 1995 as I was finishing my predoctoral internship in Pittsburgh, I started a national job search and was invited to interview at Longwood College. During my on-campus visit, I observed people in all facets of campus life interacting throughout the day in a variety of settings. (I’m a clinical psychologist and we study people — it’s what we do.) What I noticed is that everyone was kind, friendly, and seemed to genuinely enjoy and care for one another. I thought to myself – this cannot be real. They must be putting on a show. Even though I was raised in a rural farming community, I had spent years in the Baltimore and Pittsburgh areas and had lost touch with some of my small-town values. Also during the interview, a number of faculty and staff shared that they had planned to stay at Longwood for only a few years to build their resume and then move on, but something about the community grabbed hold and they’ve remained.

That is now my story. Every day at Longwood and in Farmville I watch people interact with kindness and care. I also planned to stay at my first post-doc position for a few years only, gain additional professional experience, and move on. Here I am, 25 years later still enjoying the work and the community. I love welcoming new members to Farmville because I know this is a special place. It has been a joy to be part of a college town that is evolving with exciting partnerships, new opportunities, and increased diversity – all in the spirit of moving forward. An aspect that I most admire is that a person here generates an idea and reaches out to others to create a reality. Prime examples include the Children’s Book Festival, Summer Film Series, and Summer Garden Opera.

It is in this town that I fell in love with Bill McKay. He orchestrated a recorded surprise proposal to be broadcast on his daily bluegrass show on WFLO and the story of our engagement was featured on the front page of The Farmville Herald. It is here that I formed lasting friendships and enjoy regular gatherings at the LCVA, Moton Museum, Waterworks Theater, and downtown businesses. I find it easy and fulfilling to invest and give back to this community that has provided so much to me both personally and professionally. I have been involved with the Friends of High Bridge Trail, Heart of Virginia Festival, and Summer Film Series: Stars Under the Stars. I serve as faculty advisor to Relay For Life of Longwood University and each year the community raises $60,000-$80,000 for the American Cancer Society. Bill and I, along with tremendous help from friends, family and the community, refurbished 119 North Main Street and opened restaurant one19; and we look forward to future possibilities in another space in downtown Farmville.

Community has been especially important during the global pandemic and continued racial discrimination and injustices. The degree of support and advocacy displayed in Farmville has been encouraging. Undoubtedly, we have progress to make, but I am filled with hope that the kindness and care that I observed in 1995 and continue to experience and witness daily will see us through.

DR. MAUREEN J WALLS-MCKAY is a licensed clinical psychologist and serves as director of Counseling & Psychological Services at Longwood University. Her email is wallsmckaymj@longwood.edu.