Varner reflects on 25 years of service

Published 6:00 am Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Dr. Lawrence Varner was recently recognized by the Prince Edward County Public Schools (PECPS) School Board for 25 years of service as a board member.

Born at Centra Southside Community Hospital (CSCH) in Farmville, Varner was raised in southern Cumberland County with his parents, his three older sisters and his two younger brothers. Times were tight, and Varner knew the value of hard work, spending summers working on his uncle’s tobacco farm and working after school and on weekends cutting pulpwood for his father. During his senior year of high school, Varner made $70 a month driving the school bus, which he eventually used to purchase his first motorcycle. He attended all 12 years of pre-college education in Cumberland before graduating as valedictorian and entering college.

“None of my grandparents, parents or siblings attended college,” he recalled, “so my attendance would be uncharted waters for us.”

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Varner attended Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, where he received a Bachelor of Science with honors in biology. In college, Varner drove a dump truck for two summers and spent another two summers working as an orderly and later as a lab assistant for CSCH.

Varner was accepted through early admission to medical school at the Medical College of Virginia (now the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine) and graduated in 1982, completing a three-year family practice residency in Lynchburg. He then opened a solo family practice office in Farmville that operated until 2017.

Varner was a voluntary team physician for Longwood College from 1985 to the late 90s and served from 1985 to 2018 as the Longwood medical director. He also served from 1986 to 1982 as a local medical examiner for the state of Virginia. In addition, he volunteered as a team physician for PECPS and spent many Friday nights on the sidelines during home and away football games.

Varner spent two years working at The Woodland in Farmville and in July of 2019 began working full time at Piedmont Geriatric Hospital in Burkeville, where he continues to provide medical services for geriatric patients.

In 1995, Varner was first appointed to the Prince Edward School Board to fill the unexpired term of a board member who had moved out of the county.

Varner described his first year on the board as an interesting one. There was a lot to learn. Meetings were long, starting at noon and sometimes lasting until after midnight.

When he was employed by CSCH and the Woodland, Varner was encouraged to attend school board meetings and other related school events. Now, as a state employee, he must use vacation time to do so.

As a product of a public school education, Varner was excited and humbled to be appointed to the board and wanted to do anything he could to support and improve the PECPS school system.

“It’s something that I have always wanted to do and continue to enjoy.”

As a board member, Varner feels strongly about transparency and wants the public to see and understand the board’s actions.

“I never want the public to feel that we have done anything in secret,” he said. “I feel strongly that we need to support our teachers and administration in any way we can. They have a tough job. I feel strongly about giving students, parents and teachers the right to be heard. I feel strongly about trying to provide the best education we can for our students and to provide as many opportunities for them as possible.”

The School Board positions, according to Varner, were appointed until fairly recently.

“(The year) 2019 was the first year that my seat was to be determined by election,” he said. “Even though I enjoyed my time on the board and wanted to continue, I am no politician and had no intention of running; however, as it turns out, no one else ran for my seat and I won by write-in.”

The seat on the board has come with its fair share of difficulties.

Varner said some of the more difficult aspects of his position have been trying to find funds for needed projects, such as roof repairs and HVAC replacements, trying unsuccessfully to keep the school’s JROTC program and continually trying to improve SOL scores to achieve full accreditation.

It has also been difficult to try and figure out the best and safest way to provide the most functional learning environment during the COVID-19 pandemic, watching teachers, parents and students struggle with the online teaching world.

But the position has also come with countless rewards, especially for Varner, whose four children all graduated from PECPS. He also has three grandchildren currently enrolled at the school.

“One of my favorite times is attending the academic banquet where seniors who have attained a certain GPA are awarded an academic jacket,” he commented. “It is so very nice seeing them rewarded for their academic efforts and watching the joy of family members in attendance. Especially rewarding? Watching my four children receive their jackets.”

Across his 25 years of service, Varner has been able to see the final product of PECPS’ capital projects, including the library/ high school renovation project.

He has also immensely enjoyed seeing members of the Prince Edward community attend meetings and listening to what those community members have to say. Additionally, he’s enjoyed witnessing the growth and development of students, staff and administrators.

When asked what are some of the biggest obstacles for K-12 students today, Varner remarked that a negative mindset can be a huge hurdle for students.

“If someone thinks they cannot succeed, they probably will not,” he said. “We have to continue building confidence and desire to succeed. Money is not always the answer, but a positive attitude certainly can be the answer.”

When speaking about his hopes for the future of PECPS, Varner said he would love to see all three schools become fully accredited, although due to the coronavirus pandemic many of the school’s initiatives cannot be fully implemented until all students are back in the classroom. He would also love to see the JROTC program return and would like the school to continue to grow its career tech offerings. Additionally, he hopes to see the offering of more foreign languages, including Latin, and would like to see some newer facilities, including a new athletic complex.

Varner said those 25 years have flown by “in the blink of an eye.”

“I was surprised that I was to be recognized for doing something I enjoy. I was very excited and humbled upon my first and following appointments and it has been an honor and privilege being allowed to continue to serve. We are fortunate to have such hard-working dedicated staff at Prince Edward County Public Schools.”

And Varner has made a lasting impression on school officials.

“We are so fortunate to have Dr. Varner as part of our team,” PECPS Superintendent Dr. Barbara Johnson said. “He is not only an astute board member, but he is also a kind and supportive advocate for me and PECPS. I am grateful to have the opportunity to work with him.”

“Dr. Varner has served this community with integrity and pride,” Board Chair Beulah Womack said. “He is a dedicated board member who is passionate about the Prince Edward County School district. His respect and admiration for the division’s teachers, staff and administration as well as his commitment to always do what is best for children is admirable. We would all like to thank him for his continued service and look forward to many additional years.”

“The county continues to heal from the school closing many years ago,” Varner added, “unfortunately those wounds fester at times. We need to continue to listen, attempt to understand, show empathy, love our neighbors/ community and take things one day at a time, trying to do better each day.”