Andy James reflects on a career of public service

by Sherry Hamilton - Posted on Jan 08, 2020 - 07:44 PM

Photo: While Andy James stepped down from his role as Gloucester County supervisor at the end of  the year, he still plans to remain active in the community. He is pictured here with his wife, Roberta. Photo by Sherry Hamilton

While Andy James stepped down from his role as Gloucester County supervisor at the end of the year, he still plans to remain active in the community. He is pictured here with his wife, Roberta. Photo by Sherry Hamilton

Andy James is always on to go, eager to get something done.

The former Gloucester County supervisor, who retired from the board at the end of the year after serving two terms representing Ware District, hasn’t slowed down. Being confined to a wheelchair doesn’t stop him; he just relies on his wife Roberta and a slew of friends to get him where he needs to go.

The fire chief of Gloucester County for nearly three decades, Andy said he’s very proud of his time with the department and still attends meetings every month, driven there by whatever department member can stop by and give him a ride in his specially equipped van.

“They don’t have a whole lot of use for a guy in a wheelchair,” said James wryly, “but as long as I can, I’m going to be a member and go to the meetings.”

“They all still call him Chief 1,” said Roberta.

Andy has been a member of Singleton United Methodist Church in Ware Neck since the day he was born, and he said he continues to be active there. It’s the church where the couple got married 52 years ago and raised their children.

And with five grandchildren, he and Roberta spend a lot of time at sports games.

“We don’t sit at home a whole lot,” said Roberta.

But, while James likes being busy, last year, after he had already announced his candidacy for a third term on the board of supervisors, his family, which also includes daughter Haley, sons Jeff and Josh, and the grandchildren, put their collective foot down and said eight years was enough.

“He had done eight good years and needed some time to himself,” said Roberta.

Service as a supervisor

The Gloucester County Board of Supervisors recognized Andy James during the December meeting, presenting him with a resolution that praised him for serving with “intelligence, understanding, compassion and integrity,” as well as “exemplary dedication to the best interests of the community.” 

The resolution particularly points to his advocacy on behalf of at-risk youth and their families, fire and rescue, law enforcement and public safety, and emergency management preparedness, and it recognizes his “unselfish public service” and his “untiring dedication to improving the quality of life for all.”

James said he’s certain that his replacement, Mike Hedrick, will do a good job, and that the board will continue to serve the county well.

“They will do good things and keep the county headed in the right direction,” he said.

Looking back on his eight years as a supervisor, James said, “We had a real good group on the board.” While they didn’t always agree 100 percent, he said, “We did a real good job working together.”

Seriously injured six months before the 2011 election, James nevertheless remained a candidate and was elected by nearly a 3-1 margin. He said the most challenging time was always working on the budget—especially dealing with the school board on various issues. The schools currently are in need of repair, said James, and the board of supervisors will have to “work pretty hard to deal with it,” since “there’s only a certain amount of dollars to spend.”

“I can’t say it was a whole lot of fun” dealing with budget issues, said James, “but the board worked hard to keep the budget as low as possible with a lot of people tugging on the purse strings at all times.”

One of the most meaningful activities James engaged in as a supervisor was visiting Botetourt Elementary School on a regular basis to hear what school administrators and teachers had to say and to spend time with the students. Botetourt was where he attended elementary school, and he was thrilled when the school presented him with a Botetourt Bulldog sweatshirt. He wore it whenever he visited there. Having served as president of the Botetourt SCA in the seventh grade, he said he was glad he had a chance to install the new SCA president and vice president.

One item of importance to James that was never accomplished while he was on the board was the installation of a flashing light approaching the intersection of Route 14 with Ware Neck Road. In spite of two fatalities having occurred there, VDOT “could never come up with the money,” he said. Located on a curve, the intersection’s median doesn’t have adequate room for a vehicle to stop while waiting for traffic to pass, and vehicles coming fast from either direction create a hazard for those vehicles stuck in the median. He said he hopes VDOT comes through soon with the funding.

James said he also wishes he could have been instrumental in providing more launching ramps for motorized vessels in the county while serving on the board. It’s nearly impossible to find a parking place for a truck and trailer at Warehouse Landing on holiday weekends, he said, and there are few other public launch sites in the county.

Service to fire department

James joined Gloucester Volunteer Fire and Rescue Squad in 1964, six months after C.W. Miller, who is the longest-serving firefighter in the department. Describing the work for the fire department as “really rewarding,” Andy said he has made a lot of friends over the years. He said he and his fellow volunteers put in a lot of hours, including many hours of training, to serve their fellow residents. The number of EMS calls the department handles has significantly increased over the years, he said, with just 90 the first year as opposed to over 4,000 in 2019.

But thanks to county funding, GVFRS has the equipment and personnel to handle most of the calls, he said, with good mutual aid agreements taking up the slack. On Friday morning, four EMS calls came in at one time, said James, and they were all covered.

“They run a lot, day and night,” said Andy. “We’ve got a great department, with a lot of active, dedicated, good people.”

James said because he was on the board of supervisors when the department decided to sell its current building and construct a new facility farther south on Main Street, he didn’t take an active part in the decision-making, but he thinks the board did a good job.

“A lot of thought was put into it, and nothing was done frivolously,” he said. “It will be a nice facility.”

Time to slow down

Roberta said if Andy were still able to walk, he would have kept going. “But it was time,” she said.

Andy said that his wife has been a blessing to him.

“She and the good Lord are the only reason I’m still here,” he said. “I couldn’t have made it without her.”

He especially praised Roberta for being there for him as he served on the board, staying up late on meeting nights to get him into bed and generally taking care of him.

For her part, Roberta said that the two sometimes have bad days, just as any couple does, but “they’re mostly good.”

Now that her husband has retired, she said, her plan is to “sit back in the sunroom with a blanket over us.”