Just a note about my friend and former colleague, Lisa Harris, who announced a couple of days ago that she was stepping down as Director of Community Services for the City of Alexandria in order to become the President and CEO of one of the most respected organizations in our community. (Because she has not formally announced where, exactly, she is headed, I’m not going to break any news here, except to say: She will be an awesome fit, and it makes sense).
Throughout the last several years, Lisa held one of the most challenging jobs in the City. It may not sound or appear that way on the surface. Director of Community Services, to some, may sound like a fun job, and I’m sure that, more often than not, it was fun. She planned music and barbecue festivals, coordinated events downtown, championed summer programs for kids, and assisted countless non-profit and non-government organizations. In simple terms, she advocated Alexandria’s culture, and she was amazing at it.
In the Mayor’s letter announcing her resignation, he wrote, “Perhaps no one has to deal with so much push back and disappointment than the executive in charge of community funds. With so many worthy causes and limited funds the answer ‘no’ always outweighed her desired response of ‘yes.'” He is absolutely correct. It’s never easy and often heartbreaking to have to tell someone with an exceptional idea that the money is simply not there, and it’s even more difficult to tell a recalcitrant City Council, who ultimately controls the budget. But Lisa was always kind, sweet-spoken yet direct, and in the years I worked with her, I never doubted or questioned a single decision she made, which, by the way, is saying a lot. (I never had a problem asserting my opposition to certain policy decisions; thankfully, Lisa and I were always on the same wavelength).
To me, her legacy at the City will never be about Que’in on the Red. She always did an exceptional job, given her resources, but at the end of the day, Que’in on the Red was a creation of the Alexandria City Council; she was the assigned administrator. To me, Lisa leaves behind something much bigger and greater than a festival, and I know this because I worked with her directly.
More than anyone else, Lisa championed a new plan and overhaul for Alexandria’s parks and recreation, and because of her tenacity and leadership, we now have one. Lisa also championed a user-friendly website. I worked with her for over two years on this, and now, because of her, we have one. She pushed for more events downtown, a quarterly ArtWalk event, which has become very successful, Downtown Rocks events, and Brown Bag lunches. She also understood the incredible need for Alexandria to locate community, neighborhood, and corporate sponsors, and she was remarkably adept at seeking out and leveraging funds to promote Alexandria’s quality of life. I learned so much from her. I was able to take what she had done with her events and launch two regional summits, the Summit on Sustainability and the Summit on SPARC, both of which were much more successful than any of us had initially intended. I’d love to help plan another one, because at this point, thanks to Lisa, I know what to do.
We were incredibly lucky– each and every one of us who is influenced by the decisions made in Alexandria City Hall– that Lisa Harris shared her time and talents with our entire community.
So, my best of luck to Lisa, my mentor and former colleague. I miss collaborating with her, but I’m confident that she will continue to enrich the lives of students, artists, musicians, children, parents, families, and friends, and in so doing, she will continue to build a better and brighter Alexandria.