Interview with Kerry Devine

Fredericksburg’s newest mayor has grit, vision, and a love of baseball.

Recently, FXBG Advance sat down with Kerry Devine, the newly minted mayor of Fredericksburg to learn more about who she is, her vision for the future of the city, and the joys of bringing new people into a tight-knit but welcoming community.

FXBG Advance: Rumor has it that you were quite the baseball player growing up in Long Island. Truth, or urban legend?

Kerry Devine: I grew up in the town of the Village of Rockville Centre, New York, on Long Island. It was the early 1970s, and baseball was the dominant sport in America. My entire family was engaged with the game.

To get a sense of how much baseball was part of my community’s idea, read Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book Wait Till Next Year. She’s also from Rockville Centre, and that book captures the spirit of the community.

Baseball was everywhere when I was growing up. Professional ballplayers were still renting houses in our community when I was young. There was a Little League parade every year to kick off the season. And all the kids would play together.

Fortunately for us, there was an empty house lot about a block from my house. As long as we mowed the lot, we were allowed to play baseball on it.

Naturally, I loved baseball and learned to play the game. We had 10 kids in our family—we could field our own team. Little League, however, was still an all-boy’s league.

My brother was playing, and to help him get ready for Little League tryouts, I would help him. It was then that I decided to try out, too.

I didn’t tell my family—or anyone else. I was just 11, and nervous.

On the day of the tryouts, I biked to the high school where they had stations set up all around the field. I went through each station just like the boys. By the end of the morning, I was selected, and Mr. Vitalo selected me. I made the All-Star team and played both First Base and Short.

In high school, I went out for the baseball team, but got sick and was out of school for several weeks. After that, I played softball.

FXBG Advance: What brought you to Fredericksburg?

Kerry Devine: My parents encouraged us to all go to college on the East Coast, so long as we were in driving distance of New York. One of my sisters was at Mary Washington College, and another sister was in D.C.

However, I have to credit Marty Wilder for getting me here. He was a recruiter for MWC, and he proved to be a very good one.

FXBG Advance: Was there a time you left Fredericksburg, or did you become a permanent resident after graduation?

Kerry Devine: For a year after graduation, I was in D.C. at the Close Up Foundation, which is an educational group that brings students from around the country and world to the District for cultural experiences.

However, I ended up moving back to Fredericksburg, where I earned my teaching certificate and started working as a long-term substitute. I then took time off to have kids.

I went back to education and taught at Colonial Forge for 12 years, and Walker-Grant Middle School for 11 years.

FXBG Advance: Education is a charged topic today. From your experience both in government, and in the classroom, what’s your take on the state of education?

Kerry Devine: There are a lot of challenges in any public sector job, and the challenges have grown. I most enjoy the interactions with my students and colleagues. And I work to help launch kids who will know about government in the world.

My biggest worry is that kids are much more engaged in social media, technology, and more isolating activities. I especially worry about how these isolating activities hurt their ability to form communities.

Kids—all of us, really—need down time for our minds to ponder and wander. So many of our great thinkers worked four hours of the day, then took time to reflect.

If there’s one thing I believe we need to do, it’s to place more emphasis on reading and comprehension, especially in children’s early years. If you can’t continue to educate yourself and learn, you’re going to struggle as an adult.

FXBG Advance: You’ve mentioned community several times—in the town you grew up in, your college years, and in what matters to you most about education. When did you realize that Fredericksburg was a special community?

Kerry Devine: Twenty-seven and a half years ago—Oct 1996. That’s when I lost my husband. It was devastating. I was 34, not working at the time, and had four kids under the age of eight. It was quite a challenging time.

Fortunately, I had built up a network of people that I could count on in those trying days. Fredericksburg supported me and loved me in those difficult days.

I don’t know if the level of support I experienced happens everywhere, but it does here. Fredericksburg is community.

FXBG Advance: Even with that level of support, however, just getting through the day must have been a challenge. What carried you through?

Kerry Devine: My kids needed me.

You don’t get a lot of time to think when you have four kids. You have to get through the day. You get through it with a community like Fredericksburg, with support and love. I was in survival mode for a while.

FXBG Advance: Can you explain how the city builds and perpetuates that sense of community?

Kerry Devine: We have real neighborhoods, schools, a Parks and Rec department, and so much more. When we talk about Fredericksburg, we talk about being a community of events, and we are that.

Investing in these events is what builds that community.

We’re small, and consequently no matter what we do we bump into people we know every day. Anything that you’re involved with in the city is going to overlap with people.

FXBG Advance: How did you get involved in politics?

Kerry Devine: It started when I was kid and I volunteered for campaigns. My parents were also politically involved.

As a teenager, I stayed involved with campaigns. At MWC, I was in student government; as a mom I was a scout leader and coached a sport. I never was one to sit on the sidelines.

When the opportunity came to run for School Board in 1996, I took it and served until 2004. I first joined City Council in 2004 and have been there ever since.

FXBG Advance: Which race was your toughest?

Kerry Devine: They’re all tough races. They’re tough in the sense that you’re going to be questioned, evaluated, your decisions questioned. Overall, however, it’s a rewarding experience.

You have to refocus each time you run for office. It’s a great thing to meet people and hear them. I’m more of a “we” person than an “I” person.

FXBG Advance: How do you handle the criticism that invariably comes with being in public office?

Kerry Devine: I don’t mind the criticism so much. I like input.

We on Council work hard to come up with good solutions, but there are always ideas we don’t think of, of community desires that we don’t see. So, we want that feedback from citizens, whether it be in the form of written letters, emails, or just letting us know how they feel in a conversation.

FXBG Advance: Is there one day that stands out in your mind—good or bad—during all your years of public service?

Kerry Devine: My toughest day was in June 2008 when we lost Officer Todd Barr. That was a really tough period. Because we’re a small city, staff really does get to know one another well.

FXBG Advance: What challenges does the city face? And what are your priorities moving forward? In other words, what’s your vision for the city?

Kerry Devine: We are working on communication. For years we could rely on the Free Lance-Star, and we just can’t do that anymore. So now we’re working on getting more of our information delivered directly to people’s inboxes.

In the past years, we’ve often told people: “It’s on our website.” But that’s not the way to go. Now our motto is: “We will deliver it to you.”

We also need to tackle some of the big infrastructure issues that we face. Those pieces are going to drive our region for the next decade or two, and beyond. This can be tricky, because some of the challenges that we face are not visual—like the wastewater treatment plant.

All this change demands a balance of growth, redevelopment, and preservation. All are very important, but tricky.

As the area is growing, we’ve got to look for opportunities to redevelop areas that are ripe for such change.

In addition, protecting our historic city and natural resources are priorities for me. Both the riverfront and the river must remain viable.

It’s a challenging mix, but it’s do-able.

I think of these challenges in these terms: “Preserve and move forward.”

Our biggest challenge, of course, is financial. Retaining our personnel and hiring new people is a significant part of our responsibility. It’s especially critical to hire and retain personnel in our schools and city.

We need more money for infrastructure that’s been long neglected. And we need to find new ways to spur economic development.

This comes through a combination of tourism, exploring redevelopment, and possibly even attracting data centers.

People want to be here, live here, and work here. Again, we don’t want the financial burden to be on the back of every homeowner. So cultivating these economic development opportunities is critical.

FXBG Advance: Fredericksburg is growing rapidly. What’s the key to engaging younger people in our region?

Kerry Devine: Kids are the key to connecting with our new citizens. They bring their parents to our schools, parks, summer programs, downtown, and more. The more events and places we have for people to come together, the more likely it is that we can engage with our newer citizens. Kids help you organically speak with people.

I will say that it’s good to see younger families getting involved, and thank goodness they are. I love seeing these new faces. And a lot of the changes that are happening here are coming from people moving in from outside.

For example, people pushing for more bike and pedestrian areas.

FXBG Advance: Final question. Yankees or Mets?

Kerry Devine: My parents were from the Bronx, and my father was a Dodger’s fan. Of course, I became a Yankees fan.

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by Martin Davis