Kerry J. Donley, who served as mayor of Alexandria, Virginia, for six years, died at his home Wednesday. He was 66.
Donley, a banker and civic leader, championed economic development in the city during his tenure and guided the city through the economic uncertainty that followed the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
In a statement Wednesday night, current Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson called Donley “a fixture in the community.”
“Kerry was a transformational mayor of our City. So much of the progressive and dynamic City we enjoy today has its roots in Kerry’s leadership and persistence. He was a friend and someone I valued for advice on many occasions. Our City has lost a great leader,” Wilson said.
Donley’s service to the city started as a council member in 1988, just a few years before he would become vice mayor (1994) and mayor (1996), and return to the vice mayoral position in 2009.
He led the resolution for the reconstruction of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge. He shepherded the city during and after the Sept. 11 attacks and was instrumental in getting Samuel Tucker School built — the city’s first new elementary school in 35 years.
Donley attracted the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to Alexandria and worked to save 500 market-rate affordable housing units for local residents.
He served on several boards during his tenure, including: the Alexandria Transit Company Board as vice chair, Cameron Station Development Task Force as co-chair, the Alexandria Campaign on Adolescent Pregnancy as chair and the Youth Policy Commission and the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership as chair.
Donley’s civic work included serving on several nonprofit boards, including the Carpenter’s Shelter, the Scholarship Fund of Alexandria, the Center for Alexandria’s Children, Alexandria Senior Services and Alexandria Renew Enterprises.
During the 2015 mayoral primaries, Donley pushed for city priorities, such as increasing city income and improving “transit-oriented development.”
“We have a fire station that we located out in the West End of the city of Alexandria, and we can’t fully staff it and equip it, because we don’t … have the revenue,” Donley said during the debate.
Donley was defeated in the primary by Allison Silberberg, who narrowly bested Donley and then-Mayor Bill Eullie in the primary.
Donley was recognized as a Living Legend of Alexandria in 2017 and received the Lifetime Achievement Award in 2016 from Volunteer Alexandria and the Elizabeth and David Scull Metropolitan Public Service Award from the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.
Euille, a Democrat who succeeded Donley, said his predecessor “was very well-liked throughout the region.”
With so many jurisdictions attempting to work together, “it’s very tough and challenging,” Euille said — “you have to be cut from a different cloth to be able to reach compromise.”
After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, “the whole region was shut down” economically, Euille said. “Kerry was able to get the region’s economy back up and running, especially at National Airport, which is such an important economic driver for the area. He could really bring a lot of people together, and was a team player.”
John Taylor Chapman, an Alexandria City Council member, told WTOP that Donley was a mentor for younger members of the council.
“He was somebody that you could easily go to with questions, concerns — somebody that had a great history in the city. And understanding how neighborhoods have been built up how organizations had come to fruition, certain stakeholders in the city,” Chapman said. “His loss is a big loss for us.”
Among the biggest accomplishments in his political legacy are getting the Patent and Trademark Office office to Alexandria as well as bringing the city’s first elementary school in 35 years.
“He was fairly young when he was mayor, and so to see that, and, frankly, still have him around the community, until very recently, was a real big asset for this community,” Chapman said.
Alexandria City Council member Alyia Gaskins remembered Donley in a post on Twitter.
“Words cannot capture the legacy of kindness and service he left on the City of Alexandria,” Gaskins said. “I will forever be grateful for the wisdom and support he gave to me and so many others.”
Vice Mayor of Alexandria Amy Jackson called Donley a “natural leader” in a post on Twitter.
“We’ll miss you, sir. God bless you and thank you for your commitment and service to your home. In every single thing you did, you made a difference,” Jackson said.
Donley is survived by his wife, Eva, and their five daughters and five grandchildren. He had an additional grandchild arriving soon.
Funeral arrangements have not yet been announced.
WTOP’s Colleen Kelleher and Neal Augenstein contributed to this story.