Since his decision to leave his post as city manager, Phillip Sunderland has steadfastly refused to submit to feting. He has not allowed City Council to hold any public farewell party and only reluctantly agreed to a send off from city staff.
“He really hasn’t wanted us to do anything,” said Mayor William D. Euille. “But we did organize a surprise proclamation and the city choir sang for him. Even that was more than he wanted.”
One citizen found his own way to say good-bye. Pat Troy spoke at the public hearing last Saturday. “In spite of our differences over the years, Phil Sunderland and I have stayed friends,” he said. “Ninety-eight percent of what he has done for the city has been good and the other two percent has been terrible. I know you usually only say good things about someone who is leaving but Phil and I have always been honest with each other so I am going to give him this list of all the people who hate him.”
Troy also presented Sunderland with flags of Ireland, the United States and Virginia. He was unable to find a small city flag. “I hope you put these flags on your new desk, wherever it is, and think of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee every time you look at them,” Troy said.
Troy also gave Sunderland some dirt. “This dirt is from that no name park that you call Waterfront Park,” he said. “I hope you think of that and the fact that it should be John Fitzgerald Park every time you see it.”
Sunderland was equal to Troy’s jests. “Every time I see this dirt, I will think of you, Pat,” he said.
DETECTIVE Dana Lawhorne has known Sunderland for more than 20 years. “I’ve had the privilege of working with Phil on numerous occasions,” Lawhorne said. “Most notable was the last three years when we worked together on changing the police and fire pension plan. His leadership brought about changes that will enable our first responders to retire with comfort and guarantees. I will miss sitting at a table with him and making my case because I knew he always listened and made fair decisions. His integrity means everything to him and I respect him for that.”
“I’m going to take a couple of months off and then spend some time in China,” Sunderland said. “I went to Hong Kong a long time ago but wasn’t able to go to the mainland. My brother- in-law is there now so I think I might make his place my base of operations for a while and see China. That’s something I’ve always wanted to do.”
After that? “I would like to teach,” he said. “Not at a law school because you have to have published articles and I haven’t done that. I’m more thinking about college level,” he said.
Where will he live? “I’m going to stay in Alexandria for now and then we’ll see,” he said. “If I don’t teach, I may consider a law firm. We’ll see.”
To help him learn to relax, his staff gave him a television and TV stand and some books. A novel by Danielle Steele was a surprise gift from one prankster. Sunderland, who has spent the past 20 years, at least, working 18 hours a day, had never heard of the romance writer. “If the book’s good, I’ll share it,” he said.
Before becoming city manager in March, 2000, Sunderland served as Alexandria’s city attorney for 15 years. He has lived in the city since the 1970s and has been involved in the fabric of the community since that time.
“You epitomize what public service is all about,” said Councilman Ludwig Gaines. “You will be missed.”