As the ballroom at Belle Haven County club filled to capacity last week, people were having a hard time remembering the first time they met former Del. Marian Van Landingham. She has been an integral part of the community for so many years that recalling a first meeting was virtually impossible for most people, who responded to the question with a stunned silence. The occasion was an annual gala sponsored by Senior Services of Alexandria, which was honoring Van Landingham for her years of support for senior citizens.
"She had this low-key manner and a seat on the Appropriations Committee," said Sen. Patsy Ticer (D-30). "She would squirrel away money for seniors in Alexandria without making too much of a fuss about it. And she knew how to handle the good-old boys in Richmond."
Van Landingham was named "Senior Extraordinaire" for her many achievements in office during the nonprofit organization’s annual gala last week. During her years representing the 45th District in the House of Delegates, from 1982 to 2006, Van Landingham was the chief sponsor of 186 successful bills and 161 budget amendments. She brought funding to homeless shelters, rape-crisis centers, community-service boards and historic-preservation efforts. But it was her efforts to find money for seniors that was in the spotlight last week as Van Landingham was named Senior Extraordinaire.
VAN LANDINGHAM ARRIVED at the event in a wheelchair, the result of breaking her hip during a fall at the Torpedo Factory. She was determined not to let the mishap pull the plug on the annual gala, and other attendees were eagerly announcing their health conditions in what became a sort of one-upmanship of maladies. Senior Services President Susan Winn, for example, proudly displayed her crutches, the result of a broken ankle.
"I broke mine first," Winn teased the former legislator.
The gala included cocktails, dancing, dinner and a silent auction to raise money for the organization in an evening-long tribute to Van Landingham. Susan Kellom, chairwoman of the Alexandria Democratic Party, said that she epitomized the nature of local politics. Even though she beat former Del. David Speck in a 1981 race, the two became friends. And even though she lost a special election to Sen. Robert Calhoun in 1989, the two remained close.
"Marian Van Landingham is the perfect example of how our city works," said Kellom. "You can oppose a person one day and then work together for the good of the city the next."
Now that she has retired from the General Assembly, Van Landingham has entered a life of active retirement — serving as a role model for the same seniors she once helped by securing budget amendments in Richmond. She now devotes a great deal of time to her paintings, which once graced the fourth floor of the General Assembly Building. Now they have taken new themes, reflecting her recent travels to Portugal and Malta.
She has continued her public service by taking positions on the Campagna Center’s board of directors and assuming the role of chairwoman for the Partnership for a Healthier Alexandria, a group focussed on devoting initiatives to improving physical and mental health in the city. Last year, she received the prestigious Burke Award from the Alexandria Red Cross, and her passion for service has clearly not yet entered retirement.
"Alexandria is a wonderful community for involvement," said Van Landingham. "No matter what your age, there are numerous opportunities to serve."