Charlottesville says goodbye to John Conover; local news landscape changed, and will Sen. Warner save our restaurants?

"What I like best about Charlottesville is that it's full of 'competent eccentrics'." - John Conover

John Conover, 74, passed away recently. Bryan McKenzie provided a nice write-up here. John and his wife, Virginia Daugherty, moved here in the 1970s and started a printing press, Papercraft Printing. They later sold the business and John launched a new career as an attorney with Legal Aid. John also served as a city councilor from 1980 to 1984, and Virginia was elected to city council in 1992 and 1996 and served as Mayor from 1998 to 2000. John was truly one of my favorite people in Charlottesville, and whenever we ran into each other on the street, he always stopped and caught up, asking me how my kids were, how things were going at The Hook, and what stories I was working on.

"Local politics has all the flavor of national and international politics: petty jealousy, overarching ego, dishonesty, humor, people forming temporary alliances, always shifting and intriguing," John told The Hook in 2004. "What I like best about Charlottesville is that it's full of 'competent eccentrics'."

Back in the 90s, John and I were teammates on the Tigers, a local over-30 baseball team, and while the Tigers certainly weren't the best team in the league, we had some pretty interesting teammates, including John, of course, but also Tom Vandever, who served as a two-term City Councilor, and as Mayor of Charlottesville from 1992 to 1994; Tim Wilson, an internationally known professor of psychology at UVA, who was recently elected to the National Academy of Sciences, one of the highest honors for a scientist; and Virgil Goode, who represented the 5th District at the time. John wasn't a naturally talented baseball player, but he was determined and fun to play with, and more times than not he came through with a clutch hit or play. He was always like a kid out there having fun. One memory I have is of him giving Virgil Goode a good-natured, but serious hard time in the dugout at the Burley Middle School field in the late 90s. Goode, a pretty good left-handed hitter and a conservative democrat, was one of five house democrats who would vote to impeach Bill Clinton, which at the time infuriated Democrats (and which would eventually drive Goode to switch parties), and John couldn't resist giving him a hard time. But, like I said, it was a good-natured hard time, without meanness or rancor, and I remember Virgil sitting there on the bench, responding in his slow southern drawl and John standing up at the corner of the dugout chirping at him and grinning.

“….When in 2002 Mr. Conover was honored as a Charlottesville Bridge Builder — which recognizes people who brilliantly bridge social, racial and economic gaps — former Councilor Mary Alice Gunter put it this way: “John occupies a no-bragging zone. He just builds the bridge, links the people and moves on to the next challenge. If he couldn’t fill gaps with his own service and energy, he bridged them so that others could connect in powerful, constructive ways. No one else was quite like him. He was irreplaceable and will be deeply missed…” - Daily Progress editorial


Freedom of Reach: how our local news landscapes have changed

Back in 2006, when The Hook, a now defunct alt-weekly I was working for in Charlottesville, Virginia, began putting all their stories online, one of the most dramatic changes was how the online comments under the stories grew. Sometimes there were as many as 400 comments under stories, with a greater word count than the story itself, and often the discussions got so unruly and abusive that we had to begin moderating them. What struck me at the time was how willing people were, often under anonymous handle names, to abuse and attack each other. Granted, much of the discussion was also intelligent and healthy, but far too often it was mean and combative, and questionable information and accusations were shared. I remember thinking at the time that interacting with other people this way was problematic, as the lack of intimacy online seemed to allow people to be far more harsh than they would be if they were interacting with someone face-to-face. This began to soften a bit over time, as people began to acknowledge and understand that there were real people sitting at their computers on the other end, and I had some hope that we would evolve in a way that our online behavior might mirror the same behavior we adopted in person. When Facebook arrived I thought that having to reveal your identity would make things better. Boy, was I wrong. Read more


In the News

Senator Mark Warner to the rescue?

“Some of these independent restaurants are hanging on by their fingertips,” said the Virginia Democrat after listening to restaurateurs’ concerns at Hen Quarter, on King Street, in Old Town Alexandria.

“They want a deal, and so do I,” Warner said. “We desperately need to get something done — if we wait until after the election, another four- or five-week gap would be a disaster.” Read more

Her name is Bond, Dr. Denise Bond…

Anytime you get a chance to listen to Dr. Denise Bonds, director of the Thomas Jefferson Health District, do so. She is our own personal Dr. Fauci. Here she is giving Charlottesville City Council an update on the COVID-19 situation at the University of Virginia, courtesy of Sean Tubbs.

Charlottesville City Market takes 2nd Place in 12th Annual Farmers Market Celebration

More than 1,250 markets participated in the celebration this year.

“This year has been very challenging for farmers markets across the nation. We have had to make substantial changes to adapt to the novel coronavirus pandemic. We transitioned to a pre-order and pick-up market and have had to move our location 3 separate times to accommodate the market so that our valuable farmers and small businesses have a place to sell and our community have a safe place to enjoy healthy local produce. While the change has meant a reduction in the amount of vendors we are able to host we are happy that we have been able to host many of our farmers. We want to thank our loyal customers and vendors for their support during these trying times.” – Justin McKenzie, City Market Manager

Undesign

For 128 years, the Sunday paper in Charlottesville has been designed by local Daily Progress designers. That ended this past Sunday. It was the last locally designed Sunday paper. The paper's design will now be outsourced to a corporate "design center" in the Midwest beginning this week.

"Our readers haven’t been told about this change. No newsroom-wide acknowledgement about the people whose jobs end soon. Just a silent termination." - The Blue Ridge Guild (Daily Progress employee union, via Twitter)

Tourism takes a hit

"Although Brantley Ussery, director of marketing and public relations, could not give an exact amount of money lost from the tourism industry since this start of the pandemic, he said the journey to economic recovery will likely be long and slow." (NBC29) Meaning, there's been a lot of money lost.

TJHD drops TJ

The Virginia Department of Health’s Thomas Jefferson Health District (TJHD) will change its name to Blue Ridge Health District, effective January 2021. This change reflects the District’s “commitment to ensuring that public health services are inclusive and welcoming to all of the communities served,” according to a presser.

“Changing our name is symbolic of the deeper work we are doing as an organization to create an inclusive, equitable environment for our staff and clients and to acknowledge and address the impact of racism on health,” said Dr. Denise Bonds, TJHD District Director. “Our mission is to ensure the health and wellbeing of all community members and it is critical that our name reflects all of the communities we serve.”