Barclay likes ‘practical solutions’

Published 8:46 pm Thursday, January 29, 2009

Robert Barclay IV grew up spending plenty of time in Suffolk.

His grandmother lived here, and he attended Nansemond-Suffolk Academy. However, it was far from his mind that he would one day sit on the City Council.

He realized he would, however, when he was the only candidate to file to replace now-Mayor Linda T. Johnson’s Sleepy Hole borough seat.

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“I felt lucky,” he joked, when asked how he felt upon realizing he was essentially guaranteed to win the four-precinct election. “It’s better to be lucky than smart.”

However, it’s not all luck that won Barclay 98.7 percent of the vote in the Sleepy Hole borough.

Suffolk City Council’s newest member was born in 1960, and grew up in Portsmouth. In 1978, he graduated from Nansemond-Suffolk Academy, and he went on to the University of Virginia to study history.

After his graduation from UVA, he worked in then-Gov. Chuck Robb’s office, followed by a string of jobs for candidates seeking seats in the Virginia General Assembly and U.S. Congress.

After that came law school, once again at UVA. That prepared him for a five-year stint in the U.S. Navy Judge Advocate General Corps.

“It wasn’t as exciting as the TV show,” Barclay said during a recent interview.

During his time in the Navy JAG, Barclay was on an admiral’s staff in Bahrain during Operation Desert Storm. He also served at Subic Bay in the Philippines, at Oceana Naval Air Station in Virginia Beach, and on the staff of the Commander of Naval Air Forces Atlantic in Norfolk.

When he left the service in 1991, Barclay went into private law practice with his father. Their firm later merged with the larger Cooper, Spong & Davis, where Barclay still specializes in corporate, real estate and land use issues.

In addition to his law firm’s work, Barclay has served on the Portsmouth Planning Commission, as well as the Virginia Port Authority board.

“I think my professional and civic background gives me solid ground to evaluate the issues that come before city council,” he said.

However, Barclay may not get the chance to evaluate some issues. He’s already had to abstain from two land-use votes in just one meeting, because his firm has represented parties involved in the issues. Land-use law, however, has been slow lately because of the economy, he said.

“The number of transactions isn’t what it was two years ago,” he said.

Barclay decided to run for City Council when he learned Linda Johnson would be running for the job of Suffolk’s first directly elected mayor.

“Some people encouraged me to run,” he said. “We really enjoy living in Suffolk, and I wanted to preserve and protect the quality of life.”

For her part, Johnson expects his expertise in land use law will be valuable as the council considers many upcoming developments.

“He’s no stranger to local government,” she said. “We’re proud to have him as a part of the council.”

Barclay identifies former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner as the Virginia politician he most admires. Like Warner, Barclay says he looks for the most practical solution to a problem.

“I’m more concerned with what will work,” he said.

Barclay said at the start of his campaign that he would focus on managing the growth Sleepy Hole experiences as more people are attracted to the quality of life in the borough.

Barclay moved to Suffolk in 2002, when he and his wife, Bonnie, built a house in the Harbour View section of North Suffolk. His two boys, Cole and Eason, attend Nansemond-Suffolk Academy and are involved in Boy Scouts.