City’s first mayor dies

Published 10:32 pm Thursday, October 11, 2012

The first mayor of the consolidated city of Suffolk died Wednesday after a brief illness.

James F. Hope Sr., 95, died at Sentara Obici Hospital. A native of Toledo, Ohio, he served his adopted hometown for 15 years as president of the board of supervisors of Nansemond County and then as mayor of the city after being instrumental in the merger process.

Hope served in the U.S. Navy out of Norfolk during World War II, settling in Suffolk upon the end of his service and marrying his wife, Virginia, around the same time.

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Having attended the University of Toledo School of Engineering, Hope was owner and civil engineer for Reid and Hope Construction Company. The company built many prominent buildings in the area, including the old Obici Hospital building, Suffolk’s Virginia Department of Transportation building, downtown Norfolk’s Rotunda, and parts of the naval base and Old Dominion University, his daughter, also named Virginia, said on Thursday.

“He was an instrumental person that worked at the merger,” the younger Virginia Hope said, speaking of her father’s political career. “He saw the need for it and went for it.”

Hope said her father initially did not want to run for office, because he did not feel people would want an “out-of-towner.” Her mother pushed him to go for it, because people trusted him.

Once he was in office, she said, if he mentioned he would not run again, people would call and beg him to stay.

“He had a vision for the city,” she said. “He did not like politicians that were for their sections and not for the good of the whole.”

Another former mayor, Andy Damiani, said on Thursday he was upset about Hope’s death.

“It’s too close to home,” Damiani said.

Recounting the events leading up to the city’s consolidation, Damiani said Hope was a critical part of the process.

“I would say that today, looking back, he was the point person that led to the consolidation of Suffolk,” Damiani said.

Virginia Hope said her father would often receive calls from cities in other states that were considering consolidation.

“He’d go and talk and tell them how they came to do the merger,” she said.

Hope also remembered him as a “kind, loving father” who took care of his family and enjoyed hunting and fishing. He was active in the Lions Club and American Legion, volunteered at Peanut Festival and was a member of Oxford United Methodist Church.

He received many awards for his professional and community service. He was honored as the Contractor of the Year in 1974 by the Associated General Contractors of America and received the Gold T Award from the University of Toledo.

In 1972, he received the Suffolk First Citizen award.

In addition to his wife and daughter, Hope is survived by a son, James F. Hope Jr., and extended family. A visitation will be held Saturday from 6 to 8 p.m. at R.W. Baker & Co. Funeral Home & Crematory, 509 W. Washington St., with a funeral Sunday at 2 p.m. at Oxford United Methodist Church, 601 W. Washington St.