We Love This Place: Let us count the ways
We Love This Place
Whether you arrived in Charlottesville by plane, train, or birth canal, or if you've been here just a few days, you know there are few places as rich in resources both natural and manmade. From the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Rivanna and James rivers to quaint coffeeshops and top-notch restaurants, from the ever-expanding shopping options to one of the country's premier public universities, and to a music scene rich in local and internationally known acts, we live in a place brimming with energy, activity and opportunity. How'd you end up in Charlottesville, and what keeps you here? We asked our fellow residents, and their answers make it clear: We all love this place.
J. Tayloe Emery
C-VILLE Weekly's first ad rep
When I moved to Charlottesville for the first time in 1994, I'd been out of college for two years and had been living in Seattle. When I decided to move back east, Charlottesville seemed like the only place cool enough to go that had anything going on. I remember walking down the Mall and seeing Andrew Vaughn's coffee cart in front of Chaps and thinking, "Well, that didn't take long," because in Seattle at that time there were coffee carts all over the place.
My first day in town I walked into Bill Chapman's office at C-VILLE, the free bi-weekly newspaper that was being produced in the basement of the Jefferson Theater. Bill told me that they were going weekly and asked did I want a job. I fancied myself a writer at the time but Bill told me there wouldn't be any writing jobs as they'd hired Avery Chenoweth as their first staff writer. But there was an ad sales position open.
The ad guy, Bill said, would be the only one making money right away, and I'd be the wealthiest guy in town in no time. I took the job, and in the first month my paycheck was twice everybody else's. The paper's move to a weekly format was very popular, and soon I was pulling in these huge commissions. One night while patting Bill on the back down at Miller's thanking him for being so right and hooking me up so well, he told me, "You're making too much money. We're hiring another ad rep and splitting up the town between the both of you."
But by that time I really didn't care. I was making a decent wage and having so much fun staying out all night with friends and clients and sometimes sneaking into the office at 3am and sleeping on the sofa there in my suit and tie so I'd be the first one there in the morning. I met Peter Griesar who became a lifelong friend on one of those Miller's all-night benders and found what I had been looking for in a city.
One of those nights I broke into the C-VILLE office at about 4am to pass out on the sofa and editor Hawes Spencer was already there, fast asleep. It was an incredible time to be living in C'ville, and I miss it. I've since left and moved back several times– my wife was born here– but, like they say, once you're hooked on Charlottesville, it never leaves you. I've always felt like this is my town. It's funny because everyone feels that way, I think. When a city is cool and livable like C'ville, people feel very possessive about it. It's the same thing in Portland, Oregon.
Even now, I wonder: How did someone like me end up in a hot-air balloon?
When I sit down on a park bench, I find myself unconsciously feeling around for the seatbelt. I would have been happy to make my kids wear helmets while playing on the monkeybars.
But there I was, hanging in the air, with nothing but a cloth bag and hot air to save me from a splattering death.
My husband and I had driven from our home in suburban Maryland and dropped our kids off at camp in Virginia. We were – for the first time – on vacation without children. Feeling giddy and footloose, we headed for a hotel in Charlottesville.
When we checked in, the clerk mentioned that balloon rides were available, right there, on the hotel lawn. All we had to do was get up way early, and pay them a whole lot of money. I tried to picture myself doing this – hanging in the air. No seat belt, no helmet, no airbag.
Although, without kids, there was no need to be a model of restraint. No need to behave like anyone's mother. I could rediscover my authentic self, the brave one who takes chances.
Well, not big chances. I've never jumped out of an airplane or anything. I suppose the only risky thing I've done is to date Harry for a mere six months before I married him. Not exactly hair-raising behavior.
Okay, so I've never been one to take chances. But I was ready.
I hardly slept the night before. I lay there worrying that, one, the balloon would crash-land and I would die, and two, that I would oversleep and miss the balloon ride.
The next morning, before the sun was up, we found ourselves climbing into what looked like an enormous wicker picnic hamper. A fat flame blasted up inside the balloon and the ground fell away. We rose up and met the sun.
There was this odd sense of stillness – and no wind. It felt like we were stationary and the scenery was being rolled along beneath us, like a special effect in a movie.
The Blue Ridge Mountains were no longer a two-dimensional prop against the horizon – they were this bulky mass, changing shape as we rose higher. Slowly, silently we glided above trees and fields and houses, blurring the line between real and dreaming.
What would my kids think? Mum, the safety chief, sailing through the air in a basket, without so much as a shin guard – and loving it.
Afterward, over cups of strong coffee, Harry said, "What do you want to do today?"
The balloon ride had opened up a new boldness in me, and my response changed our lives. That afternoon, we didn't tour Monticello, and we didn't stroll along the Lawn at UVa.
Instead, we saw a real estate agent who showed us a piece of land. And we bought it.
We moved our family from suburban Maryland to the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia – a happy, irrational decision made while gliding over the treetops in a basket.
That was 23 years ago. This morning, I looked up and saw a hot-air balloon suspended in the air over my head. I like to think that there was someone in that basket having a thrill for the first time in a long while, and wondering what else she might be missing.
Central Region Director, Virginia Autism Project
I grew up in Richmond and had family scattered throughout Orange and Albemarle counties. However, I hadn't lived in Virginia for at least 12 years prior to moving to Charlottesville. After law school, I'd moved to Atlanta, where I met my husband. We moved to Tampa, Florida with his company, and both of our kids were born there. In 2009, our older child, Charlie, was diagnosed with autism at three years old. He has regressive autism and lost all of his language and many of his motor skills. I researched schools and services in Tampa and was not impressed with what I found, so, in the fall of 2009 we moved to Charlotte, North Carolina where I'd found a school for Charlie. The first year, things seemed to be going well, but then the director of the autism program left, and things went downhill.
During that tumultuous time, my mother took a flight from San Francisco to Richmond and was wearing an autism awareness bracelet. A man on the flight asked about her connection to autism, they started talking, and he told her that he was flying to Virginia to interview for a position at an autism school in Charlottesville. My mom gave me his email address, and we were briefly in touch. At about that same time, a new child started at Charlie's school in Charlotte and his mother had a Virginia Institute for Autism magnet on her car. She told me that she thought VIA would be a great school for Charlie, and after taking him out of the school in Charlotte, I looked at the VIA website and saw the picture of the executive director. It was the man my mom had met on the plane.
My husband and I drove up to Charlottesville to tour VIA, and we realized right away we wanted Charlie to go there. My husband's company gave us the green light to move to Virginia, we rented a place, and began the process of trying to get Charlie placed at VIA. He's now been there for about a year and a half, and not a single day goes by where I ever question our decision to move here. My extended family lives in Richmond, so we're much closer now, plus, Charlottesville and Crozet are beautiful, and we've met some amazing people here.
St. Louis-born Jane Foster moved to Charlottesville twice. The first time was in 1959, with husband Gene Foster, the pathologist who later made the connection between Jefferson and Hemings DNA.
"We were raising children," says Foster. "When the kids grew up, my husband wanted more of a city." They moved to Oxford, England, for a year and then downtown Boston, and her only condition for decamping Charlottesville was that they keep their house on Gildersleeve Wood.
The Charlottesville they left in 1976 wasn't boring, says Foster, but it wasn't the vibrant city we know today, either. "We always had the Tuesday Night Concert Series and the League of Women Voters, she recalls. "We were busy with integration in the '60s."
In Boston, they started hearing reports that things had changed in Charlottesville. "After 14 years, Gene said we have to come back because he couldn't find a place to park," recounts Foster. "Everything was so much better here. It was astounding."
When they left in 1976, there was one Mexican restaurant, she says. When they returned in 1990, she counted 35 foreign restaurants. Live Arts was just beginning– and in Boston, she and Gene had decided they preferred community theater to the professional theater at their doorstep.
Her beloved Gene died in 2008. Today, Jane Foster lives in a house the same age as she: 88 years old. She keeps a busy schedule of teaching English. "I've got five Tibetan students," she says. And she has frequent houseguests.
"No one ever came to see us," she notes, "when we lived in North Dakota."
– Lisa Provence
Charlottesville City Manager
I arrived in Charlottesville 20 years ago this March after taking a job with NBC 29. It was my first on-air position, and I was excited about moving to a small city that possessed a great deal of charm and plenty of amenities. It's fun to see how those amenities have been transformed over the years– the Downtown Mall, our parks and trails system and our cultural arts scene are a few of my favorites. However, despite its many advantages, I didn't expect to stay here for more than a year or two. That's how it works in the television business: you look for opportunities to move up through the ranks. In 1994, I turned down a job offer in a larger market mainly because I was growing to love this town. I wanted to be here for many of the same reasons others decide to make Charlottesville their home – the high quality of life and the people. Despite our challenges, this is a community of folks who care about their neighbors and care about having excellent services like parks and recreation, schools, arts and public safety. I've been truly blessed to have been able to wear many different hats in Charlottesville and to be a part of this wonderful community. Two decades ago I didn't anticipate staying here for very long; now I can't imagine a better place to live and raise my family.
Ruhi and Nesta Ramazani
UVA Professor and author, respectively
Freedom of speech was a key reason Ruhi and Nesta Ramazani ended up in Jefferson's hometown. They had to get out of Iran quickly in 1952. "Ruhi was active politically, and knew he could rise in Iran, but he could also be assassinated," explains Nesta.
Ruhi joined the UVA faculty in 1953, and today the Edward R. Stettinus professor emeritus of government and foreign affairs is known as the "dean of Iranian foreign policy studies" in the United States.
"I was working as a secretary," says Nesta, while Ruhi got his doctorate in law. "We wives were all working as secretaries to put our husbands through graduate school. We didn't dream we could do it ourselves." And they couldn't– women weren't allowed to attend the University of Virginia until 1970.
The Charlottesville the Ramazanis arrived in was quite different from today. "We were shocked at the segregation in all facets of life," remembers Nesta.
Yet the Ramazanis were warmly welcomed. "At the time there was an openness to us being Iranian," she says. "We were kind of exotic."
They found the "charming and hospitable people," says Nesta. "It was very intellectually stimulating, with many cultural interests– although much smaller than today."
Compared to the desert climate of Tehran, Virginia was lush, says Nesta, who has a spectacular garden in Ivy with views of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Another thing that was appealing: "We came from a county with a deep and long history," says Nesta. "This is a city with deep roots– not 2,000 year– but with a deep sense of history and deep sophistication."
Nesta Ramazani raised four children, and went on to get her master's degree in English. She pursued her love of dance and is working on her third book. Ruhi has published 12 books, with the final one coming out this fall, and hundreds of articles.
The Thomas Jefferson Award is the university's highest honor, and in 1994 Ruhi received it. In 2011, their son, English professor Jahan Ramazani, was also honored, and they became the only father-son honorees– and another part of the university's history.
– Lisa Provence
ESL counselor and instructor
I came to visit my best friend from middle school in Ft. Knox, Kentucky here in the late '80s when she was at UVA. I came for a few spring breaks and was so excited about the Corner and all of the interesting people I met that I decided to take a semester off and stick around Charlottesville. I went back to university, then returned to Charlottesville for four and a half years before joining the Peace Corps.
I ended up traveling and working in several countries for a total of about 10 years, but the allure of Charlottesville remained. When I wanted to return to America with my Burmese husband and our two daughters who were born in Thailand, I immediately wanted to come back to Charlottesville–at least temporarily. The same friend–who happens to still live in the area and owns Trager Brothers Coffee with her husband–helped set us up to acclimate back to life in the U.S.
We arrived in November 2005 with the intention of staying here at least a few months and then moving to NOVA where my husband could be around other people from Burma to lessen the culture shock. I wasn't looking forward to the crime, the high cost of living or the lengthy commute times, so imagine our delight when we went to the International Rescue Committee to start his green card process the day after arrival, and we met a host of Burmese refugees in the waiting room .
We were thrilled and have called Charlottesville our home ever since. We were overwhelmed by the generosity of strangers who assisted us finding a temporary place to stay, clothing and food.
I decided to pay those gifts forward and meet many refugees through my work and our connection to the Burmese community. In my spare time, I welcome some new immigrants to Charlottesville with friends' donations of clothing and household goods when I can.
We had our third child a year ago, so I'm not helping as much, but I love Charlottesville and want everyone to feel welcome here!
Real estate agent
In the late 1970s I lived in Montreal and was a partner in a small company called Environmental Sciences Corporation which created air ionization and related indoor environmental technologies. Bob Monroe of the Monroe Institute in Nelson County liked what we were doing and invested in our company. One by one we moved from Canada to the U.S., and I was the last to leave Quebec to make the journey down to Virginia.
Our offices at the time were on U.S. 29 where the Nature Conservancy is today. It was March, and I was so relieved to experience some warmer weather after a long, cold Canadian winter. The last few months before I departed Montreal saw a lot of upheaval in our young and fast growing company. In fact, we were growing too fast for our capitalization and unbeknownst to me, we were going out of business rather than expanding. So when I arrived in my new town, knowing few if any people, I was surprised to discover no one at our offices except two police officers.
They asked me if I was Roger Voisinet, and I said I was. Then they showed me a box of our company's brochures with my name on the back and hit me with some bad news. Apparently, our secretary, in the course of cleaning out the office, put dozens of boxes of these brochures in the back of her pick-up truck and drove out to Sugar Hollow, where she lived. She was unaware that thousands of brochures had flown out of the back of her pick up and now littered what I was told was Garth Road. I'd never been there, but I spent the first day of my life in Charlottesville picking up litter with my name on it along the scenic road for miles and miles. I learned how beautiful the area was up close and personal but can't think of a much more embarrassing start to a new life in Virginia. Fortunately, that was the last time I ever threw anything out of the window of my or anyone's car. I often wonder if I missed one or two and what friend of mine may have found one of those pamphlets somewhere along Garth.