Randall Shares Her Journey at Trailside

Black History Month observations usually focus on the study of figures from the past, but on February 23rd, a contemporary figure in Virginia Black History visited Trailside Middle School to share her journey with students.


Loudoun County Chair At-Large Phyllis Randall met with students in the school library to discuss her journey to becoming an elected official and how students can advocate for issues in their community. When Randall was elected chair at-large in November 2015, she became the first person of color in Virginia to be elected to the position of chair of the Board of Supervisors.


Randall said she developed a sense of giving back from growing up in a military family as the second of seven children. She first began giving back to the Loudoun County community as a parent when she started a lunchtime reading club at a middle school in Sterling and joined the PTA or PTO of the schools her children attended.


Education has always been Randall’s primary focus. Her first foray into political campaigning came in 2003 when she ran for the Loudoun County School Board. She was unsuccessful in that bid but set her sights on the Board of Supervisors four years later because the Supervisors ultimately control school spending. It was during this 2007 campaign when she was canvassing an Ashburn neighborhood door-to-door that a resident closed a door in her face. Randall said she learned an important lesson that day in deciding how she would respond to this situation. “Go to the next door. Knock on the next door and just keep going,” Randall said.


After her defeat in the 2007 campaign, Randall decided she was never running for political office again. When 2015 rolled around, she served on a committee with now-Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring to identify a candidate to run for chair of the Board of Supervisors. She made phone calls to two potential candidates, both of whom rejected the idea. Over the course of the next couple of days, she received two phone calls that would change her mind about running for office again.


The first phone call came from Virginia’s governor at the time, Terry McAuliffe. McAuliffe phoned to say that he had heard that Randall was running for chair. Randall replied that she was not running and gave “His Excellency” (the formal form of address for Virginia’s Governor) her list of reasons why she would not run. McAuliffe replied, “I think you are.” McAuliffe then hung up the phone.


Soon thereafter, Sen. Tim Kaine called to say that he had heard that Randall was running for board chair. Again, Randall spelled out her list of reasons why she would not run. Kaine appealed to Randall’s religious beliefs in service and her parents’ commitment to service before he asked her again if she was running for office. Her response was different this time. “Yes, sir, I am,” she replied.


Randall discussed the various challenges in campaigning, highlighting one especially troublesome day on the campaign trail when she was both chased by a dog and stung by a bee in western Loudoun. She worked the polls throughout election day and then went home to take a shower. Her husband was watching the election returns and reported that she was losing precincts in western Loudoun, but only by small margins. She thought, “At least I won’t get slaughtered,” as she headed to the shower.


When Randall got out of the shower, her husband reported that she was pulling closer in the race. The two then left for an election night watch party. Randall had pulled ahead by the time she arrived, but a couple of key precincts—including her own and that of her opponent—had not yet reported. When all of the ballots were counted, Randall won by 5,000 votes.


Randall learned her first lesson in being an elected official when she phoned her two sons to let them know she had won. Ashon was a student at North Carolina A&T University and responded to his mother by saying “all the right things.” Aaron, a student at Virginia Commonwealth University, had a different reaction. After telling him her news, Aaron responded, “Guess what? We got a new Chick-fil-A on campus!” Randall recalls asking him, “Do you realize I just made history?” Aaron replied, “Chick-fil-A is right by my dorm.” Randall said she immediately knew that, in a county as large as Loudoun, not everyone would know who she was and what she did. She said she committed herself in that moment to serving everyone equally, regardless of their level of engagement in the political process.


Randall concluded her remarks to the students by paying tribute to Carr Cook. Cook was the first African American to run for political office in Loudoun County. He was unsuccessful in his bid to serve on the Middleburg Town Council but was appointed to the Loudoun County School Board 20 years later.


Randall took questions from the students, who asked questions like, “Can we get a skate park here?” Randall encouraged the students to advocate for their project by writing letters to the Board of Supervisors and speaking before the Board during the budget process. The students have an assignment coming up in which they will research a social issue and write letters to elected officials about those issue. The Board of Supervisors may soon have very full inboxes.