Patricia Cornwell, crime novelist
December 1994 and January 2002 covers, plus August 1999
Patricia Cornwell can sum up her life in one word — busy. She just finished her 13th Scarpetta novel, Trace — it will be released on Sept. 7 — and is starting on No. 14. She's involved in a few television projects and is working with Sony Pictures and director Joel Schumacher of Batman fame on a film of her fourth Scarpetta novel, Cruel and Unusual. "I'm excited about Joel doing the project with Sony," she says.
Continuing in her role as chairman of the board of directors of the Virginia Institute of Forensic Science and Medicine, Cornwell stays very involved with the organization, which celebrates its fifth anniversary in November.
Cornwell is donating her collection of 45 Walter Richard Sickert paintings to The Fogg Art Museum at Harvard University (Cornwell bought the paintings while researching Sickert, whom she fingered as the infamous serial killer Jack the Ripper in her book Portrait of a Killer). "Contrary to rumors, none of the paintings were destroyed," she says, noting that one was rotted. "I'm not making a penny off of them. The paintings were done by a murderer. I could have given them back to England, but we solved [the Jack the Ripper case] here in America. So they're going to an American museum."
Cornwell is now living in New York and Florida; her Connecticut home is on the market. She's trying to prioritize her life and stay focused on her career. "I don't give interviews," she says. "I don't want the interruptions."Cornwell's 20 years in Richmond were formative years, she says. She got married and divorced; switched from a journalism career to writing crime novels; went from poor to rich. "Life would have taken a different course if I hadn't moved to Richmond. I never could have planned to be in a better place to study forensic medicine. There's no better place in the world."
She values enduring friendships forged in Richmond and says her rise to fame and fortune taught her great lessons. "I went through all the trials and tribulations and learning curves," she says. "Some people in [Richmond] have seen me at my best and my worst; my most confident and my most insecure. It's not an easy transition when things start being imposed on you by the outside world like recognition, fame and money. You have to figure out how you are supposed to act. There were security issues, privacy issues. I don't call that fun."
However, Richmond will always be important to Cornwell and her alter ego Kay Scarpetta. "There will always be a continued connection," she says. —Joan Tupponce
Jeff McKee, radio survivor
Where's former XL102 FM morning DJ Jeff McKee these days? "I'm in the kitchen right now," McKee deadpans. After 12 years as XL's morning host, Clear Channel Communications dropped McKee in September 2001. Shortly afterward, he was diagnosed with two types of cancer. He had his spleen and a kidney removed and is now cancer-free, though he undergoes frequent checkups. Now 50, the 30-plus-year radio veteran manages local band The English Channel and, taking a page from Jack Black's book, taught his own School of Rock at St. Catherine's this year, educating teens about rock's roots from Elvis to the Beatles and the Stones. Mostly he spends time with his wife and three daughters. "The one thing that coming close to dying makes you realize is what's important," he says. As a DJ, "I made my job more important than my family. ... If you let your job define you, you're in for a big letdown." —Richard Foster
Amanda Goad, ex-spelling bee champ
Chronic overachiever Amanda Goad hasn't lost a step. This 1992 National Spelling Bee winner and 1996 teen Jeopardy! champ just finished her second year at Harvard Law. Though she'll receive her J.D. from Harvard next year, she'll be finishing her studies at U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall School of Law, renowned for its environmental-law program. "I'll definitely go into public-interest law," Goad says. "I'd like to spend some time doing environmental and/or civil-rights litigation."
A 2000 Rice University alumna, Goad spent the following two years teaching fifth grade in California's Bay Area through AmeriCorps. And she's still found time to stay in touch with her roots, having watched the critically acclaimed indie flick Spellbound, a documentary offering vignettes about several National Spelling Bee participants. "I thought it was really well done, especially in the way it showed the diversity of expectations among the participants." —Mike Ward
Blair Underwood, tv/movie actor
October 1993 cover
The title of Blair Underwood's latest film project, How Did It Feel? would work just as well as a question posed to the former Petersburg resident turned famous actor.For instance: How did it feel starring opposite Julia Roberts in the 2002 film Full Frontal, directed by none other than Steven Soderbergh? Oh, yeah, and how did it feel to be ranked among the 50 most beautiful people in 2000 by People magazine? And how did it feel to have a major role in the much-hyped final season of Sex and the City?
Underwood, who will also be starring in the new NBC TV series LAX with Heather Locklear this fall, was born in Tacoma, Wash., but he grew up in Petersburg and has said he considers Virginia his home. No offense to his father, Frank Underwood, who chairs the Central Virginia Film Office, but the younger Underwood's new home in the Hollywood Hills sounds a bit more glamorous.Unfortunately, Underwood could not be reached for comment through his publicist. But no matter. How does it feel to be a TV and film actor whose star is on the rise? We imagine it feels pretty good. —Greg A. Lohr
Jimmy Sneed, chef
It turns out that Charleston, S.C., was just a pit stop for nationally acclaimed chef Jimmy Sneed — best known locally as the man behind the now-shuttered Shockoe Slip restaurant The Frog & the Redneck.
Sneed, who has cooked up winning reviews at Charleston's Tristan restaurant since late October, is headed for the glitz and glam of Las Vegas. He was wooed by mega-developer Steve Wynn to head a signature restaurant, Jimmy Sneed's at the Country Club, inside Wynn Las Vegas, a $2.5 billion hotel-resort set to open next spring."It's really sort of the professional opportunity of a lifetime," Sneed says. "I can't describe in words what a phenomenal hotel this is going to be. It's unlike anything I've ever seen."
Sneed, who still stays in touch with Richmond chefs, says his food in Las Vegas will be akin to what he served in Richmond: straightforward, low-frills cuisine that's not "garnished, sprinkled or foamed." He also says his three-year contract in Vegas will give him time to plan his "dream restaurant," which might end up in Richmond. — GL
GWAR, shock rockers
How did a city like Richmond not only spawn but continue to support a band like GWAR?
Longtime band member Dave Brockie doesn't have an answer. He does recognize the irony, though, and he says he and his fellow GWAR-mates are "pleased as punch" to be preparing for their 20th anniversary next year."We absolutely can't believe it," he says by phone from Salt Lake City during a break in the band's monthlong national tour. "It's strange that a thing like GWAR — an infamous group of artists that are satirical and, I think, offensive to many — came from one of the most conservative Southern cities. It's quite a testament to the people who live in Richmond. When people rag on Richmond, you can say, ‘F--- you. That's where GWAR's from.' "
The band plans to spend the rest of the summer in the studio, release a new album in October, then unleash the "biggest GWAR tour ever." They've lectured on costume design and prop-building at VCU, Boston College and the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), and now there's talk of a few GWAR members doing a residency program at RISD next year. —GL
Robert C. Bobb, ex-city manager
Things are a little different these days for former Richmond city manager Robert C. Bobb, who is now city administrator for Washington, D.C.
In Richmond, the annual budget is $535 million, with about 4,600 city employees. By contrast, Bobb currently oversees a $6.4 billion budget and 32,000 employees. "So just the mere scope and size is significantly different," he says. Another difference is that Washington, D.C., submits its city budget to Congress for approval and must work closely with federal authorities in the nation's capital. "It's pretty important," Bobb says. "The District of Columbia is one of the most recognized cities in the world, and of course the most powerful man in the world resides only two or three blocks from the district offices, and we spend a lot of time in significant coordination, particularly on security issues between our police agencies, with various federal agencies." Bobb left Richmond in 1997 to become city manager of Oakland, Calif., a position he left in 2003 to take the D.C. job after Mayor Jerry Brown passed a charter change to become a strong mayor. Bobb is remembered fondly in Richmond and was courted to become a candidate for mayor-at-large this year, but he couldn't meet the one-year state residency requirement. He also serves as a member of the Wilder-Bliley commission looking into solutions for Richmond problems. Many of his former aides here have gone on to be city managers themselves across the country. "You hire good people and you get out of their way and let them do their thing," Bobb says. "That's always been my motto." — RF
Don Beyer/Jim Gilmore, 1997 gubernatorial candidates
Two of Virginia's former political leaders are racking up the travel miles these days — one by plane, and the other on foot.
Richmond native James Gilmore III, who was governor from 1998 to 2002, has flown coast to coast and internationally in recent months to campaign for Republican candidates, give speeches, and work on behalf of law firm Kelley Drye & Warren. Gilmore, a partner in the firm's D.C. office, also serves on the board of the Tredegar National Civil War Center in Richmond."I've been afforded so many wonderful opportunities that I'm really enjoying myself," he says. "But I'd like to be a candidate again. I'll probably run again at some point."Don Beyer Jr., a Democrat who served two terms as Virginia's lieutenant governor, has remained politically active, too. He spent 11 months as treasurer for Howard Dean's ultimately unsuccessful presidential campaign. Beyer now helps raise money for Sen. John Kerry's bid for the Oval Office.
Beyer's travels have been mainly in the woods, as he hikes the Appalachian Trail in sections, one week at a time. Beyer returned May 11 from walking his third section — a 195-mile stretch from Springer Mountain, Ga., to Clingman's Dome along the Tennessee-North Carolina border. Beyer and his brother now own five auto dealerships in the Washington, D.C., area and expects to open three more soon. Like Gilmore, he hasn't ruled out another stint in public office. "I very much want to be actively engaged in public service for the rest of my life," Beyer says. "I still feel very young and healthy and eager to make a difference." —GL
Mike Hsu, radio dj
It's only fitting that disc jockey Mike Hsu works the 7 p.m. to midnight shift at Boston's WAAF 107.3, since he soon won't be getting much sleep, anyway.
Hsu manned the microphone at "The Buzz," WBZU 106.5 FM, in Richmond from 1996 to 1998 until moving back home to Massachusetts several years ago. Now he and his wife are expecting a baby girl in August. "Which worries me," he says, "because I believe in karma. I just know one day she's going to get naked for concert tickets like I made so many women do. Hopefully I'll be dead by then."Hsu grows grumpy talking about Capstar Broadcasting Corp., which slapped an oldies format onto his former alternative-rock station in Richmond. But he has fond memories of his co-workers at The Buzz and of Richmond in general.
"Richmond's a nice city," he says. "It's just a little slow and conservative. But it's a great place, and it has a great music scene." —GL
Bill Jenkins, victim advocate
Bill Jenkins' 16-year-old son William was shot and killed in 1997 during a robbery at the Bullets restaurant at 7712 W. Broad St. Then a drama professor at Virginia Union University, Bill Jenkins began addressing issues of bereavement, victim impact and gun control.In 2000, he wrote What To Do When the Police Leave, a manual for families of violent-death victims. Novelist Patricia Cornwell contributed the foreword and gave it mention in The Last Precinct. Jenkins participated in the recent Million Mom March to protest gun violence, and a woman he didn't know told him his book saved her life. "That's about as good a compliment that one can expect," he says. Through the national Murder Victims Families for Reconciliation, he met and married Jennifer Bishop and moved to Chicago, where he teaches and designs for Dominican University and the Chicago Conservatory of Performing Arts. "We're extremely happy here," he says. — Harry Kollatz Jr.
Leslie Bibb, tv/movie actress
December 1990, March 2004
Actress and former model Leslie Bibb returned to her childhood home of Richmond for several months in 2003 and 2004 to shoot the ABC TV series Line of Fire.It's unclear whether Bibb will come back here again, though, because her show definitely won't. The crime drama, which first aired in December, was not picked up for a second season, according to Bibb's representatives at BWR Public Relations in New York. Bibb played FBI agent Paige Van Doren, which called to mind her real-life stepfather, retired Richmond FBI agent Ed Sulzbach.Although born in Bismarck, N.D., Bibb soon moved to Richmond, where she attended Saint Gertrude High School. She found stardom early, winning the Oprah Winfrey Model Search in 1990 at age 16. She has since landed TV roles on NBC's ER and The WB's Popular, and has appeared on the big screen in movies such as The Skulls and See Spot Run.
Bibb waxed nostalgic in Richmond magazine's March 2004 issue: "Everywhere we go in Richmond brings back memories."
Alas, for Richmonders, it seems Bibb's presence here may now be a memory, too. — GL
Patricia (Conn) Churchill, ex-school superintendent
Patricia Churchill's life seemed plenty traumatic back in the mid-1990s, when she was ousted from her job as Richmond Public Schools superintendent. Apparently, things can always get worse.Now she's mourning the death of her husband, Frank Churchill Jr., a Richmond child psychiatrist and former VCU professor, who had been missing nine weeks before his body was found April 15 in the James River. He was last seen alive on the evening of Feb. 10 while leaving a rec center at Westover Hills Boulevard and Forest Hill Avenue.
He and Patricia Churchill had been living in South Richmond. She had been hired as schools superintendent in 1995 but was pushed out 19 months later. School Board members at the time fought with her, suspended her for 45 days for insubordination, and then fired her "without cause" in early 1997. Handling her termination in that way meant the board didn't have to provide specific reasons for firing her. —GL
Gerald Baliles/Jeannie Baliles, ex-governor and wife
Don't expect to see Gerald Baliles back in public office anytime soon.
The former Virginia governor says he still enjoys work as a partner at law firm Hunton & Williams, and he stays involved with a variety of corporations and groups, including Shenandoah Life Insurance, Richmond's Regional Transportation Advocacy Board and the Blue Ribbon Committee on the Chesapeake Bay.
"Life is good," he says. "I enjoyed public life immensely, but I can't say I miss it all that much."
Divorced from the state's former first lady, Jeannie, in 1996, Gerald Baliles remarried last year. Jeannie Baliles remains in Richmond and chairs the Virginia Literacy Foundation, which she founded. She also is helping to raise money to preserve Virginia's Executive Mansion. Although she supports the campaigns of various politicians — including Tom Benedetti for City Council in the Second District — she doesn't pine for a life in the political spotlight. "I can look at it with a more jaundiced eye," she says, "now that I'm not in the middle of it." —GL
Tracy Thorne/Michael Begland, love story
The good news: Tracy Thorne andMichael Begland are expecting twins this fall.The bad news: They're a gay couple in Virginia, where state laws don't recognize civil unions among same-sex parents.
Both men are attorneys in Richmond — Thorne in the federal court system, Begland as a senior associate at Hunton & Williams. Thorne gained national attention in the early 1990s when the Navy decided to honorably discharge him after he disclosed his homosexuality on ABC's Nightline.
The longtime Ginter Park residents, joined unofficially by a commitment ceremony four years ago, are working with a surrogate mother in Annapolis, Md., who is pregnant with a boy and a girl. They're worried about raising a family as a gay couple in Virginia, but they're hesitant to move."The way we see it," Thorne says, "is that we have somewhat of a responsibility to stick around and make Virginia a better place for gays and lesbians." —GL
Dawn Staley/Richmond Rage, basketball star
In September 1996, the Richmond Rage were, well, all the rage, as attested to by our glowing story announcing that Richmond's new American Basketball League (ABL) team would include two star U.S. Olympic gold medalists, Lisa Leslie and Dawn Staley. There was just one problem: Before our story even hit newsstands, Leslie backed out of the Rage, opting for a modeling career before ultimately joining the WNBA. The team's star became Staley, who led the Rage to the first ABL championships, where they lost to the Columbus Quest. While Staley was here, Magic Johnson commented that the WNBA should buy the ABL just to get her. Leslie was replaced by U.S. Olympic track-and-field gold medalist Jackie Joyner-Kersee, who shared an apartment here with Staley. Joyner-Kersee had played basketball 11 years earlier in college and ended up averaging less than a point per game with the Rage. After a year of low attendance at the Coliseum and Robins Center, the Rage moved to Philadelphia, and the ABL folded in 1998. "I had a pretty good experience in Richmond," recalls Staley, now a two-time WNBA all-star who plays for the Charlotte Sting and is head coach for Temple University, where her assistant is former Rage head coach Lisa Boyer. "The audience turnout and support wasn't great, but the people that did come were diehard fans." — RF
Jimmy Dean/Donna Dean, country singers
June 1996 cover
Jimmy Dean, country-music legend and sausage king, is going back to grade school.
He and his wife, Donna, who live on a large riverfront estate in Varina, have had second thoughts about the Jimmy Dean Foundation for students at Varina High School. Newly convinced that children need encouragement earlier in life, the multimillionaire couple plans to redirect their foundation to a still-to-be-determined local elementary school.
Expect to see Jimmy Dean's autobiography, Thirty Years of Sausage and Fifty Years of Ham, in bookstores in October.
Meanwhile, Jimmy Dean is optimistic about his lawsuit against Sara Lee Corp., in which he claims that the Chicago-based owner of his namesake sausage brand is placing his endorsement on products without his permission.
"It's looking really good," he says. "Not in terms of settling, but in terms of my case." —GL
Shanda (Boatwright) Hunt
August/September 1989, December 1989 cover
When Shanda Boatwright graced our December 1989 cover, her career as a fashion model was revving up. The Powhatan native and Midlothian High homecoming princess went from working at the Chick-Fil-A at Chesterfield Towne Center to the cover of Seventeen, photo shoots in Milan, Italy, and the pages of Mademoiselle.
Modeling took Hunt around the world. She's lived in Paris and Athens, Greece. She had further successes in Southern California, where she now lives as Shanda Hunt. However, she quit modeling in 2002.
"It was a good job for a high-school dropout from rural Virginia," says Hunt, 33, who's in her final semester of law school at the University of Southern California, Berkeley. There she is specializing in toxic tort. Her undergraduate degree is in anthropology.
"Modeling wasn't intellectually stimulating, and it didn't improve society in the least," she says. — HK
Jessica Lee, violin virtuoso
When she was just 11 years old, Jessica Lee played violin with the Richmond Symphony Orchestra. Today this New York City resident is one of the most sought-after violinists around. Somewhere along the way, Jessica Lee transformed from a violin prodigy to a virtuoso. And considering she's only 21, who knows what else is possible.
Lee graduated from Philadelphia's Curtis Institute of Music in 2001 with both her high-school diploma and her bachelor's degree in music. She just took a few more years to get her master's at Julliard. Since then she's amassed countless solo and ensemble invites, from Italy's famed Spoleto Festival to New York's CaramoorInternational Music Festival.
But even more interesting might be how Lee makes ends meet, playing for an ensemble that performs original movie scores, including music for The Alamo, Intolerable Cruelty and The Ladykillers.
"It helps pay the bills," Lee says. —MW
Jackie Cunningham/Bender, radio djs
One of Richmond's most memorable morning couples, former B103.7 husband-and-wife DJ team Jackie and Bender left the local airwaves four years ago in search of greener pastures. They found them in Seattle, Wash., where they host one of the most-listened-to morning shows in the Northwest, on Top 40 station KBKS Kiss 106.1 FM. Still married and still raising their son, Jordan (born on-air in 1999), the couple interviews the likes of Ellen DeGeneres, Avril Lavigne and Dido on their morning show. "Jackie and I are great," says Bender. "And [the show] continues to grow." Still, it seems some locals never got their fill. "We still get all kinds of e-mail from listeners in Richmond," he says. —Dave McCormack
Dirt Woman, gender bender
Richmond Surroundings readers may have been either shocked or amazed by a Frances Helms feature in the August/September 1990 issue on the city's biggest (literally) eccentric, Donnie Corker. He's also known as transvestite performer Dirtwoman.
Dirt achieved legendary status among Virginia Commonwealth University students from hanging out at The Village CafÃ©, posing as an unlikely calendar model, peeling garlic at Mama 'Zu, and participating in charity Ham-A-Ganza events at the former Twister's or Poe's Pub.He is proud to say that after a bout with cancer a decade ago, the disease hasn't reappeared. These days Dirt, at 53, is in semi-retirement, living in South Richmond with his sister and 80-year-old mother.
"I play bingo a lot," Dirt says. "I'm too old and lazy to do much else." — HK
Joe Morrissey, legal legend
Where in the world is Joe Morrissey?
It's been three years since Richmond's famous prosecutor-turned-defense-attorney fled the United States and courtroom woes here to teach law in Ireland. Since then, he went from teacher to student and back again.
Morrissey taught at Portobello College Dublin from 2001 to 2002, where the head of the school, John B. O'Keefe, says, "Joseph was one of the finest teachers I have come across. ... Students would comment that they were enchanted with the way he could breathe life into any legal topic on which he spoke." Morrissey graduated with a master's in law from Dublin's Trinity College last year before his latest move to Australia, where, when he's not hitting the beaches, he's teaching law at a university in New South Wales.
"This is paradise," says Morrissey, 46, who has an apartment overlooking Coogee Beach in Sydney, where he plays tennis, has taken up surfing and has even become a volunteer lifeguard.
Morrissey cut all his business ties with Richmond, but not the personal ones. He constantly e-mails good friends here, such as former XL102 DJ Jeff McKee. And he also stays in touch with Rebekah Harris, whom he had hinted about marrying in our 1998 profile of him when Harris was a 19-year-old art student. Today she's an artist in New York and they remain good friends.
Joltin' Joe is also appealing that $1 million jury verdict levied against him in 2002 over a fistfight with a handyman. ("That matter is still dragging on. It's something I don't even focus on," Morrissey says. "The matter, as far as I'm concerned, will drag through the courts for quite some time. I haven't paid him anything.")
As for his Varina riverfront estate, Morrissey kept it and returns to it occasionally while visiting, but he doesn't plan on moving back. "I have very fond memories of Richmond," he says. "I thought living on the river in Varina couldn't be beat at all. All I can say [now] is [that's] with the exception of living on the Pacific Ocean." — RF
Sara James, NBC reporter
It was in Richmond that Sara James got one of her big breaks.
In the mid-1980s, she convinced her bosses at WWBT Channel 12 to let her travel with a photographer to war-torn Nicaragua, where they would document Richmond residents who were there to build houses. Based partly on her work for that story, James moved on to a Charlotte, N.C., station and then to an NBC network show taped there, before heading to the Big Apple for a job with NBC News.
James grew up in Richmond and still visits her parents here.
"I feel like Richmond gave me my start in journalism," she says. "What a great thing, to have your hometown give you your start."
James now works part-time as a Dateline NBC correspondent and substitute newsreader on the Today show — she recently won a 2004 Gracie award from American Women in Radio and Television — and cares for her 3-year-old daughter, Sophie. She and her Aussie husband, Andrew Butcher, live in Manhattan and are expecting their second child in September. — GL
Father John Dear, activist priest
The Sacred Heart Center in South Richmond is "the best thing happening in Richmond," according to its departed founder and activist priest, Father John Dear.Dear, a Jesuit overseeing multiple parishes and missions in northeastern New Mexico, founded the Sacred Heart Center in 1990 as a nonprofit community center for one of the poorest and most violent areas of Richmond. Although he left Richmond in 2002 for Cimarron, N.M., Dear, who counts among his friends Martin Sheen and Jackson Browne, remains impressed by the growth and success of the center, which he visited last year.
"I think it's one of the model community centers in the United States," he says, "not just for the work that they do in a needy neighborhood, but for the way it's been supported by the Greater Richmond area. The goal is to end poverty in Richmond and abolish racism and violence so that every child in Richmond can have the potential for a full life." —GL
Katherine Gates, sexpert
Back in 1994, Gates was living off Brook Road and designing art books for her Gates of Heck publishing house, courting clients like performance artist/ex-porn star Annie Sprinkle and actor Crispin Glover.She sold Gates of Heck in 1999 to a San Francisco publisher and wrote a 2000 book, Deviant Desires: Incredibly Strange Sex. Due to her self-described "expertise in the field of exotic eroticism," she now gets talking-head status on Discovery Channel and HBO shows. She was prominently featured in a 2001 Vanity Fair article as an expert on "furries," people with a stuffed-animal fetish, posing open-bloused, holding a handgun on a wolf toy.
Now 38, Gates lives in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., with software-designer husband Tom Warner and 2 1/2-year-old son Felix. — HK
Jerry Oliver, ex-police chief
Former Richmond Police Chief Jerry Oliver resigned as Detroit's chief last year after a media firestorm erupted when he forgot to declare a loaded handgun in his bag at an airport.
Oliver says it was much ado about nothing. He paid a $100 fine. The stink, Oliver says, occurred because he angered Detroit unions by prosecuting police officers.Since then, Oliver moved to his home state of Arizona, where he's senior policy adviser to the state attorney general, addressing issues such as racial profiling.
Richmond's chief from 1995 to 2002, Oliver also works as a consultant for the Justice Department and local police forces nationwide.
He stays in touch with Richmonders such as prosecutor David Hicks, who has frequently called for Oliver's return, amid skyrocketing murder rates since Oliver left. "I'm not going to say I would never come back," Oliver says. "I would certainly consider it if the opportunity were right." —R
—BY RICHARD FOSTER, HARRY KOLLATZ JR., GREG A. LOHR, DAVE MCCORMACK, JOAN TUPPONCE AND MIKE WARD