PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — Identical twins from Chesapeake, Eileen and Francine Olds, rose to the top in the respective careers, Eileen in law and Francine in medicine.
Judge Eileen Olds retired in July 2019, and Dr. Francine Olds thought it would be a great idea for Chesapeake to name the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court building in honor of her sister.
The Honorable Eileen Olds made history in 1995 when she became the first woman and first African American to preside over cases involving children and families in Chesapeake. In 2007, she became the only Virginian to become the president of the Amerian Judges Association.
Francine Olds launched the naming effort by meeting with Chesapeake Mayor Rick West a few weeks before her sister’s retirement.
“He was very kind; he was so engaged and he said to me, ‘You know what, this [has]never been done but that’s a really good idea,’ and he said I’m going to make that happen,” said Francine Olds.
Francine Olds then proceeded to collect and share with the city biographical information about her sister including her curriculum vitae, news articles and community citations.
From June of 2019 to April of 2021, Francine Olds became concerned since she had not received any correspondence from the mayor’s office.
Last week, the twins learned of an invitation — one they did not get — to attend a ceremony naming the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court building for Circuit Court Judge E. Preston Grissom, who died in 2019.
“From June of 2019 until when I woke up to that horror Thursday morning, I had not heard one word from the mayor,” said Francine Olds.
West is taking the blame, saying he failed to quickly notify the twins that Eileen Olds did not meet the criteria used when buildings are named.
A review of the city’s policy, last amended in 2015, says City council when considering naming buildings should consider whether an individual provided a major donation of land or funds; if the person is deceased, if the person made exceptional contributions to the city; and if alive, whether the person was unpaid and helped to improve quality of life.
West says he has apologized to Eileen Olds and he accepts responsibility for failing to notify the twins in a timely manner after he was told the judge did not meet the criteria.
“It was certainly on me that she was not properly notified that she did not meet the criteria and that was my fault,” West said.
Francine Olds says that’s not the full story. In a scathing Facebook post, Francine Olds cried foul, saying the transaction smacks of sexism and racism. Francine Olds contends a Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court judge, shortly after she approached West, contacted West and asked him to consider naming the building for the late Judge Grissom, a man who Eileen Olds considered a trusted colleague.
West, in a Zoom interview with WAVY-TV, confirmed someone, who he did not identify, approached him and asked that Grissom’s name be considered.
Without even a courtesy call, Francine Olds said the Chesapeake City Council on Oct. 8, 2019, approved a resolution designating the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court building as” The Edward Preston Grissom Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court Building.” A spokesperson for the twins says some members of the council were unaware that Eileen Olds’ name was under consideration.
“It simply was an attempt to prevent what we all now was my idea for Eileen — 100%,” said Francine Olds.
But the controversy doesn’t end there. On May 8, the family of the late Grissom, days before his name was to be revealed on the court building on Albermarle Drive, sent a letter to the entire city council saying essentially thanks, but no thanks.
Edward P. Grissom Jr. wrote: “We trust that there are many means by which judges could be honored that would not appear to place one judge above another.”
West calls the entire episode unfortunate.
“Knowing Judge Grissom, he would not want his name associated with any type of controversy,” said West.
The unveiling event was officially canceled late Monday and according to the city clerk, the council will meet Tuesday, May 11 to consider its next steps following the controversial series of events.
West told 10 On Your Side he asks for forgiveness, he has a great deal of respect for the Olds sisters and he will continue to find ways to honor Judge Eileen Olds.