SUFFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — When Mayor Linda Johnson leaves office for good at the end of the month, she’ll leave with one regret: that there will be no woman on Suffolk City Council.
Johnson made that clear to her seven male colleagues Wednesday night as she led her final meeting after serving 20 years on council and 14 as mayor. She was defeated in her bid for another term in November by fellow council member Mike Duman.
“I had hoped that by now there would be more [women serving],” Johnson said, following the reading of a resolution honoring her service.
Similarly, Johnson told council members that it was likely a male-dominated workforce in the 1970s that kept her from fulfilling her initial dream.
“I never intended to do this,” Johnson said. “I was going to go to college and I was going to get a degree and I was going to be a news reporter. Well needless to say that didn’t happen. In the 70s they didn’t hire women basically and my competition beat me out, so that didn’t work out.”
Instead, she became the subject of news reports. Inspired to serve by her late father, Johnson was the first woman ever to serve as mayor in the city, as well as the first person to win the office in a citywide vote.
Fellow council members praised her leadership. From tragedies such as the devastating tornadoes of 2008, to economic wins like helping to secure the development of a mega-Amazon warehouse, Johnson’s leadership has caused the city to “progress immeasurably” according to Duman.
“I may have been the first, but I truly know I will not be the last,” Johnson said. “I want women to know that they deserve to sit here, they deserve to have a part in their government.”
Council members also bid farewell to Councilman Curtis Milteer, who has represented the Whaleyville borough since 1980. Milteer, 89, lost his reelection bid to LeOtis Williams, another man.
Duman’s term as the Chuckatuck borough representative is not up until 2022. Another woman could still be appointed to council before winter is out. State law requires the seat to be temporarily filled by a majority of council members until a special election can be held. The city is currently taking applications.
As for Johnson, she plans to spend more time with her husband and grandchild.
“Suffolk is a pretty darn good place to be, I will always have my heart right here,” Johnson said. “I just say to every little girl sitting out there, know you can do it, and do it.”