VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) – Former Virginia Beach Mayor Meyera Oberndorf is gravely ill, being cared for by hospice in Charlotte, N.C., her family confirmed to WAVY.com Wednesday.
Current mayor, Will Sessoms, began Tuesday night’s city council session with the news. He said, “I do want to start the meeting out regrettably with some very sad news. Former Mayor Meyera Oberndorf is in grave condition, and I wanted to let you know I was contacted a couple hours ago. As I get information, I will definitely pass it along.”
Oberndorf, who was born in Newport News, was Virginia Beach’s longest serving mayor. She took office July 1, 1988 and remained mayor for 20 years, until Sessoms won the seat. She spent an additional 12 years on city council.
In a Wednesday afternoon interview with WAVY News 10, Sessoms said of Oberndorf, “She had some wonderful accomplishments. She also had a safe city, a clean city and a well-educated city. It was a tremendous balancing act that she accomplished, and I could not be more proud to have worked with her.”
Oberndorf’s daughter, Marcie Oberndor-Kelso, talked to WAVY.com on the phone from Charlotte. She said her mother is no longer communicating. She said it is hour-by-hour right now, that her mother is in the final stages of Alzheimer’s.
“Mom is in the final stages of her journey with Alzheimer’s/Dementia that’s been going on for the last six or so, and we say end stage, we are basically at the place where she’s resting comfortably,” Kelso said.
Oberndorf began developing symptoms about six years ago. In the summer of 2013, in a brave show of support for the locally-founded Project Lifesaver program, Oberndorf got a bracelet of her own to help keep her safe if she wandered or got lost.
Her husband Roger died from complications of a brain injury the previous year, in Oct. 2012. He was 75-years-old.
“Mom has been a happy, wonderful person through this all. She’s been in Charlotte for a year, as beloved here as she was in Va. Beach,” Kelso said. “She always took time to say hello to people, kiss babies and dogs. I think the greatest challenge for us as a family has been having to witness from the outside looking in her not understanding, necessarily, and able to function the way she had been.”
In Dec. 2008, the Assistant Secretary of Defense presented Oberndorf with the SEVEN Seals Award. It’s the highest award given by the Employer Support of Guard and Reserves (ESGR). It was created to recognize those who provide outstanding patriotic support and cooperation to those who have been called to serve.
Virginia Beach’s Central Library is also named after her.
Kelso talked to WAVY.com about her mother’s legacy, how she will be remembered.
“Every part of her life is a part of her, even how she was willing to come forward to talk about dementia. She came forward and talked about her breast cancer when she battled that. It goes back to her role in the new and growing city of Virginia Beach, to be forthright, to be firm, and be willing to talk about the tough issues,” Kelso said.
“As the city matured, she was with it and willing to fight for all of the wonderful progressive ground-breaking programs the city has, from libraries an social services to water coming through everyone’s taps from Lake Gaston,” she said.
Stay with WAVY for updates on her condition.