What My Mentors Have Taught Me

Bob O'Neill celebrates his mentors and what they have meant to him throughout his career.

ARTICLE | Jan 25, 2016

As I enter my final year at ICMA, I have been thinking about the people who have had a profound impact on my career. Like most of us, I have been lucky to have several people who saw potential in me well before I saw it in myself.

As an undergraduate, I interned with the city of Hampton, Virginia, my hometown. Mayor Ann Kilgore and Assistant City Manager Wendell White (later city manager of Hampton and of Charlotte, North Carolina) provided me with so many opportunities to explore and learn. Mayor Kilgore invited me join her as she represented the city with the National League of Cities, US Conference of Mayors, and the Virginia Municipal League.

Wendell gave me more opportunities than a person of my experience deserved. I had the opportunity to work on policy, lead some public employment programs, and participate fully as a member of the manager's office. It was an experience that got me hooked on local government.

When I was appointed city manager of Hampton in 1984, I had the privilege to work with one of the best leaders and elected officials I have ever seen. Mayor Jimmy Eason was mayor for my entire 13 years as manager in Hampton. He encouraged all of us think big, be creative, and never "just settle." Every week we met and he never left our meeting without challenging me to be better tomorrow. A priceless gift.

Finally, I have a group of peers that have helped ground me my entire professional life. Bob Matson (director of Leadership Development at the Cooper Center at UVA ), Jim Oliver (former city manager of James City County, Norfolk, Portsmouth, and Hampton), Chuck Church (former city manager of Lynchburg), Cole Hendrix (former city manager of Charlottesville), Bob Herbert (former city manager of Roanoke), and Tony Gardner (former county manager of Arlington County and now director of Leadership Development at the Cooper Center) have always been there to celebrate the good times, support me in the bad times, and most importantly, challenge me to make a positive difference everywhere I have been.

Most of us have had someone who pushed us to be better and supported us throughout our career. This is a great month to say thanks and then pay it forward.

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