Living Legends Series

Who is Alexandria Living Legend Redella S. “Del” Pepper?

Courtesy Photo

By Shirley Ruhe

Alexandria, VA – It seems inevitable that Redella S. “Del “Pepper would end up as the longest-serving member of the Alexandria City Council after her early beginning as a 10-year-old campaigning door to door to urge Omaha residents to vote for her dad for City Council. Pepper remembers he didn’t win, “but what he taught me is he hurt easy but he healed quick. He told me if I ran I would have to learn that.”

Then when she was in high school, she used to take the bus to join her dad who was having lunch with the other council members. “I sat and got to listen to what they talked about, and I guess it just sunk in.” Later, after graduation from college, she ran the Democratic headquarters. “My parents were Republicans but at that time Nebraska was a state where you could register Independent.”

Pepper met her husband, Dr. Franklin “F.J.” Pepper, when she was in college working in the Omaha library in the summer.

“In walks this guy with all these children, and I thought they were his. Then I found out he had made a bargain with his brother that he would take his nieces and nephews to the library in exchange for borrowing the car for a date that night.”

They later met again through mutual friends when she was in graduate school. “I kind of liked him’” and the rest is history.

They moved to Alexandria in 1968, and Del Pepper was first elected to City Council in 1985. She served as vice mayor from 1996 to 1997, from 2003-2006 and from 2007 to 2009. Pepper announced her retirement in January 2022 and at 36 years on the Council she was the oldest and longest serving member of the body. Mayor Justin Wilson said, “There is nobody who has given more of herself to our City.”

In June 2023 she was honored for 35 years on Alexandria City Council at virtual Council meeting. Wilson took a moment to remember that 1985 was the year that “Back to the Future came out in theaters, Ronald Reagan was sworn into his second Presidential term and Pepper was elected for the first time to the Alexandria City Council.” Wilson explained, “You are there whether it is a new business, a Scout troop or an award for someone from Alexandria. If a garage door opens in Alexandria, some might say you are there.”

U.S. Senator Mark Warner said, “Del started as a tireless voice for the West End and has left her mark on virtually everything in Alexandria.”

She says, “I did go to the opening of all of the restaurants and businesses. I got to meet people and each one changed the city an itty bit.” She continues, “I identify with the pain of people. I like to hear what they have to say. I like people in general. I identify with their joys and hopes.” Pepper thinks it all goes back to when she worked as a social worker in Chicago for five years before moving to Alexandria.

Pepper reflects that her dedication to a diverse city with livable and safe neighborhoods where children are well educated and elderly are well served also came from her years as a social worker in Chicago. “I had the feeling of identifying with people. As a City Council member, I got to know all kinds of people.”

Pepper has been active on several commissions, including the Commission on Aging, the Commission on Information Technology, the Facilities Naming Committee, and the Council of Governments Air Quality Committee and Board of Directors. She co-chairs the Beauregard Street Corridor Task Force, the Alexandria-Arlington Task Force on the Waste-To-Energy Plant, and the Welfare Reform Committee.

She serves on the boards of the YMCA, the Alexandria City High School PTSA, the Alexandria Arts Forum, Bienvenidos, and the Retired Senior Volunteer Program. She is the former first vice president of the local NAACP and a former board member of the City’s Community Services Board. Each one of these organizations where she serves gave her an additional perspective on the City.

Pepper says, “One thing I’m most proud of that most people don’t identify with me is I brought the City to early recognition about the need for computers. In 1994 I outlined that I wanted computers at every desk where it was appropriate. I wanted people to be able to access what was on the docket when it was a weekend, and everything was closed and businesses to be able to get access to the rules—there is a rule for everything—without going to the courthouse.” She says, “The City Manager told me not to pursue it because it would cost millions, but I said that is the future of business. It caught on, and it gave me satisfaction that other jurisdictions wanted to know how we did it.”

She says there was no particular reason for her decision to retire. “I just reached a point when I had a feeling it was time.” Now it’s okay. She has another life. She has spent the last few months getting a new bathroom and kitchen. “I have shown everyone who comes; it’s gorgeous.” She says when this all settles down, she has to update their genealogy. “I’m the genealogist for the family. Our son is interested, too.”

Pepper says the last day she went to City Hall she assumed it was for a regular Council meeting. Then she heard a loud clatter, and it was the town crier in his costume basically reading a goodbye on his scroll. The mayor announced H.J. Res 632 commending Redella S. Pepper, and it passed unanimously. The mayor ended by announcing the new City building would be named after Del Pepper. “I was just stunned. There is no other word for it.”

But she says, “It sounds so corny, but every day I served, there was something I could be helpful with.”

ICYMI: Living Legend Colonel Jim Paige

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