After 20 years in the business and non-profit sector, Jeff Barbour returned to college as a gray-haired student in the late 1990s. Today he is the newly elected treasurer of Winchester – a city of 27,000 with a 300-year history in northwest Virginia – and a graduate of Eastern Mennonite University with a bachelor’s degree in management and organizational development.
Barbour knows the value and the cost of a promise.
In early 2013 as he pondered running for treasurer of Winchester, Barbour contacted the long-time seatholder, R. Mark Garber, to ascertain whether he would be standing for election again. No, said Garber, citing health issues and adding he would be happy to endorse Barbour’s candidacy, with one condition: Barbour had to go door-to-door to introduce himself as a candidate to as many city residents as possible. Garber died in May 2013, before he could see Barbour live up to that promise when he began campaigning in earnest that August.
Although Barbour’s candidacy was unopposed, he felt committed to walking through all of the neighborhoods, street by street, in Winchester. “The biggest surprise is that although the houses look real close when you drive around the city, when you’re walking you realize how many steps there are.” From Aug. 1 until election day on Nov. 5 these walks consumed “all the free time I had – evenings, Saturdays… two services at church on Sunday morning, then back out again after grabbing a quick bite of lunch.” During three months of evening walks, he estimates he made contact with nearly 90 percent of Winchester’s voters, shaking hands and talking about the city and the office of the treasurer.
During his weekdays, Barbour commuted to his job as deputy treasurer for the City of Fairfax, where he had worked since 2002. In his other major role (one continuing to this day), Barbour served as the executive pastor for the Church of the Good Shepherd, giving one of the two Sunday morning sermons, doing home and hospital visits as needed, and taking care of other church business.
“I love helping people,” said Barbour, by way of explaining his pleasure at being elected treasurer. “Whether it’s working out payment plans to help people get their bills paid, or making sure we all have the services we expect, I love doing it.”
In his new lunchtime routine, Barbour heads home from his office for an hour of interaction with his wife Kim and their 3-year-old grandson Porter, under Kim’s care during weekdays. “I grab a quick sandwich, and then it’s down on the floor playing,” Barbour says with a chuckle. “It keeps you young.”
Barbour’s return to school in the late 1990s was encouraged by a close childhood friend, who also wanted to complete her undergraduate degree. They began looking for a program that would fit their busy schedules. EMU’s mission and values seemed particularly attractive to Barbour, as he was then working with Project HOPE, a humanitarian assistance and relief organization.
“We hopped into the car one day to see what it was all about, and we were welcomed with open arms. It was wonderful, I loved Eastern Mennonite,” says Barbour. “Even though I was walking in with gray hair and a gray beard, everyone was so accepting. It all worked out, the instructors and administration – they all bent over backwards to help us out.”
“We were in class #13, so we called it lucky number 13.” At the end of his 15 months of study within a cohort of EMU’s Adult Degree Completion Program, his classmates voted for Barbour to receive its Distinguished Student Award.
Soon after graduating in 1999, Barbour began his career in public service. While with the City of Fairfax, he earned certification through the Virginia Treasurers Association and through the Weldon-Cooper Center at the University of Virginia as a Master Deputy Treasurer.
“God has opened the doors that needed to be opened and closed the ones that are closed,” Barbour said of his journey to city treasurer. “It all started with Eastern Mennonite, with getting my bachelor’s degree. Through all of that God saw each step that I took, and it was truly a blessing.”
This article was published Feb. 3, 2014.