Capital Cities Q&A: Catching Up with Virginia First Lady Dorothy McAuliffe

In the final chapter of our yearlong Capital Cities travel series, we visit Richmond, Virginia, a booming and bustling city that radiates history at every turn. We visited with First Lady Dorothy McAuliffe about her commitment to ending child hunger, her busy family life in the governor’s mansion, and more. See highlights from our conversation with her below, and pick up the November/December 2016 issue of Southern Lady to explore Richmond in depth.

Virginia First Lady Dorothy McAuliffe at the Virginia Executive Mansion, the oldest continually occupied governor’s mansion in the country.

SL: How would you characterize Richmond in just a few sentences? What sets it apart from other cities in Virginia?

First Lady Dorothy McAuliffe: Our time in Richmond as a family has only been about two and a half years — we moved from northern Virginia, Fairfax County. We have just loved getting to know the city as residents and neighbors here. It’s enriched by the different neighborhoods … We have the great outdoors and the James River. There’s a wonderful park system that we love to enjoy. It’s a very bike-friendly city, which has been great; we’ve enjoyed being able to hop on our bikes and ride around.

Supporting all of our local businesses has been a fun part of the job. We love the Fan District — the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts is one of the best art museums in the country. The Carytown area, has a lot of really wonderful boutiques and fun shopping, and a great old movie theater. Richmond was called by Saveur the next great American food city, and the chefs and [restaurant] owners are very engaged in the community. Many of the chefs are active in the community in terms of making sure all our neighbors in Richmond have access to the food they need.

Virginia Executive Mansion

SL: Tell us about your volunteerism and service platforms regarding childhood hunger, and why this is such a special cause for you.

First Lady Dorothy McAuliffe: As the parents of five children, my husband and I can’t imagine that any child would be hungry on any day in this great country. I made it my mission and my goal to ensure that every child has the ability to focus and concentrate and have the best day possible in school. Over 51 percent of K-12 students now rely on the free and reduced meals they receive at school. My major focus is to make sure schools are doing the best job they can, so kids get the nutrition they need to thrive and to do well in school. We’ve partnered with the Share Our Strength No Kid Hungry program. My best days are when I’m out visiting schools and talking with teachers and children — all the hardworking folks making those cafeterias an open and welcoming place. They’re feeding body and soul.

SL: When you have time to yourself at the mansion, and time as a family, where do you gravitate?

First Lady Dorothy McAuliffe: We have a beautiful little nook off the formal dining room, and you look out the windows to the garden. It’s my favorite room. It has beautiful old antique wallpaper with birds on it, and it’s very private, even though it’s on the main formal floor. I love to have people for lunch there, and I love to have coffees and family meals – we have our Sunday meals there.

Virginia Executive Mansion

SL: Do you enjoy having guests at the mansion? What’s your unique way of welcoming them?

First Lady Dorothy McAuliffe: We love to invite different groups from across the Commonwealth, all kinds of different Virginians and others. When the general assembly is in, many nights of the week, there’s always something going on. It’s been really fun to get to know the staff who have long served the mansion. There’s always a lot going on — we’re an active family anyway, and then you add the activity of the mansion — but it’s a lot of fun and a great experience for our children to get to meet the different groups of people that come through and understand what they’re working on in the Commonwealth. It’s been a great living history lesson for them to have that exposure.

We’ve made it a goal to invite as many diverse groups as we can who may not have had a chance to visit the mansion in the past. That’s representative of the kind of governor my husband is. We’ve added some portraiture – we’ve added Barbara Johns, the young leader of the Civil Rights movement who led a walkout at her high school. We’ve added Oliver Hill’s portrait — he argued Brown vs. the Board of Education. Reflecting the faces and the history of all of Virginia has been an important priority for all of us.

A gated entrance at the Virginia Executive Mansion.

To learn more about First Lady Dorothy McAuliffe, see “Capital Cities: Richmond, Virginia” on page 45 of the November/December 2016 issue of Southern Lady.