Virgil Clarkson, former City of Lacey Mayor and City Councilmember, passed away early Sunday, November 13.
Clarkson, one of the longest-serving councilmembers in the City’s history, provided nearly two decades of service and dedication to the Lacey community, including three terms as mayor and two terms as deputy mayor.
“Virgil was the ultimate standard-bearer for this community – a true leader through and through; his character, reputation, and the life he led, set the highest bar for leaders in our community to exemplify,” stated Mayor Andy Ryder. “He helped shape Lacey and the surrounding communities at a pivotal time. His profound legacy will live on in our community for many generations to come.”
A Texas native, Clarkson received a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Mathematics and Physics from Texas Southern University in 1953. After graduation, Clarkson served thirteen years in the U.S. Army, including being stationed at Fort Lawton in Seattle. Following his military service, Clarkson continued a career in public services with the Department of Natural Resources and the Department of Highways (now Washington State Department of Transportation) in Olympia. When hired with the Department of Highways, Clarkson was one of six black employees of the more than 6,000 workforce.
During this time, Clarkson’s love for his community and passion to make the greater Thurston County area a more welcoming place for people of color inspired his focus on the fight for civil rights. Clarkson was a driving force to get fair housing ordinances passed. This was first accomplished in Lacey, and eventually followed by the communities of Olympia, Tumwater, and Thurston County beginning in the mid-to-late 1960s.
Clarkson officially assumed public office at the City of Lacey on July 23, 1998. He became Lacey’s first black mayor, a position he held for two consecutive terms from 2004-2007. Virgil held a third term as mayor from 2012-2013. In honor of Virgil’s service to the community, the City Council appointed him mayor again to close out the final month of his term that ended in December 2017.
During his first term as mayor, Clarkson focused on bringing environmentally sustainable, family-wage jobs to the area and making sure the City of Lacey pursued policies that supported and reflected the changing needs of its community members. In working towards these objectives, during Clarkson’s tenure on the Council, the City of Lacey converted its facilities to fully green power. In addition, Clarkson served as a tireless champion for older adults, advocating strongly for construction of a new senior center in 2003, as well as a major expansion of the facility in 2012. This community asset continues to improve the quality of life for local older adults.
Fittingly, in 2005, Senior Services for South Sound officially honored Virgil as a “Living Legend,” and in 2015, the Lacey City Council honored his exceptional service and leadership to the community by renaming the Lacey Senior Center as the Virgil S. Clarkson Lacey Senior Center. Clarkson’s work on behalf of seniors also included serving on the board of Senior Services for South Sound, and, following a 1999 appointment by Governor Gregoire, eight years of service on the Washington State Council on Aging.
Clarkson’s public service was equaled only by his exceptional volunteerism. He willingly gave countless hours to community organizations and projects that are forever indebted to his time and talents. Clarkson was a twenty-five-year member of the Thurston County Fair Board, a loyal Kiwanian for more than half a century, and a founding member of the Olympia Opera Association. In addition, Clarkson was also a decades-long member of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, as well as Prince Hall Freemasonry, and has held many offices within those organizations.
In addition to the many City-related committees and boards Virgil served on, he was also very active in a number of professional and civic organizations related to his passion for making his community a better place to live, work, and play for all. Virgil held local, state, and national offices for the American Diabetes Association, served as chair of the local chapter of the American Red Cross, and served nearly twenty years on the South Puget Sound Blood Council. He served twenty years on the Lewis, Mason, and Thurston Selective Service Board, and was also a member of the National League of Cities National Black Caucus.
Editors' note: This statement was sent to the JOLT on Monday, November 14, 2022, by The City of Lacey.