When Romesh Wijesooriya and his wife were deciding where to move for his medical residency, the choice of university was secondary.
“I didn’t pick residency based on the best program — we did it based on community,” he says. “During my interviews, we spent more time going into communities and meeting people.”
That brought them to Virginia Commonwealth University’s medical school — and to North Church Hill in 2004 with the blessing of a local pastor. His wife, Lawson Wijesooriya, is a previous Top 40 Under 40 recipient.
“We considered, what does it mean to move into a community that has relatively high needs and serve from the inside, and we ended up coming to Richmond,” he says. “We were committed to living in a lower socioeconomic, urban community.”
He soon was one of the youngest chiefs at VCU’s Children’s Hospital, a beloved pediatrician, specializing in obesity, and a teacher of future doctors. But Wijesooriya’s work doesn’t end when he leaves the hospital.
“I try to integrate things in my life. When I notice problems affecting the community, I want to figure out how to be involved in solutions,” he says. “There’s significant poverty and educational systems are often not functioning properly.”
He and his wife joined the PTA before they had their two sons and were part of a successful push to make Chimborazo Elementary School an international baccalaureate program.
“One of the best ways I thought we could have an impact on the entire community is to help the school be the best it could be,” he says.
Wijesooriya had a hand in starting the nonprofit Urban Hope, which helps neighbors purchase, maintain and renovate their homes, keeping a critical mass of residences protected from market pressures.
“Everything I read said, if you’re not involved in the housing aspect of this, you’re not involved in the roots of the problem,” he says.
Wijesooriya says it took time to be accepted in the neighborhood. “There were comments, like, ‘Are you with the police?’ Why would you be living here?” he recalls. “A lot of that went away with time. As you’re there, you just become neighbors.”