Last-Minute Appointees Join Gilmore Administration; City Sees Jump in Heating-Bill Vouchers; Mr. Coley’s Gowns Find a New Home

Street Talk

Last-Minute Appointees Join Gilmore Administration

In the weeks leading up to the inauguration, press releases cascaded out of Gov.-elect Mark Warner’s office as he announced his picks for top advisers and Cabinet positions. But there remained some positions of power Warner still couldn’t touch — at least until last Saturday at noon.

Amid the packing and the cleaning at the Capitol, Gilmore’s sparse remaining staff scrambled to formalize the final appointments to various state boards — the last couple hundred of the approximately 3,000 Gilmore will have made during his term. Few will analyze these last-minute choices. And few will contest his administration’s selection of new members for the Plant Pollination Advisory Board. But the work had to be done.

Since May, the ranks of staff members have dwindled in preparation for the change of administration. “Right now, our appointment staff is me,” says Gwen Beattie, who’s spent her last few days on the job sifting through piles of paperwork for the final rush of appointments.

She sends her completed forms to Brooke Bazlen’s desk in the press office, which last Tuesday was heaped high with about 150 of them. Bazlen turns the thick stacks into terse press releases with the names of the boards and appointees, each prefaced with the same stock quote from Gilmore. “I am pleased to welcome these individuals to my administration,” it begins; never mind that his administration will last only a few more days.

Demand varies for positions, which typically last two to four years, Beattie says. Universities’ boards of visitors are high profile, hence popular among Virginia’s movers and shakers. The Auctioneers Board, on the other hand … “That’s not a board lots of people want on,” Beattie says with a laugh. To apply, one must submit a letter, a resume and a recommendation.

A few of the governor’s staffers were themselves recently appointed. Melissa Dickert, administrative assistant to Gilmore, was named to the Board of Trustees, Family and Children’s Trust Fund, and speechwriter Robert C. Hoppin joined the Board of Trustees of the Science Museum of Virginia. Jerilynn Grigsby, executive assistant in the governor’s press office, was reappointed to the State Historical Records Advisory Board. Sounds a little dry, but archiving is a passion for Grigsby. The board’s advice on preservation methods, such as keeping photo albums a foot off the floor in case of flood, is “something everybody could learn from,” she says with enthusiasm.

Beattie, too, is on a board: the Advisory Committee on Juvenile Justice.

It’s really no big deal, she says: “I haven’t been to a meeting or anything.” Her term will end in June, Beattie says, and she was only appointed because she was interested in the subject and someone else resigned. Also, she says, “I fit the requirement, which was: They needed a person under 24.” — Melissa Scott Sinclair

City Sees Jump in Heating-Bill Vouchers

For years, Amos Austin has helped support his grown daughter, her three kids and his 89-year-old mother. His weary voice shows it’s a daunting task. But a city program helps take away one of his biggest worries — keeping them all warm in the winter.

“Without them, my daughter’s heating system would be off today,” says Austin, who lives in Church Hill. A city voucher for $182 recently nullified Dominion Power’s threat to turn off the electricity, he says.

Austin’s family has used the heating-assistance program, which is paid for by the state but run by the city, for years. He’s seen more and more people participate recently, he says: “Without it, people would’ve froze to death.”

This winter, the city has seen a marked increase in the number of people who have received assistance with their heating bills — 4,292, to be precise, 35 percent more than last year.

Social-services workers aren’t complaining. Dismayed that only 36 percent of eligible people took advantage of the heating-assistance offer in 2000, they began posting flyers and leaving applications in churches, libraries, recreation centers and Community Pride stores.

Their efforts seem to have worked. This past fall, 5,382 people applied for assistance, says Michael Muse, who oversees the program for the city’s Department of Social Services. Last year, slightly fewer than 4,000 applications came in, of which 3,440 were approved.

Besides money for winter fuel, the state also offers “crisis assistance” to repair or replace heaters in the chilliest months of winter. In order to qualify for either program, a household’s monthly income must be below established standards — $931 for one individual, for example, or $1,912 for a family of four.

The amount of money awarded varies, Muse says, but statewide the average is $229. The commonwealth gives funds to the city based on demand, and residents must apply before the second Friday in November each year. — M.S.S.

Mr. Coley’s Gowns Find a New Home

A lot of people best remember Aldolpheus Coley, owner of Mr. Coley’ s Tailor Shop in Carytown, as an always-exuberant, eccentric man who strolled the Ukrop’s parking lot with his two champion Afghan hounds.

“It was like a parade,” recalls Charla Bjostad, a friend of Mr. Coley’s. “He didn’t walk the dogs, he strutted them.” The parade has ended, though. Mr. Coley, the closest thing Richmond had to a Bob Mackie, died from encephalitis on Nov. 6. He had been HIV-positive.

Those who knew Mr. Coley may wonder what happened to his gorgeous handmade gowns. Anyone who’s visited his shop, seen a Richmond drag show or seen Mr. Coley perform as his alter ego — Miss Fantasia L’Amour — has seen them. They are something.

Mr. Coley wore a floor-length, turquoise sequined one when, as Fantasia L’Amour, he won the title of Miss Roanoke in a drag show there. Covered in sequined fish appliques, it hung in his shop for years. “He called it ‘my aquarium,'” recalls Bjostad. Mr. Coley had tailored the dress with snaps that could be undone to show more leg.

Bjostad has happy plans for the dresses, more than a dozen in all. She acquired them recently, she says, “by the grace of God” from Mr. Coley’s life partner. Bjostad met Mr. Coley seven years ago when she answered an ad he had placed for a part-time seamstress. They became fast friends.

Bjostad got the lot of Mr. Coley’s sewing materials and store items for $100 — including the gowns, dress forms, feather boas, fancy fabric and fringe.

This week Bjostad is opening a new shop where she plans to display the dresses along with an array of vintage merchandise and aromatherapy products. The boutique is called Pleiades and is located at 1208 W. Main St.

Bjostad hopes to plan something special for the dresses. “Before any of his gowns go on the block I’d like to have a memorial performance at Godfrey’s with the dresses, worn by those who knew him,” she says.

Diane Lumpower, manager of Godfrey’s, thinks it’s a great idea. “It sounds like something we would love to host,” she says, adding that Mr. Coley’s close friend Victoria Snow works at Godfrey’s as the drag show’s casting director.

It seems most everybody knew Mr. Coley somehow. “He was a very, very good friend,” says Bjostad. “His workmanship was, well, beautiful.” — Brandon Walters


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