Decision 2020/Luray Council: Q&A with Leah Pence

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Leah Pence

PUBLISHER’S NOTE: Page Valley News will be publishing profiles of local candidates in contested races for this fall’s elections over the next few weeks. PVN will begin with the Luray Council race, where five candidates will compete for three seats; and then the race for Mayor of Luray, with two candidates. All profiles will be published in alphabetical order at 9 a.m. Mondays and 3 p.m. Thursdays, beginning Thursday, June 25.


Leah Pence

• Age: 36

• Education: I am a first-generation college graduate. M.A., Social Studies Education, Columbia University; B.A., History, George Mason University; A.A., Northern Virginia Community College.

• Work: An internship with Senator John Warner started my career. This ultimately led to a career in education, teaching in the Bronx and PCHS as well as being an entrepreneur. The success that I had as an entrepreneur lead to one of my businesses being named as top wedding planning company by New York Magazine in 2018, as well as a one-year visiting lecturer position at James Madison University teaching in the College of Business. After my time teaching at JMU, I worked in the hospitality consulting world. Unfortunately, the industry has been hit very hard by COVID-19 and like many of you in hospitality, I find myself currently unemployed.

• Elected office: I am honored to serve on the Luray Town Council.

• Community Service: Performing Arts Luray Board Member, Performance Chair 2019-Current; Chamber of Commerce Luray and Page County, Board Member and later Treasurer 2018-2019; Habitat for Humanity of Page County Board Member 2015-2017; Rotary Club of Luray member 2016-2018.

• Family: Granddaughter of the late Bill and Aurelia Martin of Alma and the late Frank and Mary Pence of Shenandoah. My parents are Dawn Harlow Pence and Allen Pence who met at PCHS and graduated in 1975.


• Why are you running for public office?

When I was elected four years ago, I spoke about the need to support and develop the business community in Luray. Having a thriving business community is beneficial for all citizens. I have advocated for and voted on decisions in accordance with that mindset. With the recent effects of COVID-19, this work, at this time, could not be more important. I am honoring the commitments I made to my community to support businesses and enact a strategic plan. There is still much to be done but my work experience has served me well in this arena.

• What makes you the best candidate?  

Economic issues remain the largest issue for the town. My experience as an entrepreneur in event planning, hospitality and the tourism industry position me to understand the issues small businesses in Luray face. I have established a record of caring for the community and invested on Main Street in Luray. Yet, I have also spent time living away from the valley in Panama, Thailand and New York City. The experience that came from putting myself in new and challenging situations, starting businesses and helping other owners with start-ups, acquisitions and succession planning allows me to bring a diversity of thought to the council.

If you want a council that looks at decisions from all angles and consequences, you need a council with a range of backgrounds, affiliations, experiences, skill sets and biographic information. If you want a council that can work together to get things accomplished, you also need council members who have forged relationships on the council who can work together to solve issues while presenting those different angles. I am the best candidate, as I offer the diversity of thought, while also having a proven track record of being able to positively contribute to the council.

• What is Luray’s most pressing issue?

Small businesses have always been the backbone of this community and economic issues remain as our most pressing issue. Why is it that Luray Caverns and the Shenandoah National Park attract over a million visitors a year and yet we have a hard time attracting them into town? Ultimately, I believe it is because we lack an action plan. As a council, we have the ability to create a thriving community for all. However, during my tenure, we have yet to develop strategic goals and objectives for the town. Without a plan, we will not thrive.

• What is one thing that you would like to change or improve about Luray?

As a council, we need a strategic plan with specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely goals and objectives. We need to decide what we want to be and create a plan to get there. I have advocated for a plan several times during my time on council. I am hopeful that in this next term we can develop a plan and enact goals and objectives.

• Briefly describe a decision you have made in a leadership role and tell why you made that decision.

When I was honored with a seat on council during the last election, I made the decision to be the type of leader that I am in my work life. I have a servant style leadership. If you are not familiar with the term, it takes the traditional power leadership model and turns it completely upside down. This puts the employees – or citizens in this context – at the top and the leader at the bottom. Leaders are then charged with serving those above them. I choose to be this type of leader as I truly believe that leaders should listen more than they speak.

I feel honored to receive calls from citizens and advocate for their issues, many of whom I do not know. I am always quick to respond. I have never declined a meeting or a phone call no matter how large or how small the issue. I listen to their concern and make a site visit when needed. I have advocated on a variety of issues from high grass complaints to zoning protections that would forever change the landscape of a community. When something requires work, I am not afraid to roll up my sleeves as advocate. The reverse is also true, when something isn’t in the best interest of the community, I am also honest and compassionate with citizens. I let them know that I will not support them, and I help them with alternative solutions. I have a serve-first mindset. I believe in serving instead of commanding, showing humility instead of wielding authority.


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