Williamsburg City Council member Barbara “Barb” Ramsey’s campaign button features a gold and white bridge that stretches across her name. It’s symbolic of the work she has done throughout her life to foster connections between people and institutions – including the City of Williamsburg, William & Mary and Colonial Williamsburg.
At the university, Ramsey has taken on numerous alumni leadership roles and helped raise millions while also establishing interpersonal connections with fellow alumni and students through such efforts as her “Break Bread with Barb” dinners.
For those efforts and her unwavering support of alma mater, Ramsey ’75 is the recipient of this year’s Prentis Award. Established in 1980, the award is presented by the university each year to a person in the Williamsburg community for their strong civic involvement and service to William & Mary. Ramsey will receive the honor during a private reception on Nov. 10 at the Wren Building.
This is the second award Ramsey has received from the university this year. In February, she was honored with an Alumni Medallion, which is presented to alumni for outstanding commitment, dedication and support for William & Mary; exemplary accomplishments in their professional lives; and leadership in civic engagement in their communities.
“Councilwoman Barb Ramsey advocates for her city and alma mater with wisdom and verve,” said President Katherine A. Rowe. “Whether cheering on the Tribe or representing the city on W&M’s Juneteenth Committee, she anchors our strong town-gown relationship. We are thrilled to honor her as one of W&M’s closest friends.”
Ramsey grew up in Dayton, Virginia, and came to know of William & Mary through her brother who enrolled a few years ahead of her. A biology major at William & Mary, Ramsey was involved with the “Mermettes” synchronized swim team and Tri Delta sorority, but – being an introvert from a small town – she otherwise kept to herself.
After graduating, Ramsey segued into sales and marketing working in Williamsburg for 10 years before taking a position with Thomasville Furniture Industries that would push her outside of her comfort zone. While with Thomasville, Ramsey moved to Europe, serving as the company’s sole sales rep to the U.S. military bases in a region stretching from Greenland to the Middle East. Her career with Thomasville spanned three decades during which she was one of the leading sales representatives in her division.
She credits two mentors with providing her with lessons that made her so successful in her career and has carried those with her since. They include being in it for “the long haul,” doing what you say you’re going to and recognizing that everyone matters and has unique strengths. These and more led to her life’s philosophy to “do important, not be important” – an ethos that would later inspire her selfless support of William & Mary.
Connecting to alma mater
Although Ramsey had participated in a few alumni events throughout the years – faithfully giving to the university because of values instilled by her parents – living abroad made it difficult for her to connect fully to William & Mary. But when she moved to Williamsburg in 2010, that soon changed. She began attending local alumni events where she was embraced by fellow William & Mary graduates and introduced to others.
“I realized how extensive the alumni circle was and that anywhere I went in Williamsburg, there were likely other alumni there,” said Ramsey. “The bond is incredible regardless of background, situation, career, etc.”
Ramsey soon took leadership positions with the Williamsburg-Peninsula alumni chapter, and her involvement and support of William & Mary has only grown from there. Among her many roles, Ramsey served as chair of the Culture of Philanthropy committee on the Annual Giving Board during the For the Bold campaign and was a class ambassador and leader of the Class of 1975’s “Staying Connected” effort, which raised more than $5.2 million.
Ramsey has also been very supportive of William & Mary Athletics throughout the years and served on the W&M Athletic Foundation Board. She co-chaired the Lord Botetourt Affair for eight years, helping to raise over $2.5 million for athletics. She has also provided gifts in support of the All In campaign.
“I have been privileged to work with Barb over the past decade and more, and there are few people who so wholly embody our William & Mary values of service, excellence and curiosity as she does,” said Vice President for University Advancement Matthew T. Lambert ’99. “She is a tireless advocate for every member of the William & Mary family and the greater Williamsburg region — she is an expert at forging lasting bonds and fostering deep connections to strengthen our communities. I am thrilled to see her deservedly recognized with the honor of the Prentis Award.”
Ramsey also makes an effort to personally get to know and support students. She initiated a dinner for the alumni network and men’s and women’s basketball teams and often hosts student-athletes in her home as well as other student groups and organizations. She has used her talent for making interpersonal connections to “pay it forward with current students in hope they’ll do the same.”
“I appreciate living in Williamsburg and all of the opportunities afforded to meet and get to know students, attend all types of events and to be on the cusp of exciting events and developments,” Ramsey said.
In 2016, the university presented Ramsey with the Douglas N. Morton ’62 Alumni Service Award. That same year, Ramsey found herself taking on another role she never imagined herself in: city council member.
Ramsey had been serving on the city’s Neighborhood Relations Committee when she found out that the only female city council member was going to retire. Believing that women bring “a different and essential perspective,” Ramsey decided to run. She also felt her business background and life experiences would be beneficial to City Council.
With the support of fellow W&M alumni and her partner, Bruce Beringer ’70, Ramsey campaigned under the slogan of “Barb for the Burg” with the intent of becoming a bridge between major stakeholders in the area, including the city, W&M and Colonial Williamsburg. Since being elected to office – and reelected in 2020 – she has done just that, serving as a liaison to a number of committees, including the Economic Development Authority, Chamber of Commerce, Public Art Council and Juneteenth Consortium.
“The high level of partnership we have between key stakeholders is critical to Williamsburg’s future,” she said.
She is proud of the work she and her colleagues have done and is very complimentary of City employees. Their “dedication, loyalty and creativity are evident in the awards the city has won,” including the recent Virginia Municipal League Innovation Award. In November, representatives from the city will travel to London for a ceremony in which their Future Festivals initiative is up for a 2023 City National Place Award in the category of Best Citizen Engagement.
“I am eternally grateful to the residents of Williamsburg for entrusting me with governance of the city as a member of City Council,” said Ramsey. “I’m extremely proud of what we’ve accomplished over my two terms and look forward to what we do prior to 2026 and towards our 2040 vision.
“Being on the City Council has been one of the most rewarding and satisfying endeavors I’ve ever undertaken and even more gratifying to work in partnership with William & Mary.”
Distinctly William & Mary
The Prentis Award is uniquely representative of all the key stakeholders in Williamsburg that Ramsey has worked so hard to connect. It is named for an 18th century store that was “known for its fair wages, good merchandise and sound, innovative business practices.” Colonial Williamsburg still operates a version of the store today.
Ramsey said that the description of the store and its owner is reflective of her values and career in sales as she was known for her integrity, quality products and creative, innovative business techniques. But it’s the interpersonal connections she established that have really brought her to where she is today.
“I couldn’t do what I do and what I’m being recognized for without the support of so many, especially my partner, Bruce,” said Ramsey. “Coincidentally, we both lived and worked overseas and met at an alumni ‘Tribe Thursday’ networking social gathering here in Williamsburg.”
After traveling much of her life, Ramsey is glad to have found her “second career” on the Williamsburg City Council and a place in the William & Mary community where she can give back and encourage others to do the same.
“During the years I worked overseas, my William & Mary education and affiliations were invaluable to my success,” she said. “When I returned to Williamsburg, the local W&M alumni chapter was my lifeblood for getting reestablished in the community. … Through my support of the university, I can help students achieve their educational dreams and build connections that are distinctly William & Mary.”
Erin Jay, Senior Associate Director of University News