At only 30 years old, John “Johnny” Partin, a member of the Virginia Military Institute class of 2014, is mayor of Hopewell, Virginia, an economically disadvantaged community south of Richmond, the state capital. Partin, who is also a captain in the Virginia National Guard with a civilian job at Fort Gregg-Adams, formerly Fort Lee, is the youngest mayor in the city’s history. Most days, though, he’s too busy trying to lead the community forward and make critically needed infrastructure improvements to think too much about his age.
Partin’s passion for service began early, thanks to the influence of his grandfather, who was a one-star general in the National Guard and the Army Reserve. The elder Partin wasn’t able to complete his college education because of the Great Depression and World War II, but he told all six of his grandchildren that he’d help them through college. There was one string attached, though: They had to attend Virginia Military Institute—a small, state-supported military college in the mountains of western Virginia.
“VMI was the only option because he loved the model of being a citizen-soldier,” Partin explained. “He loved the model because it incorporated a lot of the philosophy that the National Guard is built on.”
Luckily, VMI’s unique combination of an excellent academic program, physical fitness, honor, character, and military training appealed to the younger Partin as well. In 2014, he graduated from VMI with a Bachelor of Science degree in civil engineering. During his time at the school, he participated in the Institute Honors program, served as vice president of the Honor Court, and was president of the VMI chapter of Engineers Without Borders, a humanitarian service group.
After graduation, Partin moved to Hopewell, an independent city of just over 23,000 very near the area where he grew up. Soon, he began to attend City Council meetings and realized that his leadership was needed. On the campaign trail for a seat on City Council, selling himself to people several decades his senior, Partin realized that his degree from VMI was one of his greatest strengths.
“They saw that I was a graduate of VMI,” Partin stated. “They knew that this guy knows what he’s doing. This guy is a leader. He knows how to get things done. And he’s battle tested: We can have confidence that he’s going to do the right thing for us.”
In 2019, at the age of 26, Partin was elected to City Council. Two years later, he became vice mayor—and two years after that, mayor. Putting his civil and environmental engineering skills to use, Partin has made infrastructure improvements a major focus.
“We’ve seen a lot of neighborhood improvements being done,” he commented. “We’re fixing a lot of drainage issues. We’re upgrading our utilities. We’re seeing improvements down at our wastewater plant.” With better infrastructure, Partin knows, a better quality of life will result, and in the long run, there will be cost savings as well, as maintenance costs less than new systems built from the ground up.
Still less than 10 years out from college, Partin never imagined he’d be leading a community the size of Hopewell. But with VMI’s emphasis on leadership, running for City Council and then serving as vice mayor and mayor seem natural. “VMI itself prepares you for leadership positions,” he stated. “It prepares you to tackle a lot of the problems that you’re going to face in life, whether it is in business, whether it’s in politics, whether it’s in the nonprofit sector, or even in the military.
“That’s what VMI is truly all about—serving as a role model and as a leader, and also helping people, helping your community, helping your country, and basically being a part of that call to selfless service.”
Editor’s Note: A version of this story was posted on richmond.com.
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