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Partin ’14: “A Degree from VMI Does Speak Volumes”

Johnny Partin '14 posing on bridge.

Johnny Partin ’14 joined the National Guard his 2nd Class year. After graduation, he was elected to Hopewell City Council and became vice mayor at age 28.—Photos by Micalyn Miller, VMI Alumni Agencies.

Just eight years out from VMI graduation, Johnny Partin ’14 is giving back to his state and local communities in significant ways.

A civil and environmental engineering major and distinguished graduate with Institute Honors, Partin has put his degree and leadership skills to use both in the civilian and military worlds. His day job is with chemical manufacturer AdvanSix in Hopewell, Virginia, and he also serves as vice mayor of Hopewell, chairman of the Hopewell Water Renewal Commission, and a captain in the Virginia Army National Guard.

With a passion for environmental stewardship, Partin has also taken a leading role in creating the Tri-Cities Environmental Endowment, which provides funds for several Richmond-area localities seeking to improve their community’s environmental health and that of the Chesapeake Bay.

Growing up in the Enon area of Chesterfield County, just across the Appomattox River from Hopewell, Partin and his sister, Allison Partin ’17, heard about VMI from their grandfather, who ran the family’s heating oil business. The elder Partin hadn’t had a chance to complete his college education, but he encouraged his grandchildren to do so and singled out VMI as an ideal college.

“He was a firm believer in what [VMI] stood for: A good military education and developing citizen soldiers,” Partin recalled.

Thanks to that guidance, three of the six Partin grandchildren became VMI alumni: Johnny; Allison; and their cousin, Stephen Partin ’07.

As a cadet, Partin immersed himself in many activities and didn’t shrink back from challenges. He served as vice president of the Honor Court and was president of the VMI chapter of Engineers Without Borders his 1st Class year. All four years, his education was supported by the Col. William H. Dabney USMC Class of 1961 Merit Scholarship, which was established in 2010 in honor of Dabney, a highly decorated Vietnam War veteran who served as head of VMI’s NROTC unit from 1987-90 and was commandant of cadets during the 1989-90 academic year.

Partin began his own military service before graduation when he enlisted in the National Guard halfway through his 2nd Class year.

“I liked the flexibility that it provided and being able to still maintain a full-time civilian job, but still being able to serve in the military in a reserve status,” said Partin.

After graduation, while getting his civilian and military careers underway, Partin became involved in Hopewell, an independent city of just over 23,000 very near where he and Allison grew up.

“After VMI, I wanted to get involved in my community,” he explained. “And so, I started participating in city council meetings, attending school board meetings, and planning commission meetings. And I saw some things that I didn’t like and didn’t agree with. I thought that I could do a much better job.”

Now 29, Partin was elected to Hopewell City Council at 26 and was the youngest person to be nominated to serve as the city’s mayor. When he became vice mayor at the age of 28, he was the second-youngest person elected to serve as vice mayor.

“VMI instilled a greater sense of service above self. And I think what it also did for me was it set me up for success."

Johnny Partin ’14

Running for office meant selling himself to people several decades his senior, but this didn’t faze Partin. “The vast majority of folks had open ears, and they were willing to listen because I attended so many city council meetings, and I knew what was going on in the community,” he stated.

“I had a good work ethic and professional experience—and a degree from VMI does speak volumes.”

Right away, Partin got to work on the critical issues facing Hopewell, a locality that’s long been known for its chemical industry and for the environmental crisis that took place there when employees of Allied Signal Corp. illegally dumped a toxic insecticide, Kepone, into storm drains leading to the James River during the 1970s. The river has since recovered, but Hopewell, like many other small communities, has struggled to pay for essential services and keep its infrastructure updated.

With that background in mind, Partin lists several items as his “biggest and proudest” accomplishments as a member of city council: Expanding the police and restructuring their pay for the largest pay increase in the city’s history; strengthening the city’s stormwater management program; completing multiple creek, stream, and ravine environmental restorations; and upgrading and rebuilding the city’s wastewater treatment plant.

Since graduating from VMI, Partin’s tenacious work ethic and passion for environmental restoration and remediation have earned him a reputation as an emerging environmental leader.

And when the COVID-19 crisis hit, Partin was ready to serve as a member of the National Guard. In March 2020, Partin was a company commander, and his unit was called up on active duty federal orders to help with the nation’s pandemic response.

“In the first several months, we primarily did all testing missions, where we would go out to jails, nursing homes, communities, different settings and test people in order to determine if they had COVID-19,” he explained.

Once vaccines were developed and authorized, Partin’s National Guard unit switched its focus to getting shots in arms. Working alongside the Virginia Department of Health and the Virginia Department of Emergency Management, Partin and others crisscrossed the state, setting up mobile vaccine clinics to reach people in underserved areas. On these missions, Partin estimates that he visited 85-90% of the Old Dominion’s cities and counties.

For Partin, his National Guard and public service activities are a natural outgrowth of the “great foundational blocks,” such as honor, character, and discipline that the Institute imparts to its graduates.

“VMI instilled a greater sense of service above self,” Partin noted. “And I think what it also did for me was it set me up for success. It provided me with the tools and the resources in order to go out into the community and actually bring about positive change. It taught me leadership skills. It also taught me how to work with people from different backgrounds and different lifestyles. And truly, I believe it laid a great foundation for myself, in order for me to build upon out in the public and private sectors.”

  • Mary Price

    Mary Price Development Writer/Communications Specialist

    The development writer plays a key role in producing advancement communications. This role imagines, creates, and produces a variety of written communication to inspire donors to make gifts benefiting VMI. Utilizing journalistic features and storytelling, the development writer will produce content for areas such as Annual Giving, stewardship, and gift planning.