Talk about someone who brings heaven to earth! Stuart Blackwell, groundskeeper at the Virginia state Capitol and Richmond’s First Baptist Church does it almost every day. In fact, it’s one of the things our neighbors appreciate most about our church—the beautiful grounds and landscaping. Stuart was recognized as one of Virginia Commonwealth University’s “Unsung Heroes” on Friday of last week. Here’s the story that appeared in the Richmond Times-Dispatch on Saturday morning:
Stuart Blackwell was 20 years old when a Richmond employment office steered him to the state Capitol to find work.
He was hired that day in 1963 and never left.
Now 69, Blackwell has spent nearly five decades caring for the manicured Capitol grounds. He’s an unseen hand pruning, weeding, planting, shoveling and sprucing up the picturesque spot for its visitors.
On Friday, it was Blackwell’s turn to be admired. He received the Unsung Heroes Award from the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs at Virginia Commonwealth University.
“When I first started working for the state back in 1963 I had no idea that after almost 50 years I would still be here,” Blackwell said in accepting the award. “What started as a wage position, it turned into my life career.”
Blackwell started at $1.25 an hour when Gov. Albertis Sydney Harrison Jr. was the state’s chief executive, a time when grass sprouts between the bricks were removed by hand and tool.
“I used to edge all this grass with hand clippers, little small hand clippers,” he said in an interview this week as he looked over the sweeping lawn on Capitol Square.
The number of buildings and acres of land to maintain have thinned, as has the size of the crew doing the work. But Blackwell’s stature on the job has grown and he’s now grounds supervisor for the Capitol, tending also to the Executive Mansion grounds.
The Lawrenceville native, who now lives in Richmond with his wife, Isabelle, can say which flowers are in the beds and which bulbs are under those.
“I’m not certain how many leaves I have raked, how many snows I have shoveled, how many blades of grass I have cut, but I have enjoyed every one of them,” he said Friday.
He arrives to work at 7 a.m. though his shift doesn’t start for 45 minutes and he has been known to finish landscaping on his own time.
And on top of it all, he’s described as a heck of a nice guy.
“When it snows and nobody in Richmond can get anywhere, he gets here and helps get the snow moved. He could be counted on any time of the day or night,” said Tony Griffin, deputy chief of maintenance and operations for the Department of General Services.
“He is dependable as the sun coming up every morning.”
—Olympia Meola, Richmond Times-Dispatch