Roger E. Hedgepeth, who served as Blacksburg’s mayor for nearly a quarter-century, left a permanent mark on local government.
Hedgepeth, 89, died of natural causes Tuesday at an assisted living facility in Bristol, Tennessee.
“I think he had a good run,” his son Michael Hedgepeth said. “He accomplished a number of things in his life.”
Hedgepeth was Blacksburg’s second-longest serving mayor, holding the position from 1982 to 2006. Prior to his first election as mayor, he served two years as a town council member.
Blacksburg’s town council chamber inside the Municipal Building is named for Hedgepeth, a reflection of his steady influence.
“Roger should be recognized for his length of service to the town of Blacksburg, as well as the decorum and respect of office he displayed,” former Blacksburg councilman and current town planning commission member Don Langrehr said. “I was always impressed with the composure he maintained despite the rancor surrounding much of Blacksburg’s politics.”
Hedgepeth’s political career began as Blacksburg’s population grew dramatically, from 9,000 in 1980 to 30,000 a decade later.
He championed progressive yet measured growth, backing projects such as the Smart Road and the Kent Square downtown Blacksburg commercial complex that provided the town with its first parking garage.
The Smart Road aimed to enhance transportation research at Virginia Tech and also provide a more direct highway link from Blacksburg and the university’s campus to Interstate 81.
Hotly debated when proposed, the 2.2-mile closed circuit road opened in March 2000 without the interstate link. It has been the site of research and development by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute of new technologies such as self-driving vehicles.
Hedgepeth unsuccessfully battled during his mayoral career to change Blacksburg from town to city status and to build a sewer system through the Toms Creek Basin.
A Norfolk native, Hedgepeth received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Virginia Tech in 1952 and 1956.
He began teaching at his alma mater in 1954 and spent 38 years at the university as a faculty member in mechanical engineering and cooperative education.
“He just fell in love with the place and never wanted to be in any other place than right here,” Michael Hedgepeth said. “He liked everything Blacksburg represented.”
Hedgepeth was an avid music collector , primarily classical and was known for his keen interests in general history and biography.
“What it meant for us growing up was to be open .... to be among diversity,” Michael Hedgepeth said.
He recalled his father listening to music on the headphones as his mother cooked dinner
, and proclaiming to him that he was listening to the greatest band of all time: the Grateful Dead.
“Next it could be Bob Dylan or Miles Davis,” he said.
Roger Hedgepeth’s entry into local politics began simply as a concerned citizen.
He once used his expertise in engineering to successfully argue against the widening of Toms Creek Road to four lanes, his son recalled.
“At that point, neighbors approached my father,” Michael Hedgepeth said. “He was an effective spokesperson for the neighborhood.”
Blacksburg Clerk Donna Boone-Caldwell said the former mayor’s courtly leadership skills were what the locality needed during the 1980s and 1990s.
“I will always remember Mayor Hedgepeth as a gentle soul,” said Boone-Caldwell. “He was a deep thinker and a problem solver who could accomplish more over a cup of coffee than most people could after many hours of negotiation.”
In the 2000s, Hedgepeth advocated building a conventional sewer through the Toms Creek Basin. That proposal received pushback from the political group Citizens First, which questioned how the sewer would be developed.
Citizens First also raised concerns that Blacksburg Town Council was steamrolling the democratic process and disregarding public opinion.
The group ultimately decided to back three anti-sewer candidates — including Langrehr and Hedgepeth’s eventual mayoral successor Ron Rordam . The three anti-sewer candidates won their election bids and council ended up voting to kill the project.
Despite their differences, Rordam voiced respect for Hedgepeth, saying his former adversary on the project became a mentor .
“What I learned from him is I learned to be patient with things. He was very good at that,” Rordam said. “He was very thoughtful. Very thoughtful about his answer. He wouldn’t just jump at things. ”
Hedgepeth was also respected by developers who worked extensively in Blacksburg and often needed town government approval for projects.
“He was a nice person, and I think he was an excellent mayor,” said Bill Ellenbogen, who led development of the Huckleberry Trail and who owns University Mall. “He worked very hard to keep downtown Blacksburg viable. He was way ahead of his time and recognized the struggles of retail business, even before there was internet to compete with.”
Ellenbogen said he was asked by Hedgepeth in 1989 to work on the trail project, unique for its time, which sought to transform an old abandoned coal and passenger-hauling rail spur from downtown Blacksburg for recreational use.
Ellenbogen said the late mayor recognized the need to extend the popular trail beyond its then-1-mile length. .
“The trail is now a network of over 15 miles, and he deserves a lot of credit for initiating that growth,” Ellenbogen said.
Hedgepeth also received praise from veteran Blacksburg developer Jeanne Stosser, who was heavily involved in housing construction for a student population that grew along with Virginia Tech .
“Roger and his wife, Jenny, lived at one of our properties. They were there when we bought it and remained there until his daughter took him to be closer to her. We called Jenny ‘Mrs. Mayor,’ ” Stosser wrote in a text message.
“Roger was a gentle man who loved Blacksburg. He enjoyed his years at Tech … but I think he enjoyed his public service even more. We thoroughly enjoyed working with him and his council. Those were good times with different challenges than today.”
The Hedgepeth family is planning a memorial service for early December.
More details will be provided in an obituary planned for Sunday’s Roanoke Times, Michael Hedgepeth said.