After a long and successful career that began in local newsrooms and culminated with over 40 years of work at the Virginia General Assembly in a variety of capacities, August “Augie” Wallmeyer (BS Mass Communications ‘77/H&S) has not quietly entered retirement. Rather, he’s used his investigative and research skills to illuminate the cultural and economic divide between the urban and rural regions of the Commonwealth in his 2016 book, “The Extremes of Virginia.”
Augie had already begun working as a broadcast news writer, reporter and state capitol correspondent before he began his coursework at VCU, and he continued working in Virginia radio and television newsrooms for a number of years while earning his degree. He went on to work as a speechwriter for the Attorney General of Virginia, as the primary news media spokesperson for a utility company and later founded a communications and public relations firm focused on representing electricity generation clients. For more than 25 years, Augie lobbied members of the Virginia General Assembly and gubernatorial administrations on behalf of those clients.
Several times a year, Augie and his wife Kathy made a road trip through rural Southwest Virginia to her home state of Alabama. He points to these brief but recurring encounters with the region as the spark that started his book project. Augie teases that the book simply grew out of the fact that he “knew a little bit about legislature, a little bit about the depressed areas and economies of the state, and a little bit about writing.” In truth, the considerable success of his career, his established rapport with members of the General Assembly of Virginia and a lifetime of experiences that spanned the state made him uniquely suited to tackle the issues raised in the book and, perhaps more importantly, to present the information to the lawmakers and policymakers who could make sweeping changes for those regions. He envisioned the impact he might have on legislators who help drive economic and social improvements and made it his mission to author the primary text that would educate them on the conditions of these rural and poor areas of the state. After a year of research, he came to understand that “the situation in rural areas was actually much worse than I first imagined.”
And so he wrote “The Extremes of Virginia,” to shed light on how Southwest, Southside and the Eastern Shore of Virginia compare with Virginia as a whole in terms of healthcare, health outcomes, education, illegal drug use, unemployment, job training and economic development efforts. The book offers evidence of the current state of these issues in each region and makes some key recommendations on how new or shifted resources could improve conditions. “Now, more than 50% of the legislature come from somewhere else, and they don’t have a deep-seated understanding of these depressed areas of the state. Increasing their level of understanding and making them more aware might be the first step toward improving conditions for the one million or so Virginians living in these areas.”
Augie’s wife Kathy calls the publication, which entered its sixth printing recently, “the little book that could” as it has come to be widely regarded as a primer for legislators and a must-read for anyone proposing policy to benefit these three regions of the Commonwealth. The book has garnered a great deal of attention by members of the General Assembly and other prominent elected officials and has kept Augie busy with dozens of public appearances to discuss his findings. Several jobs and economic development proposals have passed in the state legislature as a result of the book’s influence. Until the day when life in the ‘extremes’ of Virginia are improved, Augie plans to tirelessly champion this cause.
Written by Caitlin Hanbury