Retirement brought an unsettling feeling to August “Augie”
Wallmeyer. After years of working long hours as an energy lobbyist, it felt
strange not to have every hour of the day planned.
So Wallmeyer, a board member of the Virginia Catholic Conference,
made a personal resolution. “Take this time that you now have and do something
useful,” he told himself.
He looked at some of the areas of Virginia where he had enjoyed
fishing and camping, and “something useful” came in the form of a book, The Extremes of Virginia. Published last summer, the
book is an in-depth look at the economic and social disparity that exists in
the Southwest, Southside and Eastern Shore regions of the state. The “extremes”
are some of the most beautiful areas of the commonwealth, but remain “unknown
to many, separated by distance, culture and economics, and unequal in
opportunity and education,” Wallmeyer writes in the book.
Wallmeyer lays out his case in 127 pages: The population, which
accounts for about 10 percent of Virginians, is older and poorer. The poverty
rate in these areas is 67 percent higher on average than the rest of the state.
Those who are employed earn far less than their peers in other areas. Drug
abuse, mainly in the form of opioids and methamphetamine, is rampant — with
overdoses 56 percent higher than the state as a whole. Suicide rates in some
areas are double or triple that of the state.
“Bluntly stated, there is a pervasive sense of pessimism,
hopelessness and doom in the extremes,” writes Wallmeyer, who worked as a news
reporter and speechwriter before his time as a lobbyist.
“While most love the rural
character, lifestyle and charms of the extremes areas and want to preserve
them, they would also like to have access to better education, healthcare, jobs
and more opportunity. They do not want to be treated, in the words of Ron Wolff
on the Eastern Shore, ‘as second class citizens.’ They want parity with the
rest of Virginia.”
That gets to the heart of why Wallmeyer wrote the book: he hopes
that Virginia lawmakers will take note and look for long-term solutions to end
systemic problems. He believes that most
do not understand the depth of the problems facing residents of the “extremes.”
For starters, he suggests investing in a meth offender registry
that would prevent past producers from buying one of the necessary ingredients
to make the drug, and providing more long-term drug rehab facilities. In some
areas, 93 percent of meth users relapse; this is because it can take a year and
a half to wean oneself off the dependency, while most facilities only accept
patients for six to 12 weeks.
But the problems require much greater expertise than one lobbyist
can provide, Wallmeyer said. He suggests hiring a nonprofit or global
consulting firm to provide a fresh look. The alternative, he says, is
“complacency and acceptance; both are unacceptable. It’s time to think
differently and think bigger. If independent foundations can attempt to
eradicate polio and AIDS worldwide, surely Virginia can confront its persistent
problems and make progress.”
For the average reader not in a position to make those kinds of
decisions, there are still some steps that can be taken. Wallmeyer suggests
donating to or volunteering for The Health Wagon, a mobile clinic founded by a
Catholic nun in 1980 at the request of the late Richmond Bishop Walter F.
Sullivan. Wallmeyer, a parishioner at St. Bridget Church in Richmond, lobbies
for the organization on a volunteer basis.
He also suggests volunteering for a weekend at a Remote Area
Medical Clinic. Hundreds of doctors, nurses and dentists descend on various
parts of Virginia a few times a year to assist patients who otherwise might not
have access to medical care; the event also needs volunteers to help direct the
Still, he recognizes that there are no easy solutions for
“Some of these problems
have been in place for 300 years,” Wallmeyer said. “I don’t expect in my
lifetime to see any huge, huge change. What I do hope to see is the beginning
Find out more
Go to extremesofvirgina.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
To learn more about The Health Wagon go to thehealthwagon.org; to find out
about volunteering at a Remote Area Medical Clinic, go to ramusa.org/Virginia.