Virginia can brag about many things. The state is, after all, believed to be the original home of the first viable streetcar, one of the nation’s first mental health facilities, and most recently, one of the nation’s youngest local officials.
In June of 2022 Maeve McCulloch was your average 18-year-old. A month later, she found herself sitting on Ridgeway’s town council as its newest and youngest member.
“‘Oh my gosh, this is crazy,’ I guess was my immediate reaction,” McCulloch said about learning Ridgeway officials had appointed her to sit on the council that serves a population of 746.
A recent graduate of Magna Vista High School, McCulloch currently divides her time between her job at Marshalls, her studies at Patrick and Henry Community College and Ridgeway’s town council. As a Ridgeway native, McCulloch boasts knowledge of the town and its people, describing it as the kind of tight-knit community that is easy to get involved with.
“I was involved with the town for all of my high school career,” McCulloch said. “I was on the mayor’s Youth Advisory Committee for all of high school.”
It was her time spent on that committee that catapulted her to the town council. Ridgeway Mayor Craig O’Der described her as a standout.
“I could see a lot of leadership skills in her,” O’Der said. “It seemed like she had an interest in serving the public.”
Speaking with the town’s other public officials, O’Der was one of McCulloch’s primary advocates, convincing the council to appoint her to a seat that had been recently vacated. O’Der said he knew she would be a good fit for the role, despite her age.
McCulloch’s ascension to the town board creates a family tradition. Susan McCulloch, Maeve’s mother and current Danville Housing Development Division Director, had also served on Ridgeway’s board. Maeve McCulloch took over from her mother on Ridgeway’s board.
“My mom was super involved in the town,” Maeve McCulloch said, before later adding, “My mom is like my ultimate inspiration. She has always worked so hard, and she has always cared and done everything she can to make her world a better place.”
The transition from civilian to official wasn’t easy. She admits her background in local governance isn’t as extensive as her fellow board members.
“I don’t have much [experience] because I am 19 years old,” McCulloch said. “I always ran for student elections all through middle school and elementary school even. My mom works in government, she still does, so it’s been around me my whole life. It’s just the leadership aspect of it that I’ve always been drawn towards.”
Although McCulloch’s term was scheduled to end at the end of 2022, she wanted to continue serving her hometown. Undeterred by the timing of her appointment, which precluded her name from being on the ballot, she engaged in a write-in campaign.
“Me and my dad went out to the polls on Election Day,” McCulloch said. “We were meeting people, talking to people and asking for write-ins.”
Her efforts proved successful. According to canvas data from Virginia’s Department of Elections, McCulloch garnered 17 or 3.4% of the votes. With three candidates on the ballot seeking six seats, this placed her fourth.
At the close of the 2022 midterms, she had officially been elected to Ridgeway’s council.
“These people seem to think I have something,” McCulloch said, before adding, “That’s pretty cool.”
While her election gave her position an air of legitimacy, McCulloch maintains that she never felt looked down on because of her age.
“I never felt like anyone really looked down on me, although I could understand why they would,” McCulloch said.
McCulloch feels good about the job she has done thus far, even managing to garner attention from Gov. Glenn Youngkin, who sent her a letter congratulating her on her electoral victory.
“He said that young people getting involved in our government was really important,” McCulloch. “It was really humbling and sweet that he took the time to send that to me.”
Both O’Der and McCulloch agree with Youngkin saying fresh perspectives are always welcome.
“I think they felt…that I’d bring a younger perspective to the table,” McCulloch said, with O’Der echoing, “I think it’s good to have someone like Maeve, a college student, being involved in governmental affairs because you get a different point of view.”
To this end, McCulloch has several ideas for the town including updating its website and getting more involved with social media.
“I want to have more events in the town,” McCulloch said.
Right now, McCulloch has her eyes set on Ridgeway, although she does admit to having higher political aspirations.
“Hopefully, after I get my bachelor’s degree, I want to keep seeing what I can do to make our country a better place,” McCulloch said. “And our state, I love Virginia so much, and I want to make it a better place to live in.”