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Dennis Ellmer got his business training early with a newspaper route, as a deli worker and shining shoes. From those humble beginnings, he has built one of the largest automotive retail operations in the nation.
Ellmer began his career at Cycle World and then at Colonial Chevrolet under the tutelage of the late Josh Darden. He credits Darden with providing his first opportunity in the car business and setting an example that emphasized the importance of integrity, service, community participation and personal commitment.
Ellmer launched his own brand, Priority Automotive, in 1999 with his acquisition of Kline Chevrolet and Kline Toyota in Chesapeake, VA. The newly branded Priority dealerships emphasized unparalleled customer service-their “we put you first” philosophy-and they prospered, becoming the market leaders in their very first year of operation. In 2001, he launched Priorities For Life, the value-added feature that has become the company’s differentiating hallmark.
Following closely on the success of those first two dealerships, Ellmer began seeking other opportunities. Soon the Priority sign rose in front of Acura, Honda and Hyundai dealerships in Chesapeake where he also built one of the largest Toyota dealerships in America. Soon he built Toyota, Nissan and Volkswagen dealerships in Richmond, as well as collision repair centers and independent used car businesses, while expanding the Priority brand into the Charlotte area with the acquisition of a Honda dealership and an Infiniti dealership in Chesapeake, VA.
More recently Priority acquired Honda, Toyota and Braun Ability dealerships in Hampton, VA; Nissan and Chevrolet dealerships in Newport News, VA; and an additional Nissan location in Williamsburg, VA. Priority has since expanded into the metropolitan Washington DC market with Nissan and Mazda dealerships in Tysons Comer, VA; a Nissan dealership in Chantilly, VA; and one of the nation’s largest Toyota dealerships in Springfield, VA. In 2019, he raised the Priority sign at a Honda dealership in Roanoke, VA. Today Priority owns 19 dealerships from Washington to Charlotte, operates numerous collision repair centers and used car dealerships and employs more than 2000 people. Priority is ranked among the top dealer groups in the U.S.
Dennis Ellmer and his Priority team have achieved local, regional and national recognition for their performance and their community contributions. In 2019, Akio Toyoda, President of Toyota Motor Corporation presented him with the Best In Town award, a national honor presented to only one Toyota dealership in the U.S. The award recognizes Ellmer’s ground breaking Inmate Training Program, which trains non-violent inmates to be automotive technicians, leading to full time employment after completion of their sentences.
Just as he never forgot his early business lessons, Ellmer also remembered the lessons he learned about the importance of community. From the earliest days of Priority, he encouraged his employees to give back to the community as he set the example himself. In addition to his financial contributions, he serves on various boards and committees, many related to improving the lives of Hampton Roads children. He is credited with rescuing the 50-year old Charity Bowl Football Game and raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for children’s charities. He is also active in numerous professional and civic organizations on the local, state and national levels.
Ellmer is very much a son of the Hampton Roads region of Virginia. Born in Chincoteague, VA he grew up in Ocean View, attended Holy Trinity School, and graduated from Norview High School. He has been married to wife Jan for 37 years and they have 3 children. The family lives in Virginia Beach.
Mr W Willis Houston – 1928
Mr Southgate Leigh, Sr – 1929
Mr Charles L Kaufman – 1930
Mr George H Lewis – 1931
Mrs Florence K Sloane – 1932
Mr David Pender – 1933
Mr Winder R Harris – 1934
Mr A Herbert Foreman – 1935
Mr A B Schwarzkopf – 1936
Mr C Wiley Grandy – 1937
Rev Sparks W Melton, DD – 1938
Rev W H T Squires, DD – 1939
Mr Robert Prentis Beaman – 1940
Mr Daniel M Thornton – 1941
Mr Richard Dickson Cooke – 1942
Colonel James W Roberts – 1943
Colonel James Mann – 1944
Mrs A O Calcott – 1945
Hon Colgate W Darden, Jr – 1946
Hon Oscar F Smith – 1947
Mr Melvin T Blassingham – 1948
Mr Stephen A MacDonald – 1949
Mr Thomas P Thompson – 1950
Mr Earl T Gresham – 1951
Mr John Samuel Alfriend – 1952
Mr Hunter Clemens Phelan – 1953
Mr Crawford Stanley Rogers – 1954
Dr Walter B Martin – 1955
Mr William Frederick Duckworth – 1956
Mr Samuel Thomas Northern – 1957
Mr Henry Clay Hofheimer, II – 1958
Mr Barron Foster Black – 1959
Mr John Summerfield Jenkins, Jr – 1960
Mr Joshua Pretlow Darden – 1961
Mr Lewis Warrington Webb, Jr – 1962
Mr James Hoge Tyler, III – 1963
Mr Forrest Franklin Cathey – 1964
Mr Harry Borum Price, Jr – 1965
Mr Frank Batten – 1966
Dr Mason C Andrews – 1967
Mr Clinton Elmo Thurston, Jr – 1968
Mr John Lonsdale Roper, II – 1969
Mr Vincent J Thomas – 1970
Mr Thomas A Hanes – 1971
Mr William Farley Powers, Sr – 1972
Hon Roy B Martin, Jr – 1973
Mr Frederic Heutte – 1974
Mr Harry H Mansbach – 1975
Mr Richard F Welton, III – 1976
Mr Aubrey Guy Graham – 1977
Mr W Wright Harrison – 1978
Mrs Justine L Nusbaum – 1979
Mr Toy D Savage, Jr – 1980
Mr Roy Randolph Charles – 1981
Dr Robert L Payne, Jr – 1982
Mr John R Sears, Jr – 1983
Mr Moses Gilbert Todd – 1984
Mr Charles F Burroughs, Jr – 1985
Mr Doyle E Hull – 1986
Mrs Dorothy M Doumar – 1987
Drs Georgeanna and Howard Jones, Jr – 1988
Mr Clifford A Cutchins, III – 1989
Dr Charles E Horton – 1990
Mr Harvey L Lindsay, Jr – 1991
Mr Joshua P Darden, Jr – 1992
Mr Hunter A Hogan, Jr – 1993
Mr Thomas H Willcox, Jr – 1994
Mr Harold C (Hap) Hoy – 1995
Mr Robert C Nusbaum – 1996
Mrs Constance Curtis Laws – 1997
Mr Peter G Decker, Jr – 1998
Mr Thomas G Johnson, Jr – 1999
Mr Irvine B Hill – 2000
Mr Arthur A Diamonstein – 2001
E George Middleton, Jr – 2002
Rev Dr John H Foster – 2003
Rev Joseph N Green – 2004
Eleanor Field Bradshaw – 2005
Mr George C Crawley – 2006
Dr William P Magee Jr and Kathleen S Magee – 2007
Hon Joseph A Leafe – 2008
Vincent J Mastracco, Jr – 2009
Jane Parke Batten – 2010
Mr David R Goode and Mrs Susan S Goode – 2011
Mrs Linda H Kaufman – 2012
Patricia Peace Rawls – 2013
The Honorable Dr. G. William Whitehurst – 2014. Dr. G. William Whitehurst is a native of Norfolk, Virginia, and was educated in its public schools. Following military service in World War II in the U.S. Navy, he attended Washington and Lee University where he received his B.A. in History in 1950. He received his MA. in History at the University of Virginia in 1951, and his Ph.D. in American Diplomatic History at West Virginia University in 1962. In 1950, he began his teaching career at the forerunner of Old Dominion University, the Norfolk Division of William & Mary, as an instructor in the History Department. In 1963, he was appointed Dean of Students and held that position until his election in 1968 to the Ninety-First Congress as the Representative for the 2nd District of Virginia. A Republican, he served until his retirement from the House of Representatives in January 1987. During that time he served eighteen years on the House Armed Services Committee, six years on the House Select Committee on Intelligence, and two years on the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct (the Ethics Committee). Additionally, he served for ten years as a delegate to the North Atlantic Assembly, the parliamentary arm of NATO, and three one-year terms on the Board of Visitors of the United States Naval Academy. Dr. Whitehurst kept a diary of his Congressional activities during his years in the House and subsequently published two volumes of excerpts covering the years 1972 to 1981. They are DIARY OF A CONGRESSMAN and DIARY OF A CONGRESSMAN: ABSCAM AND BEYOND. The original diary detailing his entire career from 1969 to 1987 is now at the Perry Library at Old Dominion University and is available for research purposes. On his retirement from Congress, Dr. Whitehurst returned to Old Dominion University to resume his academic career and is currently the Kaufman Lecturer in Public Affairs. He teaches courses in both history and political science.
J. Douglas and Patricia W. Perry – 2015. Known simply as Doug and Pat, the Perry’s live the example of what it means to be leaders in their community. Together, they have extended guidance and philanthropic support to numerous charitable organizations, including The Chrysler Museum, The Hurrah Players, Governor’s School for the Arts, The Virginia Stage Company, Slover Library, The Salvation Army’s Kroc Center, Virginia Symphony Orchestra, Virginia Arts Festival, Old Dominion University, Access College Foundation, An Achievable Dream, Samaritan House and many more. When one of the Perry’s three children created a plaque in kindergarten that read: “My mom makes pies. That’s all she does,” Pat decided to return to college. She enrolled at Old Dominion University, balancing the care of her family with a demanding academic load and earned her bachelor’s degree in 1989, graduating with honors. Since graduating, Pat has served on the University’s Board of Visitors, the Chair of the Institutional Advancement Committee, and as a member of the Academic Affairs Committee. She has also served as Vice Chair of the Governor’s Board on Child Abuse and Neglect, a board member for Samaritan House Safe Harbor Center, the Vice President of the Board of Trustees for St. Mary’s Home for Disabled Children, a member of the First Lady of the Commonwealth Advisory Council and a member of the board of The Virginia Stage Company. As a co-founder of Dollar Tree, Doug is a recognized business leader in the Hampton Roads community. He, along with his partners, Ray Compton and Macon Brock, strategically built Dollar Tree from a single store to the nation’s largest single price point retailer. Doug retired as an officer of Dollar Tree in 1999 and continues to serve on the company’s board of directors. Doug has held positions on various boards and committees over the years, including Chairman of the Board of Trustees for Cape Henry Collegiate School, Treasurer and Executive Committee member for Old Dominion University Educational Foundation, board member for the restoration of the USS Wisconsin and board member of Bon Secours Medical Center. He also served several years as a board member for The Salvation Army’s Tidewater Area Command. The Perry’s were honored as the 2010 Outstanding Individual Philanthropists by the Association of Fundraising Professionals – Hampton Roads, and have received ODU’s Batten Award, which symbolizes their philanthropic support and guidance for the University.
James (Jim) B. Oliver, Jr. – 2016 University of Notre Dame, B.A., Communication Arts, 1964. Columbia University, CBS Fellowship, Government, 1968-69. Old Dominion University, Masters Degree, Urban Services, 1994. . Interim City Manager, City of Hampton, 2009. City Manager, City of Portsmouth, 2004-2007. Vice President, CI Travel, Norfolk, Va, 2002-2004. Practitioner-in-Residence, Regent University 2000-2002. Coordinator of “Crossroads”, The College of William & Mary, 2000-2002. Consultant, National Academy of Public Administration, 2000. Mediator, Virginia Commission of Local Government, Mecklenburg-South Hill Annexation, 1999. City Manager, City of Norfolk, 1987-1999. County Administrator, James City County, 1976-86. Assistant City Manager, City of Norfolk, 1970-76. Public Information Officer, City of Norfolk, 1969-70. Reporter-legislative correspondent, WTAR Radio-TV, 1964-69. Reporter, South Bend Tribune and WSBT-TV, 1963-64. . Mr. Oliver’s Publications. “Regionalism and The Dillon Rule”, An Interpretive Essay, The State of the Region, 2001, by Jim Oliver. “City Management as Community Building”, Public Management, Spring 1999, John Nalbandian, Ph.D.., and James B. Oliver, Jr.. “Governance and Citizenship”, Fall Edition 1999, The Virginia Newsletter, Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service, University of Virginia.. The Urban Partnership and the Development of Virginia’s New Regional Competitiveness Act, The Regionalist, Spring, 1997, Roger Richman, Ph.D., and James B. Oliver, Jr.. “The Plight of the Cities”, Commentary Section, The Virginian-Pilot, March 1998. . Mr. Oliver’s Achievements. Clarence Ridley ICMA Award for Outstanding Organizational Development, 1992. Public Technology Incorporated (PTI) National Technology Leadership Award, 1993. Member, Board of Directors, Urban Partnership for Virginia, 1994-1999. Co-Chair, Research and Issues Committee, Urban Partnership, 1994-1996. Presidential Citation of Merit, The American Society for Public Administation, 1996. T. Edward Temple Award, Virginia’s Outstanding Public Administrator, ASPA, 1985. Member, Governor’s Advisory Commission on the Revitalization of Virginia’s Urban Areas, 1993. President, Virginia Association of County Administrators, 1985. NROTC Scholarship, University of Notre Dame, 1961. CBS Fellowship, Columbia University, 1968-69. Producer, Associated Press Outstanding Television Documentary, State of Virginia, 1969. Member, Governor’s Rural Affairs Council, 1980-82. Member, Virginia Community Development Task Force, 1982-84. Executive Committee, Virginia Section, International City Management Association, 1984-87. Member, ICMA FutureVisions Task Force, 1989-90. Member, Commonwealth of Virginia Local Health Benefits Advisory Committee, 1989-92. National City Government Industry Chairman, U.S. Savings Bond Volunteer Program, 1992-94. Executive Committee, Virginia Innovations Group, 1983-1998. Chair, Police Committee of the ICMA Performance Measurement Consortium, 1994-98. Member, Governmental Accomplishment and Accountability Task Force, ASPA, 1994-96. Public Executive of the Year, Hampton Roads, 2014, Old Dominion University, School of Public Service. . Mr. Oliver’s Associations. Advisory Committee, University of Virginia, Senior Executive Program, 1988-1999. Advisory Board, College of William & Mary, Thomas Jefferson Public Policy Program,1988-99. Advisory Board, Old Dominion University, College of Business-Public Administration, 1990-95. Advisory Board, Business School, Regent University, 1993-Present. Board of Directors, National Maritime Center (Nauticus), 1987-1998. Member, City of Norfolk Bond Commission, 1987-1998. Trustee, Norfolk City Employees Retirement System, 1987-1998. Board of Directors, Vice-President, Catholic Charities of Hampton Roads, 1970-2006. Pastoral Representative, St. Bede’s Pastoral Council, Williamsburg 1980-1986. Team Member, Cursillo 1981-1984. President, Catholic Charities of Hampton Roads Foundation, 1999-2002. Member, St. Gregory’s School Board, 1999-2002. Member, Parish Council, St. Gregory The Great Church, 2000. Host, Small Faith Group, St. Gregory The Great Church, 2000-2010. Chairman, Hampton Roads Center for Civic Engagement, 2008-2013. Chairman, Emeritus, 2013-2014, Hampton Roads Center for Civic Engagement. Board of Directors, Future of Hampton Roads 2000-2014. Executive Committee, Future of Hampton Roads, 2012-2014. Advisory Board, Old Dominion University, School of Public Service, 2014. National Advisory Board, Regent University, MPA Program, 2014.
The Honorable Paul D. Fraim – 2017 Paul Fraim was born in Norfolk, Virginia, graduated from Norfolk Catholic High School, completed undergraduate studies at Virginia Military Institute, received his Masters of Education from the University of Virginia, his law degree from the University of Richmond, and was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Norfolk State University. A member of the Norfolk City Council from 1986 to 2016, was appointed mayor on July 1, 1994 and re-appointed every two years until May 2006 when he became the first popularly elected mayor since 1916. He was twice re-elected mayor and did not seek re-election in 2016. He is the longest serving mayor in the history of Norfolk. Mr. Fraim began private practice in May 1977 and is president of the law firm Fraim and Fiorella, P.C. He is chairman and president of the Slover Library Foundation, a member of the Eastern Virginia Medical School Board of Visitors, Board of Trustees for the Chrysler Museum of Art, Towne Bank Norfolk Advisory Board, the Greater Norfolk Corporation, the Virginia Arts Festival Board of Directors, Nauticus Foundation Board, and the VMI Investment Holding Board. He is a former chairman of the Hampton Roads Mayors and Chairs Caucus, Hampton Roads Planning District Commission, Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization, Hampton Roads Military and Federal Facilities Alliance, USS Wisconsin Foundation, and Norfolk Electoral Board. His is past president of the VMI Board of Visitors. Mr. Fraim is a former member of the Hampton Roads Transportation Accountability Commission, Eastern Virginia Medical School Foundation, and the TowneBank Board of Directors. He was co-captain of the football team at VMI and coached football at the University of Virginia and the University of Richmond. The Norfolk Sports Club named him “Man of the Year” in sports in the metropolitan area for 1994. In 1995, he received Old Dominion’s “Bud Metheny” award, and was named “Sportsman of the Year” in 1996 by the Virginian-Pilot. He has been inducted into the Hampton Roads Sports Hall of Fame. Other awards include the United States Navy’s Superior and Meritorious Public Service Award medals, the National Conference of Christians and Jews Humanitarian Award, Downtown Norfolk Council Lifetime Achievement Award and Downtowner of the Year, “Colgate Darden Scouter Citizen of the Year” award given by the Tidewater Council of the Boy Scouts of America, Hampton Roads Maritime Association’s Port Champion Award, Catholic Charities of Eastern Virginia’s Bishop’s Humanitarian Award, A Home for Every American Award given by the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, Hampton Roads Realtor’s Association’s Housing Advocate of the Year, Chesapeake Climate Action Network’s Coastal Climate Champion Award, For Kids 2014 Phoenix Award’s Children’s Champion, the 2017 Lifetime Award of Service from the Norfolk Environmental Commission, and the Urban Renewal Center’s Lead Like King Award. Mr. Fraim is a member of the Virginia State Bar. He is a member of and served on the Executive Committee of the Virginia Bar Association, and is a fellow of the Virginia Law Foundation.
Joan Brock – 2018 A native of Norfolk, Virginia Joan graduated from Longwood University with a Bachelor of Arts Degree with a minor in Mathematics. Fascinated by the visual arts while volunteering as a museum docent, she returned to university to earn her Master of Arts in Humanities. Steadfast in her community efforts, Brock dedicates her knowledge and skills to organizations and programs that benefit culture, education, and community. She has chaired the board of Virginia Wesleyan College, the Access College Foundation and was the first woman to preside over the Chrysler Museum Board. She currently serves on the National Board of Women United, an affiliate of the United Way. Mrs. Brock has served on the Sentara Board of Directors and served as chair of the Sentara Foundation. She currently serves on the Hampton Roads Community Foundation board. Devoted to the Hampton Roads community, she and her husband established the M. Foscue Brock Institute for Community and Global Health at Eastern Virginia Medical School. With their interest in protecting our environment, they helped fund the Brock Environmental Center in Virginia Beach. The Brocks have received many commendations for their commitment to giving back. Most recently, they were recognized as Health Care Heroes for their participation in health-related philanthropy by Inside Business magazine and were honored as Outstanding Philanthropists by the National Board of American Fundraising Professionals in 2015. Joan Brock is the widow of Macon Brock, co-founder of Dollar Tree Stores, Inc. She worked as part of the administrative team of the company for over 30 years. She and her husband had been married 53 years, with three children and six grandchildren.
An outstanding project of the Norfolk Cosmopolitan Club is the annual awarding of the Cosmopolitan Distinguished Service Award medal to Norfolk’s First Citizen, selected each year from nominations submitted by the general public. This has been a continuous event since its inception in 1928.
The concept of the “First Citizen Award”, as it has become to be known, originated from the mind of Charter Member Thomas A Hanes of the Norfolk Cosmopolitan Club who himself was honored by becoming the first Cosmopolitan ever to receive the award as its Forty-Eighth Recipient in 1971, one year before his death. Harold C (Hap) Hoy, Past President of the Norfolk Cosmopolitan Club in 1978, became the second Club Member honored with this prestigious award in 1995, its Sixty-Eighth Recipient.