When Sherry Earley left local government after working in it for many years, she thought she would never look back. Little did she know, it would pull her back into the fold sooner rather than later.
In March 1, 2021, Earley became director of engineering for the City of Newport News.
“I missed it,” says Earley, who worked for decades in city governments throughout Hampton Roads, including stints in Suffolk, Poquoson and Virginia Beach. “I didn’t think I would, but I did.”
After retiring from a long tenure in municipal government, Earley decided to take a consulting position in North Carolina. But when COVID hit, and job reductions were forthcoming, Earley decided to dip her toes back into the waters of local government. She heard about the Newport News position and applied.
The rest is history.
Earley, 59, moved back to Hampton Roads and assumed the reigns of the engineering department. A graduate of Old Dominion University, Earley was thrilled to be back in the public sphere and back in an area with which she was so familiar.
“A big part of it was that it was an area I knew,” says Earley, who grew up in Norton, a town in Southwest Virginia. She wasted no time jumping right into the job. She has embraced all the different aspects of her position.
The Department of Engineering in Newport News handles a wide array of projects and oversight, running the gamut from building rehabilitation to road and bridge projects to storm drain efforts. The department employs 103 people, including 25 engineers and three architects. There are 200 active engineering projects taking place in the city at any one time, Earley says.
“I love the variety,” she says from her office on the seventh floor of City Hall overlooking Newport News Shipyard and the James River. One of the biggest projects underway currently in Newport News is the new transportation center being built in Denbigh to replace the train station now located on Warwick Boulevard.
“It’s a beautiful facility,” Earley says. “It’s amazing seeing it go from a vacant piece of land to a beautifully designed building.”
Because of the unique geography of Newport News, engineering in the city can be challenging, as there are wetlands, railroads and ribbons of interstates with which to contend. But for Earley, that’s one of the parts of the job she adores. She is a problem solver by nature and not one to wither in the face of a difficult scenario.
“We are always trying to find solutions,” Earley says.
Often out of her office at job sites, Earley likes to be hands-on and in contact with her engineers. “My philosophy is that I want to help my staff get the resources they need to get the job done. I want to help in any way I can,” she says. “I get very involved. I have an open-door policy. I like to get to know folks on a personal level.
“The staff here is incredible. They are amazing to work with,” she says. “There is a lot of great history and knowledge here.”
Earley says she couldn’t be any happier with the people who comprise her department, which is always looking for ways to improve and up its game. “We are constantly looking at new technology and solutions to help us with our mission,” she says.
Earley describes her job as “conducting an orchestra.” “When all the pieces come together, it sounds really good,” she says.
Earley earned a bachelor of science degree in civil engineering at Old Dominion University.
Engineering seemed like a natural for Earley, as she was one of those children who loved taking things apart and had a knack for building with Tinker Toys and Erector Sets.
An avid reader, Earley loves to read “anything and everything.” She enjoys being outside and finding walking trails. When she’s not working, she is often heading back to North Carolina, where her husband and daughter still live.
The distance is challenging, but the new job has been worth it. “It’s been a great year,” Earley says with a smile.
TO THE POINT:
Sherry Earley, director of engineering, City of Newport News
Address: 2400 Washington Ave., Newport News, VA 23607