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The Beauty & The Boss

The first time I met Rita McClenny was on the showroom floor of Very Ashley. On the hunt for a holiday gala gown, she floated around the store with somewhat of an angelic grace that takes years of experience to master. Not once did I ask her name. (Shame on me.) But her presence spoke volumes and left a lasting impression. 

A few mual friends later, I learned that McClenny wasn’t just a beautiful woman who glided ethereally amongst dresses. She was also the President and CEO of the Virginia Tourism Corporation. 

If you haven’t heard of the Virginia Tourism Corporation, you definitely know what they do. Tasked with the mission of expanding domestic and international in-bound travel and motion picture production to Virginia, the VTC is responsible for coining the phrase, “Virginia is for lovers” and is currently the most highly recognized tourism brand in the United States. 

In 2021, the VTC directed $50 million from the American Rescue Plan Act to 133 Virginia localities for tourism marketing and related expenses, helping the tourism industry get back on its feet after the 2020 pandemic. 

This past August, the VTC received the prestigious Mercury Award from the National Council of State Tourism Directors in the category of Industry and Strategic Partnerships for its “WanderLove” campaign. Per the press release, the campaign is described as a recovery initiative that united Virginia’s tourism industry, generated immediate economic impact for local communities and encouraged visitors to travel safely. This win was the 13th Mercury Award win for the VTC. 

And, that’s not all the VTC has accomplished while under McClenny’s wings.

“I think the relationship we’ve built with United Airlines is also a big win.” She states, “United has a hub at Dulles Airport. So, really our deep and ongoing relationship with United Airlines is big.” 

And the accolades don’t stop there. At least not for McClenny, who unsurprisingly, was just named the 2022 Person of the Year by Richmond Region Tourism.

Jokingly I ask, “Wow! How do you stay so humble? Because, I mean, by this time your head should be as big as a balloon!”

She responds in kind, “The size of a watermelon, right! But I don’t take anything for granted. Every day, I get up and get excited to go out and do the work on behalf of Virginia. And you know you have to be humble because that’s a Godly characteristic.”

“And how did you even get into all of this?” I ask.

“It’s just been a journey. And it was the right step at the right time,” she responds. 

Born and raised in Southampton County, McClenny made her way to and through Fisk University.  Later, she moved to Atlanta where she resided until she realized it was time to come home. 

“I returned to Virginia to be closer to my family. We were doing some work on the family farm. Then, babies were being born. And I was like, ‘OK, Rita. It’s time to move home.’” 

A few short years later, in 1991, McClenny began her role as Director of the Virginia Film Office, a division of the Virginia Tourism Corporation. It was there that she  worked to recruit and expand film production in Virginia. 

“I did that for 20 years,” she states as she continues to outline her journey.  “And when the woman who was leading tourism at the time returned home to take care of her parents, Governor Warner asked me if I would step in on an interim basis until they found someone.”

And they never found anyone else- not even after the state switched Governors and political parties. 

“It just came about that it was time. So, then another Governor was in office, Governor McDonnell. He actually appointed me CEO. I was very much supported by Governor McDonnell as CEO of Virginia Tourism.”

Getting back to the beauty of things, I tease McClenny about being a supermodel. Well, not really teasing. Rumor has it that Rita McClenny is a former supermodel. And while that claim is something that she vehemently denied during our interview,  the camera easily fell in love with her. So, the possibility of the rumor being true isn’t that far off. 

“[When I was younger] I did some turns at Sak’s and Neiman’s with my friend who was a legit model. She took me along a couple times. It was just a little store stuff .”

Rita is also very aware of her own personal style. Her wardrobe favors simple, clean, lines, and is more elegant than trendy, similar to classic Calvin Klein.

“Fit is everything,” she says, as she explains. “I don’t go for trends or fashion but for pieces that make a statement. I have pieces in my closet that I’ve had for 20 years and I can still wear them.” 

No surprise there. Elegant style for such an elegant lady. 

For more information on the Virginia Tourism Corporation, visit 

VATC.org.

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