Katherine O'Donnell, ¿99


All in for RVA

Years later, Katherine O’Donnell, ’99, clearly remembers the moment. She was riding in a pace car for a professional bike race, winding through city streets when the route crested at Libby Hill, an historic, clay brick-paved neighborhood.

Ahead: A sweeping view of Richmond, her adopted home. Behind: An international pack of elite cyclists in colorful jerseys — a swiftly moving rainbow.

“You could just feel the energy,” says O’Donnell, executive vice president of Richmond Region Tourism, who helped plan the 2015 UCI Cycling Championship. “It was pretty neat.”

That balance — rich history, scenic beauty, cosmopolitan appeal — has fueled O’Donnell’s passion for Richmond and her rise at RRT.

I consider Richmond my hometown.

For tourists, she says, there’s a lot to love about the region nicknamed RVA: “amazing” food, art, music, and outdoor activities. And it’s also “filled with interesting, diverse, smart, kind, cool people who love this community and work every day to make it better,” she says.

Besides selling the region to sports events, conferences, and armchair historians, O’Donnell oversees two marketing priorities: BLKRVA, designed to attract Black tourists, and OutRVA, for LGBTQ+ visitors. The goal, she says, is to “shift outdated perceptions” of Richmond’s past by spotlighting its diversity and cultures.

O’Donnell’s embrace of the city began at the University of Richmond. “Not only did it introduce me to Richmond, which I have spent my career promoting, it gave me a foundation in communications” that spurred her success.

She personally encourages out-of-town UR alumni to rediscover the city.

“I consider Richmond my hometown,” she says. “I have been here more than half my life, was married here, am raising my family here, and have the honor and privilege of sharing the Richmond region with the world.”