by Laura Watkins
photography by Eric Lusher
You might think Philip Shucet – a man who’s been lauded for giving a transportation agency crippled from both financial and public relations blows a new direction – would have had a clear idea for his own direction from the very beginning.
Not true, says Shucet.
In fact, the man who was going to become the face of Hampton Roads Transit was more interested in playing lead guitar in his high school soul band, The Red Barons, than he was in carving out a life plan.
“I went to college with no thought of doing anything,” he says. He left his hometown of Beckley, West Virginia, and earned a degree in history at Virginia Tech (“I still call it VPI,” he notes). Shucet found work writing environmental impact statements for the Charleston-based West Virginia Department of Transportation. “Oddly enough for a guy who’s averse to anything math or discipline-oriented, I enjoyed it,” he says. And with that, Phil Shucet’s career in transportation took off.
After stints with the Arizona Department of Transportation and with a private engineering firm in Pittsburgh, Shucet was asked in 2002 by Virginia’s governor, Mark Warner, to be the state’s transportation commissioner. Shucet’s success in this position led to his being named the head of HRT in 2010, a position he held till he returned to consulting this year. Under his direction, HRT saw enormous progress with the implementation of Virginia’s first light rail system, which runs 7.4 miles and connects the medical center complex in downtown Norfolk with Newtown Road at the Virginia Beach border.
Surely a transportation man has to get his interest in mobility from somewhere – and for Shucet, it came right after his college graduation. “My dad, who is now 101, completely surprised me with two things in my life,” he explains. “One is a guitar he bought for me out of the blue when I graduated from high school, and the other was a car he bought for me when I got out of college.”
The car was a dark green, two-door 1972 Pontiac Ventura Sprint. “It was cool,” Shucet says with a smile. “It had this big gold lightning bolt stripe down the side.”
The doors on it, he jokes, were “12 feet long” and “miserable” to operate. But that didn’t dampen his joy in driving it. “I don’t remember the size of the engine or any of that kind of jazz,” he says. “I just remember it was fast and had what was considered, then, big tires. It was a great first car.”
The only drawback? It didn’t have air conditioning. With a little prompting from a sweltering summer two years later, Shucet traded it in for a cooler model. He admits he was a little wistful afterward. “The day I did, I kind of regretted it,” he says. “I’m not big on regrets, thankfully.”
And the next step for the seemingly always mobile Phil Shucet? For now, he’s just happy to call Norfolk home.
“I like the feel of it, the ability to walk a few places,” he says. “And of course, take the light rail.”
Other wonderful photos From the photoshoot, click on any photo. photography by Eric Lusher.