STRASBURG — On the mend, following a long recovery from a vehicle crash in the spring, Mayor Richard A. “Rich” Orndorff Jr. is thankful to be back at work.
Tuesday he oversaw his first Town Council meeting since mid-May, with support from family, friends and some other members of the community.
“It was nice to see so many people in the room,” he said after the meeting. “It was extremely nice to feel the words of support and encouragement.”
Orndorff was injured in a vehicle crash on the Friday night of Mayfest when a recreational vehicle he was driving on King Street crashed into the town library. Orndorff was flown to INOVA Fairfax Hospital and treated for multiple injuries, including a broken back.
He had major reconstructive surgery on his face, jaw and left eye. When his stitches ruptured, he had emergency surgery. When his trachea ruptured, he had emergency surgery.
After close to two months in the hospital, he has spent another month recovering at home, he said.
“I haven’t really been out a lot publicly,” he said, indicating a walking stick he’s been using to help manage nerve pain in his lower back. “I’m still a little unsteady,” he said.
In coming weeks, he’ll have metal wires removed from his jaw and plans to undergo another back surgery.
“The extent and everything that was wrong with me, I’m a very, very lucky guy,” he said. “Extremely lucky man.”
Orndorff said last week’s National Night Out celebration in the town park was his first public appearance since the crash on May 17. Virginia State Police have accused him of driving under the influence of alcohol for the second time in five years. Orndorff, 55, was also charged with driving an all-terrain vehicle on a public highway. Both charges are classified as misdemeanors, and Orndorff is scheduled to appear in Shenandoah County General District Court on Sept. 10.
During his nearly 12-week absence, little information reached the public about Orndorff’s condition or the state of his office. Vice Mayor Scott Terndrup has been taking over mayoral duties at Town Council meetings, and other council members have pitched in to help at events, such as the town’s Memorial Day ceremony, and a Community Dinner in June, at which the mayor would have taken a lead role.
The impact of his absence has been felt in other ways, too.
In June, a council vote to approve a proffer proposal that would have increased the maximum number of building permits allowed for a single housing project in a calendar year failed when the council deadlocked in a 4-4 vote, and the mayor wasn’t there to break the tie.
Speculation on the mayor’s condition and future plans has also circulated in the community and social media, in particular, Facebook.
“I realize that I’ve got some work to do,” Orndorff said on Tuesday. “I need to let people know that … if they lack any faith in my ability, I might need to let them know that I’m the mayor they elected three years ago and I’ll still be that person.”
Orndorff’s term as mayor ends June 30, 2020, but he said he isn’t planning any announcements about another term for another month or two.
“I know what I’m going to do, but I haven’t made any public statement or public announcement about it,” he said.
This experience, he said, “It gave me a different outlook on things and on life itself and how precious it is, and how much more time you should spend with family and friends.”
He said he hopes to make plans to visit his daughter Kendall, who’s leaving for college this weekend. And he’s reconnecting with some friends he hasn’t seen in a while.
“We were just too busy to make time for each other,” he said.
Recently, the mayor asked a friend, “What did I miss while I was gone?”
“And he said, ‘You missed summer.’ And that’s actually very true.”