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The passing of company friend and namesake for The Banks at Berkley, Mr. George Banks


Woda Cooper Companies, Inc. lost a beloved, inspiring friend last week. Mr. George Banks, a longtime community leader in the Berkley neighborhood of Norfolk, VA, and namesake of The Banks of Berkley, passed away December 26 at age 88.

Often referred to as the “Mayor of Berkley,” Mr. Banks lived in the neighborhood for most of his life other than three years in the 1950s when he served in the Army. Upon returning from military duty in Korea, he was dismayed by the poor living conditions at Berkley – some people were without indoor plumbing and electricity – often worse than what he saw overseas.  

The awareness sparked Mr. Banks’ decades of tireless civil rights advocacy aimed at bettering the lives of his neighbors. He became active with the Boys and Girls Club and many other local civic organizations, including serving as president of nonprofit Beacon Light Community Housing and Development Organization.

In 1974, Mr. Banks sought and secured HUD funding (a rare feat for a community civic league) to build Bell Diamond Manor. The new 128-unit townhome and apartments community for low- and moderate-income residents was a source of pride for the entire community.  However, time eventually took its toll on Bell Diamond and it fell into serious disrepair. Beacon Light didn’t have the resources needed to sustain the property or modernize it for the next generation of residents. They looked to Woda Cooper Companies as a partner to spearhead the revitalization of Bell Diamond Manor, which we now own and operate with Beacon Light. 

Craig Patterson and Bruce Watts, along with Jeffrey J. Woda and David Cooper, Jr., developed a deep admiration and respect for Mr. Banks as they got to know him through work on Bell Diamond. It was an obvious choice to name The Banks at Berkley, a 50-unit multifamily opened in 2017, in his honor.  

Several Woda Cooper Companies’ employees offered tributes: 

Craig Patterson, Senior Vice President – Development: “Mr. Banks was a legend in the civil rights movement with Dr. King and he gave, gave, gave for his family, his country, and his neighborhood.”

Bruce Watts, Vice President – Development: “I learned the art of patience from Mr. Banks. He had a special gift when communicating with the community. His vision to create quality affordable housing in Norfolk is unprecedented! A true American Hero! Rest in Peace, Mr. Banks!”

Wanda Ferguson, Community Manager at The Banks at Berkley:  “I would like to take this opportunity to give a word of loyal gratitude to an icon of this community. Mr. George Banks has lived and served this community for over 50 years. His mission was to manage affordable housing for all who needed it. He was indeed a pioneer in the housing community. Today, I am proud to be property manager for The Banks of Berkley, his namesake, which has a portrait of him hanging outside my office entrance honoring his work. His work truly speaks for itself. “Rest in peace, beautiful Man of God.”

Crystal Jamrozek, Occupancy Specialist for Virginia: “Mr. Banks was loved and respected by all that had the pleasure of knowing him. He worked tirelessly for his community, friends and neighbors. Mr. Banks kept a smile on his face, along with his uplifting messages from the heart. This iconic man will truly be missed.”

Karen Bernick, Director of Corporate Communications: “Mr. Banks’ gentle and gracious personality, his history of years of service to help his community, a lovely family that surrounded him, and his wonderful smile made a deep impact on me and many more.  What a legacy he built!”

Portrait unveiling at the Grand Opening for The Banks at Berkley. From left: Woda Cooper Companies’ Bruce Watts; Mr. Banks; the late Linwood Pettaway, artist; and Woda Cooper Companies’ Craig Patterson.
Ribbon-cutting on August 31, 2017 at the Grand Opening celebration for The Banks at Berkley. Photo credit: City of Norfolk.
Mr. Banks, surrounded by family and friends at the August 31, 2017 Grand Opening for The Banks at Berkley, stressed the importance of volunteering to make lives better around you. “When you live in a community, and if you can give some time and effort, and you have know-how, then you should put that effort in your community,” he urged during remarks at the event. Photo credit: City of Norfolk.
Mr. Banks addresses the audience (including Norfolk Mayor Kenneth Alexander and US Representative Bobby Scott) at the Bell Diamond Manor Grand Opening held on June 11, 2018. Photo credit: City of Norfolk.
Bell Diamond Manor reception where Mr Banks is shown seated with his wife Delores Banks (lower left); Ms. Lucille Johnson, resident at The Banks at Berkley and former resident of Bell Diamond Manor (upper left); and Mrs. Cheryl Cooper, wife of David Cooper, Jr, (upper right).

Main photo by Rayelle Garrison, RGB DigitalMarketing.

Read tribute in the Virginian-Pilot here.

Metropolitan Funeral Home in Berkley is handling arrangements including today’s 2 PM (eastern) services which will be streamed online. Learn more here.