Gequetta Murray-Key dies of leukemia – Andre Key, husband, appointed to fill her school board seat

Gequetta Murray-Key dies of leukemia – Andre Key, husband, appointed to fill her school board seat

By Heather Michon

Gequetta Murray-Key

The Fluvanna County School Board held a special session on Monday morning (Oct. 17) to take the next steps in filling the seat left by Gequetta Murray-Key, who died on Oct. 11 after a brief battle with leukemia. She was 46.

Ms. Murray-Key was elected to represent the Rivanna District in November 2021 and her term would have ended in November 2025. The sole item on the agenda was how to fill her seat for the remainder of that term.

Under Virginia law, the board must petition the Fluvanna Circuit Court to call a special election to elect a new representative. That election will not happen until November of 2023. 

Between now and the special election next year, either the school board or the court can appoint someone to serve as an interim representative. They could also choose to leave the seat vacant.

On Saturday, Ms. Murray-Key’s husband, Andre Key, announced on her public Facebook page that he had petitioned the circuit court judges that he would like to be appointed in her stead.

“When G knew that her illness would prevent her from filling her school board duties, she asked me to carry on her legacy and run for her seat,” he wrote. 

Key is a 1993 graduate of Fluvanna County High School and is currently the Pretrial Program Manager for Jefferson Area Community Corrections Office’s Offender Aid and Restoration (OAR) program. 

Several people spoke in support of Key’s appointment during public comments at the start of the meeting, including Supervisor Mozell Booker (Fork Union), who said she was “very, very proud” to know the Murray-Key family and to be a part of their lives.

Murray-Key’s daughter, Bree, spoke of the shock of losing her mother and of the family’s desire to carry on her work. “I would be very proud to have my dad serve after my mom,” she said. “And she would be very proud, too.”

Superintendent Peter Gretz outlined the board’s options and potential timelines. A petition for a special election had to be filed within 15 days, and the board can appoint an interim representative within 45 days of the vacancy.

“The school board chooses the process by which you want to make the appointment,” Gretz explained. “There’s not a lot of guidance, but you have a lot of latitude as to how you do that.”

He said his experience was that school boards often use an application process. A theoretical timeline would have an open period for receiving applications from Oct. 18 to Nov. 12, with the board selecting an applicant no later than Nov. 25.  

Over the weekend, the school’s lawyers confirmed that the board also had the right to simply make a direct appointment without any application process if they so choose.

At the start of the meeting, Andrew Pullen (Columbia) introduced an agenda item to appoint Key using that direct method. 

Chair James Kelley said there were “infinite possibilities for how this could all play out and some of them lead to under-representation for Rivanna both in the short, medium, and even long term. One of the worst outcomes for this county is to have a vacancy until January 2024, so I am primed for expediency.”

In making the motion to appoint Key, Pullen said he was less concerned with politics than the fact that the people of Rivanna district had selected Ms. Murray-Key to represent them. “I so got to think, honestly, they would have supported her husband.”

“Who better to have the same like-mindedness in a home than a husband and wife?” Charles Rittenhouse (Cunningham) added.

Kelley said, between the shock of her passing and the inevitable leap to politics and the intractable deadlines for action set by the state, he had lost some sleep over the past few days. “I would have preferred to step back for a moment and just be a human first and respect the humanity and take a moment to both mourn and celebrate.” 

While Kelley said he might prefer a more structured process, Key was qualified for the position, and appointing him immediately meant Rivanna would have representation for the next 18 months. It also eliminated what he described as his “biggest fear” – that 20 percent of Fluvanna’s population would be under-represented in that long interim. 

The motion to appoint Andre Key passed on a vote of 4-0, as did the motion to petition the Circuit Court for a special election.

“I’m glad we’ve completed this so that loved ones can get back to the mourning process,” said Pullen. “I agree with Mr. Kelley that this whole timeline doesn’t seem very empathetic.” 

Pullen also pushed back on emails and social media posts that had circulated over the weekend that he and Rittenhouse were “trying to steal the election” or doing things behind closed doors to replace Murray-Key. He said he didn’t know how those rumors got started, but said they were untrue.

“We don’t always agree on everything,” he said of his fellow board members, “but we agreed today and we agree more than we disagree.” 

Andre Key did not speak during the meeting, but posted on Facebook that he was “both truly grateful and humbled by the trust and faith” shown by the board. 

He said he loved this community and “although G’s shoes will be hard to fill, I would like for our schools, our staff, our students and for all community members to know that I will endeavor to the best of my ability to serve Fluvanna schools with professionalism and integrity.”  

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