Big Accomplishments, Bigger Hearts

Three Potomac-Area Residents Embrace the Community with Connections that Run Deep

There’s a lot to love about Potomac, but its people are first and foremost. Here, we meet Vernon H. Ricks, Jr., Velma Lee, and Jo Ann Pessagno, three people whose love of the area is clear from their words and deeds. Their careers, as well as their commitment to giving back, truly exemplify some of Potomac’s best. Together, they have touched the lives of so many that a walk down the street usually means running into someone they know. They love Potomac and Potomac loves them back.

Velma Lee

Velma Lee began her career as a tax attorney, but for the last 30 years she has owned and operated a thriving business as a clothing designer, tailor and seamstress. Depending on what she is creating, her company is known as VLee Designs, or Gowns Designed by Velma Lee. Either way, the magic happens in the lower level of her Potomac home where she has lived for 28 years.

How many Covid masks did you donate?

The number I gave away probably reached 5,000. It was an amazing time. It was a mission.

How do you make wedding gowns?

Clients could have an idea in mind, and I also have many samples they can look at. I hand-select the fabric. It’s a wonderful thing to have made something for someone that is special that they cherish.

Most of the wedding gowns you make are traditional, but some are Asian-inspired, including one you made for your daughter’s upcoming wedding?

Yes. I made her an Asian-inspired ceremonial dress. But she will actually get married in a traditional white beaded silk dupioni gown that I also made her.

Tell me about living in Potomac.

I really love where I live. I am so thankful for everyone and everything every day."

Jo Ann Pessagno

Jo Ann Pessagno is five feet tall and 74 years old. She is also a national volleyball champion. She began playing volleyball at age 32 and now balances her competition schedule with her job as the general manager of Park Potomac Place luxury condominiums.

You started going to the World Senior Games in Utah 2012. What’s it like?

It’s great; very cool. They play the Olympic music and you go up on the stage and they put the medal on you. It was absolutely thrilling.  I’ve won two gold medals.

Describe your team.

Some of my teammates played in college. One of my teammates is a coach for high school. Our team is from all over the county. We have fun but it’s very competitive.

Do you also play locally?

There’s the Maryland Senior Games and I played on one of the women’s leagues in Gaithersburg.

How else do you stay connected to the community?

I took a Career Gateway Course and volunteer to mentor other graduates. I also do Pilates four or five times per week and I just took up pickleball.

And you’re an ordained minister?

Yes, and I am the president of the Board of Trustees of the Interfaith Ministry of about 700 minsters. I think my ministry training is why I am successful as the manager at the condos. I listen with all my heart.

Vernon H. Ricks, Jr.

U.S. Air Force veteran Vernon H. Ricks, Jr. is retired from a 33-year career at Xerox. He has deep roots in Potomac where he has lived for 35 years with his wife, Janet Lee Ricks. Today, at 82, he remains active and involved in every aspect of life in Potomac, from his church to local politics, the NAACP, professional organizations, and more.

You served as a member of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) Braintrust. Tell me about that.

The CBC created a Corporate group to talk about affirmative action, the hiring of Blacks, and their practices to keep them employed in Corporate America.

Why is community involvement so important to you?

I felt a need to bring to the Black community some of the professional skills I had developed. I was one of the first Blacks in 1965 hired at Xerox. I was on the city council and mayor pro-tem in Takoma Park, and on the boards of directors of the National League of Cities and the Maryland Municipal League. My motto is, ‘Reach back and bring along somebody with me.’

And you own a DeLorean?

Yes. I bought it brand new when they came out in 1981. My son, Brian and I are rebuilding a lot of the parts. He likes to tinker and between him and me, we will get the work done.

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