Hampton Roads Weekly had the pleasure and privilege of sitting down to talk with Cheryl McLeskey who is our contemporary woman leader of today. This dynamic, warm, multi-talented woman has overcome incredible odds with the help of her God-given strength. We are lucky to have Cheryl as a tireless leader in Hampton Roads.
TAKING OVER THE HELM OF MCLESKEY COMMERCIAL DEVELOPMENT
I have to give credit to my late husband Wayne for building a solid foundation through decades of hard work. He developed high-quality residential and commercial projects all around the region to help serve people. Becoming CEO of the company after my husband‘s death in 2012 was very difficult as I fought through grief. Through the great senior leadership team that Wayne trained for decades, and the new people that I’ve been blessed to recruit, I feel like I’m hitting my stride now. It is an exciting season for the McLeskey Team to put together new projects, such as the rebranding of Market Square on Virginia Beach Blvd. along with other developments in the pipeline.
BEING A WOMAN IN THE ‘MAN’S WORLD’ OF COMMERCIAL REAL ESTATE
Becoming a woman CEO of a real estate development company has enabled me to grow personally and professionally. I’ve tried to put my own style of servant leadership and policies in the company for the 35 families who depend on our success. While a vast majority of my fellow CEOs, and the banking and government leaders I regularly deal with, are men, I think if you follow the Golden Rule and reign as trustworthy and competent, you can be successful in this business.
TIPS FOR YOUNGER WOMEN TO ACHIEVE LEADERSHIP ROLES IN THE COMMUNITY
This is an equal opportunity society. The basic values of humility, faith, hard work, empathy, desire to lead, positive attitudes, and teamwork will always get results. You will benefit by putting these principles of servant leadership into practice. It’s about serving others to lead effectively rather than leading so others can serve us. Get involved in the community by volunteering for local charities and helping others in need.
OVERCOMING CANCER WITH AN AMAZING SPIRIT
I give credit to God and my amazing healthcare professionals at Sentara and Memorial Sloan Kettering for being alive. Everyone who has had breast cancer knows the risk of recurrence, especially when multiple lymph nodes are affected. After chemotherapy, surgeries, radiation, lymphedema, and other challenges, I learned through faith to live one day at a time living in the present. What I’ve found is that there is value in suffering and through God’s grace you can live a full, healthy, and productive life by loving and trusting in the Lord with all your heart. I have learned more empathy and compassion, and keeping life simple by focusing on loving God and loving thy neighbors. Having suffered with cancer and its effects has given me an opportunity to help other women with breast cancer. I have met so many amazing strong women that otherwise I would have never had the privilege of meeting.
My faith has deepened because I realize no matter how much money or property you have, cancer does not discriminate. My spirit is strong because I can honestly say that I never anticipated living a miracle of God and feeling more love than anytime in my life. Every day is a celebration of life!
PILOTING A PLANE
Piloting a plane is a gift that I learned from my late husband. There’s still an awe of those magnificent machines that has changed lives all over the globe. I have been a member of the Virginia Aviation Board for 8 yrs. I’m honored that I’ve been appointed by 3 different Governors. I feel that there is a shortage of women in aviation, so I am interested in encouraging young girls to become aviators by taking them up in the air. I am a longtime member of The Ninety-Nines International Organization of Women Pilots. Their mission is to promote advancement of aviation through education, scholarships, and sharing our passion for flying. Once a year I volunteer at the Hampton Roads Airport for “Women Can Fly”. A group of female aviators, with planes, volunteer to fly girls, young and old, all around the airport vicinity for 30 minutes. Last year we flew 144 women with 12 airplanes and 1 helicopter. Because there is a shortage of women, not all of the airplanes were flown by women. After each flight, several adults have asked about where to take flight training and several young girls stated that they intended to fly when they got a little bit older. This is the result we are looking for! I am a member of Angel Flight, an organization that provides free transportation for those people who are financially distressed or in a time-critical, non-emergency situation due to their medical condition. Because of my passion for flying and desire to help those in need, it is a heartwarming way to help make the world a better place!
CATCHING RECORD-BREAKING FISH
I feel honored and blessed to be the only woman in 42 years to win the World’s Largest Billfish Tournament at the White Marlin Open in Ocean City, Md, in 2015. It was God’s providence that day that took place on the waters off Ocean City. As soon as the white marlin jumped, our team began screaming, because of the size we knew that we had a chance to win the tournament. The white marlin weighed 94 pounds. My late husband and I were married on September 4th. I I received the award on my birthday, August 8th. The Backlash was the 87th boat registered in the tournament. Our boat captain’s birthday was August 7th. We felt really lucky that day! I like to be a part of the calling that inspires women and gives them encouragement to fish, not only for recreation but competitively.
PHILANTHROPIES NEAR AND DEAR TO YOU
I am passionate about numerous charities. God has allowed me to be a blessing to so many wonderful charities by honoring my late husband’s legacy he was philanthropic throughout his life.
CRUSH CANCER is near and dear to my heart since my late husband passed in 2012 from a rare cancer, Lymphoma. I have been a founding member since 2015. We have raised over a million dollars since 2015. 100% of every donation is directly allocated to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center for rare cancer research. Cancer research saved my life!
WINE, WOMEN, AND FISHING has raised more than $670,000 for breast cancer research at Eastern Virginia Medical School. August 18th is this year’s event for women who are interested in fishing.
REGENT UNIVERSITY There is such a breakdown in our society. It’s nice to have a Christian University led by Dr. Pat Robertson who is educating students by Christian Leadership to help change the world. I have served on the board for a number of years and have become involved philanthropically with the University to help them grow.
OPERATION BLESSING INTERNATIONAL A humanitarian organization with a mission to demonstrate God’s love by alleviating human need and suffering in the United States and worldwide. I currently serve on the Board of Directors led by Gordon Robertson.
ACHIEVABLE DREAM A world changing organization that is nationally recognized for a K-12 program dedicated to the belief that all children can learn and succeed regardless of their socioeconomic background. I currently serve on the Board of Directors.
STOP ABUSE Formed in 1986 to prevent child sexual abuse through education, detection and referral. I have served on the Board of Directors since 1997.
MILITARY AVIATION MUSEUM in Pungo has been a passion of mine since Wayne learned to fly in the Stearman, a military trainer aircraft. I have served on the board for 10 years. The museum is home to one of the world’s largest collections of warbirds in flying condition. Most museums have static aircraft which means the aircraft aren’t airworthy.
F. WAYNE MCLESKEY, JR MEMORIAL MARLIN OPEN In 2015, this tournament was born as a way to honor my late husband, Wayne, who not only spent much of his time fishing the waters off Virginia Beach but who also called Rudee Inlet and the Virginia Beach Fishing Center home. Our tournament raises awareness and funds for local charities. Some of the charities we have chosen to support are the Children’s Hospital of the Kings Daughter’s, and F.A.C.T. (Families of Autistic Children in Tidewater). This year Achievable Dream will be the recipient of the proceeds raised.
NAVY SEAL FOUNDATION My father, Alfred M. Palacios served in the Battle of Normandy on Omaha Beach. He lost his arm on D-Day, June 6, 1944. I am blessed to pay tribute to my great father who was my role model and who inspired me through his love and spirit.
This year Cheryl had the opportunity to be in Normandy on the 75th Anniversary of D-Day, an amazing tribute to her father.