A financial expert, Mary Leigh McDaniel often counsels parents that community college is an economically savvy choice. As a former Laurel Ridge student and instructor, Lord Fairfax holds a special place in her heart.
Laurel Ridge helped set McDaniel, the Marshall District representative on the Fauquier County Board of Supervisors, on her path to success.
She was a single mom in her late 20s when she returned to Virginia after starting her higher education at the University of Texas in Austin. It was the late 1970s, and she knew that she needed to attain her bachelor’s degree.
“I realized if I wanted to live in the manner in which I would like to be accustomed, I would have to get my education,” McDaniel says.
While working in sales at a local manufacturer, she attended night classes at Laurel Ridge, which at the time only had the Middletown Campus. Not only did she take math and other sophomore-level courses, the Warren County High School graduate got involved outside the classroom, volunteering, participating in clubs and even being in an Laurel Ridge musical.
“I didn’t just come for night classes, I was able to take advantage of some of the other things students normally take part in,” says McDaniel, who serves on the Board of Directors of the Warrenton-based PATH Foundation, which is a grant-making agency dedicated to improving the health and vitality of those living in Fauquier, Rappahannock and northern Culpeper counties.
After obtaining enough credits, McDaniel transferred to James Madison University as a junior, and earned her bachelor of business administration degree in 1983. She then returned to Laurel Ridge as an adjunct professor in accounting, this time at the Fauquier Campus.
McDaniel has had a successful career and gives back to her community. She has been a partner with Updegrove, Combs & McDaniel PLC – which has offices in Warrenton and Leesburg – for nearly 20 years, and will be managing partner starting in 2018.
Additionally, McDaniel has served on various business, community and nonprofit boards, including the Land Trust of Virginia, Fauquier Health System, Middleburg Financial Corp. and Middleburg Bank. She is a past chair of the Fauquier Chamber of Commerce and its 2009 Business Person of the Year, and was named a “Super CPA” by Virginia Business Magazine.
McDaniel’s 30-year-old son dual-enrolled at Laurel Ridge while a student at Fauquier High School, allowing him to graduate with a semester of college before attending James Madison University. He is a vice president of cyber security for Bank of America in Charlotte, N.C.
As a CPA, McDaniel notes she doesn’t just dole out advice about taxes.
“One of the things we talk about is education planning,” she says. “It’s amazing to me the benefit that so many kids can get from attending two years at a community college, and then going on to get their four-year degree. It’s a great stepping stone. It also gives some people a little more time to further mature. It meets a lot of needs for a lot of different situations. I always try to bring that up to clients as a viable option.”
Laurel Ridge is “a wonderful organization,” McDaniel says.
“It serves its community very well,” she says. “Students come out of there well-rounded, and receive just as good an education as they would receive at any four-year college. The caliber of students is outstanding.”
Laurel Ridge Community College was known as Lord Fairfax Community College until June 2022. For consistency purposes, the college will be referenced as Laurel Ridge going forward.