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You Visit Tour. Webb Lion Fountain. June 1 2017. Photo David B. Hollingsworth

‘Ms. Be’ Keeps ODU’s Chartway Arena in A-Plus Condition

By Harry Minium

Belinda Woody was 5 when her grandmother, Mildred Woody, taught her how to paint baseboards. She showed Belinda how to use a newspaper to keep the paint from bleeding onto walls or floors.

And she insisted that the paint lines be clean and neat.

"My grandmother, she raised me," Belinda Woody said "She taught me how to care about other people as well as myself. I was brought up learning you had to work to survive. She taught me that you should take pride in your work no matter what you do."

That pride is a major reason why Chartway Arena looks almost as good as it did when it opened 18 years ago. The arena sparkles in large part because of Belinda Woody, known by most people as "Ms. Be."

As housekeeping manager for Spectra Venue Management, the Philadelphia-based organization that manages Chartway Arena for Old Dominion University, she is expected to make sure her employees keep the building clean. But she goes so far beyond that.

She insists everything be meticulously neat and clean, as did her grandmother, and puts in a ton of hours to make sure that gets done.

She is at work 14 hours a day during big events. Eight-hour days have been a rarity, even during much of the pandemic that essentially shut down the arena for nine months.

"I remember a couple of times when I was sick and in bed and there was a big event and I got a call from someone, and I don't remember who it was, who said, Ms. Be, when are you coming back? We need you.' " she said. "I said 'if I'm feeling better tomorrow, then I'll come in.'

"I wasn't feeling better, but I came in and got the job done."

During games, concerts, graduations and other events she walks around the building, checking hallways, restrooms and suites to make sure they're clean. It's not unusual to see her summon staff for a quick mop up when something has spilled.

She mans an elevator during graduation to help parents and guests find their seats.

But it's her warm smile and her genuine care for anyone she meets that makes her so special to everyone in the ODU athletic department.

"She impacts everyone she's around on a daily basis through her warmth and grace and welcoming demeanor," Athletic Director Wood Selig said. "When you see her, she lights up, and that makes you up light up, too. Every time we bring recruits through the building, she's a great ambassador. She lets them know what a great place this is and that she expects to see them the following year."

Men's basketball coach Jeff Jones calls her "The Mom of Chartway Arena."

"She's always got a kind word for everybody and greets everyone with a smile," Jones said. "When we walk into the door, she's the one who greets us. It's like she lives here and she's saying, 'Welcome to my house.' "

Mike Fryling, Chartway Arena's general manager, hired the first employees for the building in 2002, four months before the arena opened. His experience working for Disney in Orlando made him realize that the housekeeping manager was a critical hire.

"We needed someone who took ownership of the building, someone who treated people with the upmost respect, someone who would treat the facility like it was her own," he said. "She's been a rock star ever since. She has been the heart and soul of the building."

Ms. Be, now 71, grew up in Northfolk, W.Va., a town of about 400 just west of Bluefield. She moved to Hampton Roads about two decades ago to be close to family - she has two daughters, a brother and three grandchildren in Norfolk. Her brother and youngest daughter live with her, not that they see her often.

"I hear them say that I live in the arena and visit home," Ms. Be said.

She came to Norfolk with a pretty good resumé. She owned a barber shop in Northfolk, has a degree in cosmetology and worked as a dental assistant.

She's cleaned houses, but she's also managed stores and warehouses.

She's chosen to stay, she says, because of the people at Spectra and ODU.

"They make me feel like family," she said.

"I see her more than I see my own family," Fryling said. "She's family to me and means an awful lot to me personally and professionally.

"The University did an awesome job when they designed the building, and it was designed to have a long lifespan. But once they turned the keys over to us, Ms. Be has taken care of this place."

Every year, Fryling said, Ms. Be comes to him and says she thinks she might need to retire.

"I jokingly tell her that she can't retire until I give her permission, and she's never going to get permission from me," Fryling said.

Ms. Be smiled when I asked her if she planned to retire.

"I'm not a person to go home and just sit around," she said. "I have to have things to do. And I love to be around people."

"A lot of people tell me once I retire, they're going to miss me. I say, yeah, but they will find someone else to replace me."

Yes, they will, but likely not with Ms. Be's the work ethic, warmth and kind heart.

A longer version of this story appears on ODU's website.

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