Dad's Foot Work Gave Fenty a Leg Up

Phil Fenty and wife Jan have owned Fleet Feet, a store that sells athletic shoes, for 23 years.
Phil Fenty and wife Jan have owned Fleet Feet, a store that sells athletic shoes, for 23 years. (By Courtland Milloy -- The Washington Post)
By Courtland Milloy
Friday, January 12, 2007

At the store where I buy running shoes, owner Phil Fenty ran a finger along the sides of my feet. Without taking measurements or asking what kind of shoe I wanted, he went into the storeroom and came back with three boxes of sneakers. Every pair fit -- and looked good, too. How did he know?

"I talked to the feet," Fenty said.

So there you have it. The District's First Dad -- father of the city's newly sworn-in mayor, Adrian Fenty -- is not just a shoe salesman. Call him the "foot whisperer," a man with an uncanny ability to communicate with toes, heels, arches, bunions and corns. And a dad who helped rear a son who used his feet in an amazing door-to-door campaign walkathon that won the race for mayor.

"Adrian used to work at the store," Phil Fenty said. "He understands feet."

And just what do those tarsals and metatarsals, phalanges and ligaments tell him about us?

"We don't respect our feet," the First Dad said. "If a fire alarm went off at the opera, you'd see a lot of barefoot women running around because those high-heel shoes hurt so bad they have to take them off as soon as they sit down."

But the foot whisperer can also be subject to aching feet, as Fenty learned on the night of his son's inaugural ball. "After walking around the dance floor all night, my feet were more than ready to come out of those dress shoes," he said.

His store -- Fleet Feet, at 1841 Columbia Rd. NW -- was packed during my recent visit. The unseasonably warm weather had certainly helped. But so had all the publicity that accrued from having a son become mayor of the nation's capital.

"People are always asking, 'What does the father of the mayor do?' " Fenty said. Only one other mayor in the city's history has had a father living in the city while he or she was in office. This dad would have to play the part by ear -- even though it was unlikely that he'd ever really look the part.

Fenty, 66, collects jewelry, and the African and Native American earrings, bracelets and necklaces that he wears give him a decidedly 1960s peace-and-love look. He doesn't plan on changing, either.

"I'm just trying to be me, trying to have fun with it," Fenty said. "That's what Adrian has instructed me and my wife to do. We asked him, 'What are we supposed to do?' And he said, 'Just have fun.' And I said, 'Now that's something I can do.' "

Phil Fenty's other hobbies include painting and drawing. He has an associate's degree in design from the University of the District of Columbia. He is also an amateur genealogist. (The Fenty name, by the way, has its origins in Aberdeen, Scotland.)

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