Don't let the lack of a Southern accent fool you. She may not have picked up the twang, but during the four years that Annie McDonald lived in Chattanooga, the Pennsylvania native became a fast fan of most other things Southern -- the cooking in particular.
"Their cornbread, oh, my God, their cornbread," said McDonald, who this month became Leesburg's historic preservation planner.
"I miss the people. They're accommodating and comfortable. They're polite," said McDonald, who was preservation planner of the Southeast Tennessee Development District before taking the Leesburg job.
"It's funny because just yesterday someone at the town said, 'You know, it seems like you've been here a lot longer than two weeks because you just have a natural comfort level.' And I picked that up there," she said. "I'll talk to anybody on the street. In Chattanooga, taking some of their public transportation, you just talk to the bus driver. . . . You treat everybody equally."
McDonald's affability was apparent to Susan Swift, Leesburg's director of planning, zoning and development, who interviewed her after the town's first preservation planner, Kristie Lalire, left in January after 12 years on the job.
"She's done a lot of work with the public, with outreach in different communities . . . and she has the personality to broaden our [preservation] program," Swift said.
Personality is something McDonald expects will help her on the job as she works with residents as a member of the town's architectural review board. She also will revise Leesburg's design guidelines and work with local businesses to make sure they understand them.
McDonald expressed no trepidation in getting to know the town. Her downtown apartment is pricey, but its location -- in the heart of the historic district -- is well worth it, she said.
"I could have lived farther out and probably paid less rent but . . . I want to be a part of the community. And that's why I moved here. So I can live and work in the same town and establish that relationship with the people around me," she said.
Before coming to Leesburg, McDonald helped establish a historic preservation commission in Cleveland, Tenn., and wrote a $350,000 grant to rehabilitate a 1920s theater in South Pittsburgh, Tenn.
Before that, she spent 18 months as an architectural surveyor for EHT Traceries Inc., a women-owned architectural history and historic preservation company based in Washington. During her time there, she briefly visited Leesburg as a surveyor.
"I knew Leesburg and I liked the town," she said of her decision to move back. McDonald grew up in Beaver County, Pa., and earned a bachelor's of arts degree from Edinboro University of Pennsylvania. She received her master's degree from Youngstown State University in Ohio.
"Leesburg isn't really that small anymore because the population's growing so much," she said. "But living downtown, [I find] it still has that small-town character. You get all of the benefits of a small town, but you're an hour away from everything you need. That's why I like it here."