Colin Mills: Remembering Reston’s Great Citizens

Colin Mills/File photoOur New Town isn’t so new anymore. Next year, we’re going to celebrate Reston’s 50th. We’re a community with a real history now.

To our credit, we’ve been taking steps to recognize and  preserve that history. The Reston Museum, with its series of talks about the early days of Reston, has done a great deal to capture the stories of our past. The forthcoming movie “The Reston Story” should also help in preserving our collective memory. And of course, Lake Anne Plaza is recognized by Fairfax County as a historic district.

However, there’s another aspect of our history that I believe deserves some thought: how best to remember our most dedicated and distinguished citizens. Of course, we have awards like Best of Reston and RCA’s Citizen of the Year, which recognize the people who are doing good work in our community currently.

But I’m thinking about memorializing those Restonians who are no longer with us, but who made lasting contributions that deserve to be remembered by future generations. We should publicly honor those people who helped make our community the great place it is today.

Now is the time to think about this. The pioneer generation of Restonians is getting older. I wish they could all be immortal (as Bob Simon appears to be), but unfortunately, they won’t be with us forever.

We’re already starting to lose some of them (Dave Edwards, Bill Nicoson, and founding RCA president Dick Hays are three who come to mind from the last couple of years).

These people helped build our community from the ground up. Driven by a love of Reston and a desire to make Bob Simon’s vision a reality, they created and shaped the facilities and institutions that we take for granted today. Will they be remembered 50 years from now, or even 20? They should be. And we can help ensure they are by creating suitable memorials to their service.

It’s understandable that most things in Reston aren’t named for notable Restonians. At the time most of them were built, we didn’t have famous or notable Restonians to recognize. When you’re a New Town, you don’t have a past. (The area where Reston now sits did have a past, of course, but one that we largely didn’t commemorate, with the exception of Wiehle Avenue.) We named things after the nearby features (like South Lakes, Hunters Woods, or my neighborhood growing up, Golf View Court), or we named them after famous people with no particular connection to Reston (like Lakes Audubon and Thoreau, or Langston Hughes Middle School).

Now, a half-century into the Reston story, we have a lot of people who have done a lot for our community, and they should be remembered. Naming things after notable Restonians is one way that we can make this happen.

We do have examples of Reston institutions that have been named after some of the early Restonians who served our community. For instance, there’s the Embry Rucker shelter, RA’s Vernon Walker Nature Education Center, and the Terry Smith Aquatics Center at RCC Hunters Woods.

Each of these is a fitting memorial to life and work of its namesake. Embry Rucker was a minister who spent a lot of time helping and advocating for the less fortunate. Vernon Walker was RA’s first Open Space and Nature Center director, a man with a real love of nature. And Terry Smith was a longtime RCC Board member and a proud member and supporter of Reston’s swimming community. They each did a lot to shape Reston’s community, and I’m glad that their legacies live on in the facilities that bear their

We should look to these examples as we seek to honor the pioneer Restonians who created our community. The hardest part might be finding the best way to memorialize the folks who served Reston in many capacities.

Take Dave Edwards, for instance. There are so many aspects of Reston that he helped build that you could name almost anything after him. You could name a street after him, in honor of his expertise in transportation and his service on RA’s Transportation Committee. You could name a school after him, in recognition of the work he did to get South Lakes High School built. You could name an RCC facility after him, in honor of the leading role he played in its development.

You could name a village center after him, to remember his background in planning and the ways he served Reston in that capacity, from his time with the County’s Economic Development Authority to his service on Reston’s Planning and Zoning Committee. Any of these would be a fitting memorial, but surely something in Reston should bear his name, considering how much he did to build our community.

Even if we don’t want to rename existing Reston facilities, the development that’s going to come along with the Silver Line will provide us with several opportunities: new streets, new schools, new facilities.  Naming some of these after notable early Restonians would help strengthen the connection between the station-area development and the rest of the community, in addition to preserving our past for future generations.

Reston is now a community with a history, and we’re making an effort to preserve that history, which is great. Let’s continue that trend by naming some of our facilities after the dedicated citizens who built Reston into the community it is today. We should make sure that their legacies will live on in Reston’s next 50 years, and beyond.

Now, I’d like to hear from you. Who are the notable Restonians that you’d like to see honored? And what do you think would be the best place to memorialize them? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Also, if you know of any Restonians whose community service deserves recognition here and now, nominate them for Citizen of the Year. The submission deadline is coming up fast, so submit your form today!

Colin Mills is the president of Reston Citizens Association. He writes weekly on Reston Now.

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