I don’t know why I was surprised at Reston founder Bob Simon’s passing. After all, he was 101 years old. Few people reach that age, and fewer still live beyond it. Yet Bob was such a prominent figure in his namesake community that unconsciously those of us who were surprised by his death may have thought he would always be there. His passing was so noteworthy that it received coverage in all the major news outlets.
He will be greatly missed by those who knew him and by those whose lives were touched by him: by the little children who huddled around the pedicab when he was brought to the Founder’s Day Program or to the Bike-to-School program at Lake Anne Elementary; by the children at a day care center named for him; by residents and visitors alike as he ambled around Lake Anne; by everyone who saw him in the annual Holiday Parade at Town Center; and by politicians at all levels of government with whom he shared the podium at numerous public events in his town and who witnessed his popularity and couldn’t help but be a bit envious.
Surprise and sadness at the passing of Bob Simon are quickly replaced by overwhelming joy at having known him. Few times in life do we get to know a visionary: a person who can see beyond the immediate to a better society. That sizable chunk of Virginia countryside in which Bob Simon invested in the 1960s could have easily been turned into a subdivision for quick profit, but for Bob and his vision it represented an opportunity to create a better place for people where they could live, work and play.
Better than anyone I know, Bob Simon knew and appreciated community. His plan for Reston did not start with designing a government structure. Some land use laws had to be changed to accommodate his plan, but the governance of that place he named Reston was left to the community.
While there have been healthy debates about issues over the years, there has been a recognition that local neighborhood citizen organizations and nonprofits formed by the residents could resolve those issues without the need for another layer of government or partisan involvement.
While it is difficult to discern the elements that create the sense of community in Reston, it is undeniable that it is there and that it was nurtured by its founder Bob Simon. The basic principles he outlined in the beginning for his new town give us the best insight into what he envisioned. The most radical notion at the time and place of Reston’s founding that people of all races could live together in harmony has become a societal norm.
Robert E. Simon, Jr., our immediate surprise and sadness at your passing have quickly turned to joy at having known you. Rest in peace, inspirational leader, wise counselor and good friend — you made a wonderful difference for all!
Ken Plum represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. His opinion does not represent Reston Now.