Peter McCandless, killed in a crash at 87, helped introduce Reston to the world

Peter McCandless, 87, helped promote Reston when it was founded in 1964 (courtesy of the McCandless family)

Peter McCandless was living a full life of music, travel and work that he enjoyed when he was killed in a vehicle crash on Reston Parkway late last year.

Police reported that McCandless, 87, died on Dec. 26, 2023 after an SUV driver hit him while he was walking at the Market Street intersection. A preliminary investigation indicated that he was crossing from Reston Town Center to Stratford House, where he lived, according to his son, Kris McCandless.

“We’re hoping that it was quick, not a lot of pain,” Kris said, adding that he doesn’t blame the driver given the limited visibility when the crash occurred around 7 a.m. “…That was rough conditions. It was a true accident.”

The circumstances of the crash remain under investigation, according to the Fairfax County Police Department, which says anyone with information can contact its Crash Reconstruction Unit at 703-280-0543.

Described by his son as a “true people-person,” Peter Lee McCandless grew up in the Midwest but spent much of his life in Reston, where he kicked off a career in public relations in 1964 as an early employee of Reston founder Robert E. Simon’s Palindrome Corporation.

When McCandless moved to Herndon that year with his wife, Nan Muehl, and Kris, his only child, Simon’s vision of Reston as a planned, inclusive community developed around a central plaza was just starting to take shape.

As Palindrome’s 20th employee, McCandless was tasked with promoting the new town of Reston, and he continued that work throughout his career, which included the founding of his own Reston-based PR agency, The McCandless Company, in 1984.

His legacy in Reston also includes helping start the Reston Chorale in 1967.

Born in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1936 to Lee and Mary McCandless, McCandless graduated from Principia College in 1958. He then joined the U.S. Army and taught English in Turkey for three years before enrolling in Yale University’s School of Drama for a year.

He met and fell in love with Muehl after returning to St. Louis in 1962. The following year, they got married, and Muehl gave birth to Kris.

After Muehl died from cancer in 2010, McCandless met Susan Ehart, the woman who would become his second wife, in 2014. That October, he moved into Stratford House in Reston after living in Lovettsville for the preceding 16 years.

Eager to start a new chapter in his life, he frequently traveled on ocean cruises with Ehart, visiting Europe, the Mediterranean, Asia, South America and Australia. The couple contemplated opening their own Great Harvest Bread franchise, but McCandless ultimately opted to work at the company’s existing store in Herndon instead.

According to his son, McCandless loved working at Great Harvest Bread, where he held nearly every position and was warmly embraced by regular customers. He was an employee at the bakery until his death.

After returning to Reston, McCandless also sang with the Reston Chorale and at the First Church of Christ, Scientist, Reston. His other passions included traveling and being outdoors, art and photography.

McCandless is survived by Ehart, Kris and his stepdaughter, Sarah. A Celebration of Life will be held for him this Saturday, Jan. 13, from 10 a.m. to noon at Reston Community Center — Lake Anne (1609-A Washington Plaza).

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