The Next Generation (Tweet of 8/9/09)
It is difficult to believe that it has only been a week since I announced that I am leaving Arlington for ICMA in November. At the same time, it still doesn’t seem completely real even though dynamics in the office have changed rapidly. Colleagues are very much in transition mode – as they should be.
As one might expect, everyone has been very nice and said many flattering things. It’s sort of like attending your own funeral. It is common, however, for people in Arlington to be nice. Rarely during my long tenure I have ever felt unappreciated by the people I serve.
Some are surprised when I tell them that Arlingtonians almost always say something good when they come up to me in a store or restaurant. Even people who have a complaint usually add a comment about how much they love living in Arlington.
In recent days, two civic activists who helped make Arlington what it is have passed away: Jennie Davis and Jim Mayer.
Ms. Davis was a tireless advocate in the Nauck neighborhood. Early in my career I encountered her frequently. She had a reputation for being tenacious, but I always found her to be a person with whom I could work. I also admired her tenacity. The reality is that Arlington has been a geographically segregated community for most of its existence. African-American neighborhoods have had to fight for equity in service delivery. In fact many of the African-Americans who are native to Arlington were born in Washington D.C. because Arlington Hospital was segregated well into the last century.
It’s a great tribute to Ms. Davis and symbolic of the respect she commanded that a racially diverse group turned out for her memorial service. It was but one of many visible signs of what she accomplished. Yet her work for social equity remains unfinished. While Arlington espouses a sincere commitment to diversity, inclusion, and social justice – the long history of discrimination all across America is not fully behind us and requires vigilance for those who follow in the footsteps of Ms. Davis.
Jim Mayer also had a stellar record of public service in Arlington. We crossed paths in a number of activities over the years, including his leadership in the United Way, Civic Federation, and Regional Park Authority. Some of his most valuable work was as chair of the Industrial Development Authority, which is an important vehicle for funding major projects in Arlington. What was always striking about Mr. Mayer was his civility. He had a presence of thoughtfulness and sincerity. He was one of those people who made everyone comfortable to be with. His death was untimely and prayers go out to his wife Marjorie.
We are going through a generational change in Arlington with people retiring and many dying – some after a very full life like Jennie Davis; others much too early like Jim Mayer. This is when the resilience of a community is tested.
Some localities that achieve a pinnacle of success, like Arlington, live off their reputation and slowly begin a slide backwards. The great communities look out from the height and ask how much higher can the go.
Leaders of the next generation need to be good stewards of what they’ve inherited, but not protectors of the status quo. Just as the nation is perpetually trying to perfect the union, communities must also seek new levels of excellence – of economic and environmental sustainability rooted in social equity. We must forever strive for a society where people really can enjoy life and liberty and can vigorously pursue happiness and fun.