Monthly Archives: March 2020

In Memory of George Lovelace

1Former Fairfax County Park Authority Board member George Lovelace is being remembered by colleagues as a great, funny, fantastic guy who will always be remembered for his commitment to public service. Mr. Lovelace died of lung cancer on March 22, 2020, at his home in Locust Grove, Virginia. He was 83.

Mr. Lovelace made a career of serving the public, and when appointed to the Park Board in 2004, he took his volunteer role seriously. He regularly attended meetings at night, could be found in parks and along trails with a camera in hand, and turned out for weekend events and workshops. When decisions needed to be made, he was thorough in his research and was interested in all sides of the story. He well understood how the Board’s decisions could impact the community for years to come.

Park Board Chairman William Bouie remembers Mr. Lovelace as a friend and mentor. They served together on the Board from 2004-2010 during turbulent times as the economy was crashing and the Board was trying to change to a business model. Mr. Bouie remembers, “George had a huge baritone voice and a commanding  presence when he spoke. Whatever George said was meaningful and you had to respect what he was saying regardless of the position that you were taking.”  Bouie notes, “ George was so creative as a photographer who saw many different pictures through many lenses. This is what made George special. He had an infectious laugh that lit up a room.”

Chairman Bouie describes his mentor as a mediator who used that skillset on the Board and in life. “He helped steer us in the right direction when you were not quite sure what the right direction was. He taught me so many of those skills as I watched the Master for so many years practice his craft.”

To put it simply, Mr. Bouie says, “Everyone loved George. It is only appropriate that he is being buried at Arlington National Cemetery. It is a place of rest for heroes, and George Lovelace was a true hero.”

Mr. Lovelace joined the Board as an at-large member in February 2004 and served as Secretary from 2009 until his departure in 2010. He also served as Chairman of the Park Operations Committee and as a member of the Diversity and Succession Committee, the Park Services Committee and the Strategic Planning and Initiatives Committee. As the Park Authority Board’s liaison to the Athletic Council, he handled differences between the two organizations with grace and aplomb, finding ways to compromise and keep things moving with goodwill and a friendly smile.

Hal Strickland, who was serving as Board Chairman at the time, asked Lovelace to take on the liaison role to the Athletic Council. “We had several very difficult and complex issues to work out with the sports groups in the county,” Mr. Strickland explains. “I suggested to George to take the battle to them in a hardline approach. George suggested letting him lob a few ‘love grenades’ into the conflict first to see what might be gained. His approach worked and George resolved the conflict in a pleasant manner.” Mr. Strickland says Mr. Lovelace could be counted on for valuable feedback on Board matters, and when asked to take on responsibilities, “he was always very professional and supportive.”

Former Board member Ed Batten says Mr. Lovelace will always be remembered “for his commitment to service, stewardship and excellence.” In addition, he remembers Mr. Lovelace as a “master photographer.” Mr. Batten says he really enjoyed working with Mr. Lovelace on the Board and always envied his buddy’s passion for photography.

Board Vice Chair Ken Quincy says he and Mr. Lovelace were not only fellow FCPA Board members, they also became friends. “We often ‘pulled each other’s chain’ in fun and talked Park Authority and Vienna issues outside the Park Authority.” He, too, remembers Mr. Lovelace as an avid photographer who produced photographs that were “truly professional.” Mr. Quincy says, “He will be missed.”

Beyond the Park Authority, Mr. Lovelace was a well-known local elected official, community activist and long-time member of the Vienna Town Council. He was elected to a term in the Virginia House of Delegates in 1996 and served with distinction. In 1976, he co-founded the Malcolm-Windover Heights Civic Association and served as president until 1980. He subsequently served in appointed positions as chairman of the Vienna Planning Commission and as a member of the Fairfax County Planning Commission, the Fairfax County Small Business Commission and the Virginia Regional Planning Commission.

The Lincoln University physics graduate served a tour of duty in Vietnam with the Army, as well as postings in Europe and Turkey over the span of his 20-year military career. He attended the Command and General Staff College and obtained a master’s degree in telecommunications management from George Washington University. Before his retirement, he held IT management and consultant positions with CSC, Boeing, EDS and the General Services Administration. He served as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) for Neglected and Abused Children, volunteered as a mediator in Washington, DC’s Superior Court, and worked as a mediator for Spotsylvania’s Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court.

Through his thousands of hours of community service, Mr. Lovelace was an inspiration to others and a true credit to his community. His family planned a private gathering in his honor. He will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

Green Spring’s History and Beginnings

HandoverOn October 27, 1970, The Washington Post reported:

Green Spring Farm, a “miniature colonial” estate near Annandale, was given to Fairfax County yesterday for use as a museum and arboretum. The property was the gift of Michael W. Straight, deputy chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, and his former wife, Dr. Belinda Crompton Straight, a Washington psychiatrist.

The Straights’ gift to the county marked the end of almost 200 years of private ownership of the estate and the beginning of its transformation into Green Spring Gardens.

In 1942, the young newlywed power couple purchased the 1784 house, its outbuildings, and 32 acres for $32,500. He was a scion of the prominent Whitney family, she the daughter of an English businessman.

Belinda1950s

Belinda in the 1950s.

In a 2002 interview with a former Green Spring historian, Belinda spoke of their decision to make Green Spring home: “We looked at it and that same night we decided absolutely. It had an old log cabin, and the springhouse….and the wonderful old house. It was so lovely….something to fall in love with, so we did.”

The Straights lived at Green Spring until 1966. They had five children. Belinda became a psychiatrist and a civil rights activist. Michael was an editor, author and deputy chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts. In 1963, he revealed a dark and intriguing secret from his past — his involvement, as a Cambridge undergraduate in the 1930s, with the notorious Cambridge Spy Ring, which the BBC described as “British members of a KGB spy ring that penetrated the intelligence system of the UK and passed vital information to the Soviets during World War Two and the early stages of the Cold War.”

c.1962

c.1962

This exceptional couple bestowed a legacy of historical significance on Green Spring. They brought in distinguished restoration architect Walter Macomber to enlarge and renovate the house. At the same time, trailblazing landscape designer Beatrix Farrand created their garden. Much later, their combined work earned Green Spring its Virginia Landmark status and a listing on the National Register of Historic Places.

Michael, a lifelong supporter of nature and wildlife conservation, took an active interest in the Green Spring landscape beyond the house. With property caretaker John Quast, he dug out the ponds into their present-day configuration and planted the area extensively. He also took pride in his flock of Canada geese, ignoring regular requests from the Department of the Interior to stop raising wild fowl on his property.

The well-connected couple rubbed shoulders with personalities and presidents and hosted many prominent guests at their “Green Spring Farm” estate. Politicians, writers, journalists and scientists visited from around the world. Michael and Belinda also opened their home to community events – skating parties, picnics and Fourth of July fireworks.

XmascardIn his 2004 memoir “On Green Spring Farm,” Michael lamented: “Sooner or later all good things come to an end.” He reflected on the disappearance of the home’s bucolic setting. “Twenty-four years had passed since Bin and I settled on Green Spring Farm. We had raised our five children there. We had been happy. By 1964, we were no longer living in the countryside…. Bulldozers were clawing at the open fields that had surrounded us. We began to look around for a new home.”

They bought a house in Washington D.C. from a family friend, Jacqueline Kennedy, who had been living in Georgetown since her husband’s assassination.

By 1970, mindful of that encroaching suburban sprawl, they’d resolved to give their Green Spring home and 18 acres to Fairfax County to be preserved as a natural and historical resource for the community. “There aren’t many places in Northern Virginia left intact,” Belinda told The Washington Post at the time. “Michael and I wanted to see it kept that way.” Michael added, “We’d much rather see this land go for a park, rather than cutting down trees for houses.”

And “go for a park” it did. But not as the couple had imagined. In 2002, Belinda said, “I never thought it would become….a horticultural center. I thought people would just stroll there and feed the geese.” No doubt, descendants of Michael’s geese are still around.

In 2020, Green Spring celebrates a half-century that’s seen the land become, in Michael’s words, “a thriving center for all who love gardening and revere our past.”

Thanks to the Straights’ generous gift, Green Spring continues to enrich lives, and in its new incarnation it has remained “something to fall in love with.”

Author Debbie Waugh is the Green Spring Historian at the Gardens.