Local Commentary

A Penny for Your Thoughts: News of Greater Falls Church


They were members of the “Greatest Generation,” but for many Mason District residents, they were simply neighbors and long-time friends. Ralph Buckley, William LaLiberté, and David Shonerd had lives well-lived, but their service, first to our country, and then to their communities, must not be forgotten.

Ralph “Buck” Buckley was born on a farm in Clarke County, Virginia, in 1915. A Virginia Tech graduate, he was teaching at Fairfax High School when he was drafted in 1941. The Army recognized his teaching skills and, following Officer Candidate School, he was selected to teach Antiaircraft Artillery at Fort Bliss, Texas. At war’s end, Buck returned to Fairfax County, was assistant principal at Mount Vernon High School, and became Annandale High School’s first principal, from 1954 until 1966. Buck later was an Area Administrator for schools, and upon retirement, he worked at Northern Virginia Community College until 2004. Joined by dozens of friends and former students, Buck celebrated his 95th birthday in April at his Annandale home. Buck is survived by Edith, his wife of 68 years, and their son, Scott.

In a recent letter to students at Annandale High School, Buck noted that “everyone has a role in preparing the next generation.” In what he called “sacred work,” he urged listening closely to youth, but also said that a “well-ordered curriculum” was needed. The entrance hall at Annandale High School is named in his honor.

William Gordon LaLiberté was born in Maine in 1918, and grew up poor after his father contracted tuberculosis. Bill earned his pilot’s license while still in college, and was a combat fighter pilot on the USS Yorktown. He flew Panther jets during the Korean conflict, and was one of the officers controlling the NATO quarantine blockade during the Cuban missile crisis. Bill retired as a Navy Captain, and continued a career in defense systems as a private citizen.

The focus, faith, confidence and teamwork that made Bill a decorated flier also served his peacetime community service. An active advisory council member for the Bailey’s Crossroads Community Shelter, he championed the homeless drop-in program at First Christian Church of Falls Church, which serves meals to more than 100 homeless persons one day each week. Bill could be found in the church kitchen moving heavy cooking pots and serving hot food until last fall. Bill also developed the Pumpkin Patch at the church, selling countless pumpkins during the fall, with the proceeds going to programs for the homeless. To recognize his unselfish and invaluable work for those less fortunate in our community, I was pleased to name Bill LaLiberté as Mason District’s Lord Fairfax for 2002. It was hard to believe that Bill was 91 when he passed away last month. He is survived by his wife of 66 years, Barbara, and their son Rocky.

David Shonerd was a 1942 graduate of the United States Naval Academy, who also retired as a Navy Captain after 30 years of service. Dave later was a special education aide at Falls Church and Woodson High Schools. As a PTA leader, Dave spearheaded the Reflections art program for the Fairfax County Council of PTAs, which is how I first met him many years ago. He helped start the Camelot Neighborhood Patrol, the oldest continually operating Neighborhood Watch program in the nation, and continued active patrols until he moved to the Fairfax retirement community at Fort Belvoir two years ago. Dave was Mason District’s Lord Fairfax for 1995. A few years after the 1996 death of Annette, his wife of 51 years, friends were charmed when Dave married Nina Harman, a Camelot neighbor who also was widowed. They spent a happy nine years together before Dave’s death at age 88.

Buck, Bill and Dave lived in different Mason District neighborhoods and may not have known each other personally, but each left a legacy of service to generations that follow. Faith, family, fortitude, and focus characterized each man’s life, and it is appropriate to recognize their contributions as part of our “Greatest Generation.”


Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be e-mailed at mason@fairfaxcounty.gov