Count me privileged to be among dozens of cake-munchers who gathered Oct. 27 to help Arlington stalwart citizen Bob McAtee celebrate his 100th birthday.
“Mr. Mac,” as he is called by the guests from age groups ranging from the terrible twos to the ninety-somethings, has been a fixture in the age-mellowed Maywood neighborhood since he moved there in 1915, at age two, into the brown brick home he still occupies.
McAtee’s loyally local life and community contributions have long made him a go-to guy for Arlington history buffs. But equally impressive is the expansive network of friends and professional caretakers who hover to help him age with dignity.
I first encountered McAtee in the late 1970s when his name was often credited for supplying the Journal newspapers series of nostalgic images of bygone Arlington. A few years ago I paid him a visit, which gave me a chance to stroll past the stately trees and welcoming front porches in his domain of Maywood.
“One of the oldest of Arlington’s residential districts and one of the best remaining examples of early trolley suburbs,” as it is described by its Yahoo Internet listserv group. Sandwiched between Lorcom Lane and Lee Highway, Maywood was founded in 1909, designated an Arlington Historic District in 1990 and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2003.
McAtee proudly showed me, in his bedroom with packed wooden shelves, rows of albums containing the photos he’s assembled from multiple sources, as well as shots of his trips to Scotland and Ireland.
In September 2011 I heard McAtee speak at the Central Library with a panel of Washington-Lee alumni from different eras. He recalled the walk from then-rural Maywood to the high school from which he graduated in 1932 (as he was sharp enough to remind me Sunday). McAtee held onto his W-L cadet uniform, which has been on display at the Arlington Historical Museum.
He regularly shares memories of attending movies at Clarendon’s long-gone Ashton Theater and swimming in the Potomac at Arlington Beach.
At Sunday’s party, Arlington Historical Society President John Richardson presented McAtee with a framed certificate wishing him many happy returns. He and others marveled at the assemblage of “this is your life” photographs of Mr. Mac as a boy, as a student, and as a professional running a trailer-rental business, working after World War II for Arlington businessman Mike Munley, with U-Haul and then on his own operation at Seven Corners.
Also framed is a collection of envelopes addressed to McAtee that the Postal Service successfully delivered to an ever-changing set of jurisdictional addresses for his same life-long abode—22nd St., Cedar Street, Route 1, RFD 4, and care of the Maywood, Thrifton and Cherrydale neighborhoods.
Katherine Skerl, who has known McAtee for more than 30 years and for 24 has helped with his (now 24-hour) care, relays his story of how a horse-and-cart moving company in 1915 misrouted his family’s belongings to Cedar Street in Alexandria rather than Arlington.
McAtee has inspired decades of loyalty from friends and neighbors who team up to look after him. Robert Beck, an organizer of what is an annual party, reads him news articles on his beloved Arlington.
As another friend, Carla Barilla, says, “Every aging person should have someone to take care of them the way Mr. Mac does.”