Local Commentary

Editorial: Gittins, Thorpe: Lives Well Lived

Many wonderful and accomplished people have died over the years who’ve long inhabited the City of Falls Church. Our attention has been called to three in the recent period: Lou Olom, Tom Gittins Jr., and Roy Thorpe. We wrote about Olom earlier this month.

This week, a celebration of the life of Gittins, who died last month at age 79, was held at the Ireland’s Four Provinces restaurant, organized by his offspring, including the well-known local activist Tom Gittins III, and Dianne and surviving spouse of 60 years, Sue. It was packed and a quasi-festive atmosphere was accented by periodic bouts with tears by the many people who stepped forward to remember Gittins and their friendships and collaborations with him. Not the least of these were two U.S. Congressmen who’ve represented the City of Falls Church, former Rep. Jim Moran and current Rep. Don Beyer.

Gittins’ accomplishments were remarkable; class president at Cornell, he became the youngest-ever Peace Corps staffer as director of the organization in the Dominican Republic and then all of Latin America. He then became the CEO of Sister Cities International, growing the linkage of U.S. cities to others in 120 countries worldwide from 400 to over 1,000 and was a founding member of many groups whose purpose has been to improve human relations globally.

Rep. Beyer quoted Marc Anthony about Caesar’s death in Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar,” “The breaking so great a thing should leave a greater crack,” and said Gittins’ life was dedicated to “building up people, institutions and things,” that he was “kind, good and living for all,” and uplifted the “idea, ethos and example of Tom Gittins” as exemplary of “strong, tough, great leaders.”

He was remembered for his commitment to the notion of “citizen diplomacy,” being “loving, loyal and with boundless enthusiasm.” Living here for 47 years, he was active with the High Point pool and many local programs, including his son’s FIRSTFriday monthly events and the Creative Cauldron, whose Laura Hull recalled his positive influence as an enthusiastic patron and member of the audience for countless local productions.

In the case of Roy Thorpe, who died at his home in Culpeper at age 73, he was an enormously stabilizing influence at City Hall in Falls Church during his 12-year tenure between 1996 and 2008, with his service straddling a succession of six city managers and interim managers and five mayors. That era produced the City’s critical evolution, despite the turnovers, of the governing tools to begin the successful attraction of multiple important large-scale mixed use projects, beginning with The Broadway in 2002 to this day. Thorpe was a quiet, even and steady presence and trusty guide through it all.