Few people can claim to have a sewer line in Vienna named after them, but when you build houses with your own two hands, there is a sense of pride that comes from laying the foundation that links rural farmhouses of the 1950s into thriving, metropolitan communities like ours today. On Nov. 2, 2019, the City of Falls Church lost one of its founding mothers with the passing of Marilyn Wixson at the age of 90.
Marilyn, together with her husband Leonard Wixson, bought a brick house at 715 W. Broad St. in 1953 and converted it into the commercial offices of Plantation Realty, which is now a designated historic property in the City of Falls Church, dating back to 1910. Over the course of more than 50 years, Plantation Realty played a key role in the residential growth of the Northern Virginia area, serving as a real estate, insurance, and brokerage office in the heart of the City. In its heyday, Plantation Realty had as many as 25 agents working in the two-story building, and it touched the lives of countless families who walked through its doors.
After Leonard’s death in 2009, Marilyn continued to tool around Pimmit Hills, Falls Church, Vienna and Arlington, meeting with tenants and managing property repairs, often doing much of the labor herself despite the loud complaining of her adult children to retire. You may have seen the petite blonde raking leaves or shoveling walks, always well-dressed with a scarf on her head to protect her curled blonde hair from the breeze.
Born in Detroit, Michigan to Glenn Lamont and Elfledia Plueddemann just a month before the Wall Street Crash that heralded the Great Depression, Marilyn was no stranger to hard work and sacrifice. Leonard first noticed the angelic Marilyn in the church choir at their Lutheran church, but World War II intervened and their paths nearly went in different directions after Leonard served in the U.S. Navy in the Pacific. They married in 1948 and moved to the Washington area a year later so Leonard could finish college, ultimately graduating from George Washington University. When his International Affairs degree and Federal Government job planned to take him overseas for an extended period, he realized that he needed a career that would keep him close to Marilyn. A side job selling TVs door to door led to trying his hand at selling houses, but he always believed that he couldn’t sell what he didn’t really know inside and out. An avid reader, he bought a book on home building when DIY was the only option they could afford, and he and Marilyn became the undiscovered generation of home improvement stars.
Ironically, when times were tough, Marilyn was only “allowed” to take on sewing jobs. Sometimes she would use her sewing money to buy nice cuts of meat for a special dinner, rather than serving the quail they would shoot in their Vienna backyard. Or she would use her sewing money for bus fare to go shopping since she didn’t learn to drive until her first child was born in 1966. In her family, women got married or became school teachers or nurses, but there weren’t many other “acceptable” options. Parents didn’t save money for their girls to go to college, especially during the Depression. Amidst all the teamwork in their marriage, she lived in houses that Leonard selected and bought for them, often without consulting her. When Leonard died, she admitted that she didn’t even like the house where she raised her family and lived for 40 years. Before Leonard’s passing, she finally got first choice, and they moved to a home on the Occoquan River where she spent the last 13 years of her life.
In the #MeToo age of today, the right for a woman to open a bank account, have a credit card, and buy a house seem like laws of nature, not something that my own mother didn’t have a right to do for much of her life. It’s hard to believe that the Equal Credit Opportunity Act wasn’t passed until 1974 — during her children’s lifetime — and until then, banks required a man to cosign for a woman, regardless of her income or wealth. I wondered why my mother seemed so hell-bent on working from the age of 80 to 90. She said she did this to honor and preserve Leonard’s memory, and I’m sure that was a big part of it. But I came to realize that she was doing it for herself as well, putting aside generations of “traditional” gender norms and living life wholly on her own terms. The Greatest Generation are the ones that truly deserve to be the “Me” Generation.
Marilyn and Leonard enjoyed nearly 61 fulfilling years together and had a lot of stories to share as a result. They enjoyed traveling, walking with Clan Lamont in the Scottish Christmas Walk Parade in Old Town Alexandria, and spending time on the Potomac River. They raised two children in Falls Church, Carolyn Wixson Hartwell (Rob) of Palmetto, Florida, and Leonard Matthew Wixson (Kelly) of Star Tannery, Virginia. Marilyn is also survived by her granddaughters EmmaLee Doris Haga of Boca Raton, Florida, and Maggie Ann Wixson; and many nieces, nephews, and cousins. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made in memory of Marilyn Wixson to the American Heart Association. A private service will be held at Arlington National Cemetery at a future date. Online guestbook at tinyurl.com/MJWObti. Plantation Realty is now doing business as Plantation Properties and is being managed by her children.