In 1963, Fairfax County was a leading dairy producer in the Commonwealth of Virginia. In those days, the Dulles Access Road was framed by dairy farms and cows, lots of cows. The only buildings might be a barn, a silo, or perhaps a cowshed, and few vehicles were encountered on the 13-mile drive from the new Beltway to the fancy new airport. Results of the 1960 decennial Census counted 275,000 people in Fairfax County; by 1970, that number had increased to 454,000. Fairfax County was growing, and there was no turning back.
That growth, and the men (yes, all were males) who worked to bring prosperity and progress to Fairfax County and the region, is the subject of “The Fight for Fairfax: Private Citizens and Public Policymaking,” a 2009 book which has been reissued in a 2020 version by George Mason University Press. The book, authored by Russ Banham, adds three chapters to the original, bringing the Fight for Fairfax to the contemporary: the arrival of Amazon and the Silver Line to Dulles. The dramatic change is recounted through the activities and insights of what was called the 123 Club, an informal amalgamation of business leaders, attorneys, developers, and a university president, who took the name from Route 123, formerly a country road that became a major thoroughfare, from McLean to the Occoquan and beyond.
The names may be familiar – Sid Dewberry, John “Til” Hazel, Jr., Jerry Halpin, George Johnson, Milt Peterson, Dwight Schar, John Toups, and others. They used their influence and persuasion, a sense of purpose and, sometimes their own money, to achieve goals that would convert Fairfax County from a sleepy bedroom community, dependent on the federal government and defense contracts, into an international location renowned for its business opportunities, quality of life, outstanding public schools, and world-class medical facilities. Housing was a major focus, since many of the 123 Club members were in the homebuilding industry.
An interesting observation about the activities of these gentlemen, many who grew up during the Great Depression and World War II, was a recognition that, when they set out on their “fight,” communication was done in person, on the telephone, or by letter. No texts, emails, faxes, or other electronic means. Business relationships became personal friendships, despite their possible competitive natures, and those personal connections were crucial to winning.
Many did not agree with the direction advocated by the 123 Club, and Banham discusses the political storms that ensued between development advocates and the Board of Supervisors. Central to those storms were Chairmen Jack Herrity, who was pro-growth, and Audrey Moore, who was diametrically opposed. Moore defeated Herrity in the chairman’s race in 1987, and Moore was defeated, in turn, by Mason District Supervisor Tom Davis, in 1991. Earlier board members in the fight included Joe Alexander (Lee), Harriet Bradley (Dranesville), Anne Wilkins (Mason), and Martha Pennino (Centreville), and the roles of County Executives Carlton Massey and J. Hamilton Lambert, although significant, seemed almost more like an elected official than an administrator.
“The Fight for Fairfax” is an easy read, but you’ll want to pull out your local map to track the building that led to modern Fairfax today. Those cow pastures of the early 1960s are home to Fortune 500 companies, international businesses, and tens of thousands of residents. Banham’s narrative notes that it’s still a 13-mile drive from the Beltway to Dulles International Airport, but the metaphorical travel distance for Fairfax County to today was much farther.