I became the Executive Director of the Falls Church Chamber of Commerce in the spring of 2004 when the inimitable Stacy Hennessey left to take over Caffeine’s. That year, the incoming chair was Helene Safford, founder and then owner of Clay Café Studios. I learned a great deal from these women. Helene’s strategic flair for business and the energetic roadmap left by Stacy and her predecessor Barbara Gordon were critical to my growth and that of the Chamber.
In thinking of women’s history in Falls Church, an outstanding local business woman comes to mind: the late, great Barb Cram. I have never met anyone more supportive of women or enamored with history. Barb was a wonderful mother, an adoring grandmother, a loving wife, a woman of great faith, an enthusiastic party planner, a talented landscaper, a passionate volunteer, a successful entrepreneur, an eager mentor, a loyal friend, a capable shoulder on which to lean, an inventive creator, and a very talented artist. She passed away June 2 of 2020 but she left a legacy in Falls Church that is evident throughout our community and in the hearts and minds of many.
Barb left an indelible mark on my life and my job. I met her when she was serving on the Chamber Board as the founder and owner of Greenscape, a lovely plant and gift shop housed where Clare & Don’s Beach Shack is now located. Barb loved the Chamber and our local business community and she expressed that by serving as an active volunteer and member of the Chamber’s Board for 15 of the 17 years that followed. Barb was a reliable source of inspiration and strength for me and many others.
That inspiration came from her regular words of support and offers of assistance. It came from learning about her efforts to install pole planters with beautiful flowers and organize the City’s tri-centennial celebration and it came from watching her charge into full time volunteerism with enthusiasm and passion after selling her beloved business. She became a standout leader for Falls Church Arts, helping them secure the beautiful new gallery in The Kensington, and focusing the nonprofit’s efforts to host regular events and provide an increased number of exhibit opportunities for its artists.
She also took over Watch Night, the City’s free New Year’s Eve celebration which had been founded by the Tinner Hill Heritage Foundation and she helped create and lead the City’s Arts & Humanities Council and its Little City CATCH Foundation to support the arts in Falls Church. And, while she was doing all of this, she was also renovating her beautiful historic home in Falls Church, creating and maintaining her garden worthy of becoming a public park, landscaping for a few chosen clients, serving her church, caring for her kids and grandkids, and always being available to help others in need.
Barb had been ill for some time when Covid caused everything to shut down last March, but she reached out immediately to see how she could help the Chamber and our suffering businesses. Her unfailing support, along with that of Chamber Chair Barbara Benson of Body Dynamics, Vice Chair Emily Jenkins of The Geller Law Group, Immediate Past Chair Lisa D’Ambrosio-Irons of John Marshall Bank, and Cathy Soltys who works with me at the Chamber, was crucial in our efforts to stay focused on the Chamber’s mission to promote local business interests for the good of the community.
Over the past year, the Chamber shared information about Covid-19 related loans, grants, and resources; created a video featuring local business owners and shared information with the public on the importance of supporting our business community; partnered with BioPrep Solutions to offer a Healthy Business Training Course to help businesses open safely and build customer confidence; stepped up our social media presence to share resources with the business community at large; and hosted virtual events to help businesses grapple with the situation and learn from others. And we did so while watching our local businesses, many owned or co-owned by women, step up to support others by providing grant and loan writing assistance, feeding first responders and hospital staff, sewing masks and providing PPE, and being ready and willing to share resources and advice. While Barb was not directly involved with these efforts, her spirit was a guiding force. She would be proud to see the Chamber’s efforts and the resiliency shown by so many of the local businesses she loved.
Thank you to Barb and to all the women out there for supporting other women, many of whom were mentioned in the Guest Commentary by Vice Mayor Marybeth Connelly and Assistant City Manager Cindy Mester. Barb left many legacies, but her understanding that when women support one another, amazing things can happen is the lesson I will cherish most.
Sally Cole is the executive director of the Falls Church Chamber of Commerce