Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

The late Congressman Joel T. Broyhill bestrode Northern Virginia politics during 22 years as a House Member, from 1953 – 1975. When I interviewed the Republican about student rights in 1970 for the Yorktown High School Sentry, I couldn’t have imagined that 51 years later I’d be scouring his private papers.

My friend Jeanne Broyhill, the politician’s youngest daughter — now a nonprofit leader and philanthropist — enlisted my help at her storage unit to spare the next generation big disposal decisions. We will decide the fate of VIP letters, family and public photos, clippings and campaign memorabilia. (The lawmaker donated his legislative papers to George Mason University.)

The scion of a Virginia home construction family business with local development interests, Broyhill (1919 – 2006) made his legislative mark cutting taxes, aiding federal employees, building bridges, and opposing school integration. He was “concerned about crime” downtown, he told Washington Illustrated, in discussing his bill to give police new arrest powers. He acknowledged “there have been times where police abused their power and enforced confessions.”

Personal papers include his May 23, 1942, Virginia marriage certificate to Jane Marshall Bragg and his application for a medal for surviving as a prisoner of war after the Army infantry captain was captured by Germans in the Battle of the Bulge.

Documents show his Arlington addresses, most prominently the “House by the Side of the Road” built in 1966 and still in the family at 4845 Old Dominion Dr. Showcased in a Washington Post feature, that mansion was inspired by a Palm Springs, Calif., home.

Alongside the campaign buttons, stickers and a panoramic photo of a House swearing-in was the Post’s “For and About Women” section treatment of “The Busy Life of a Candidate’s wife.” Jane Broyhill said, “Vietnam was the big issue.” When she was hospitalized in January 1977, she received get-well wishes from President Jerry Ford.

I perused guest programs for the 1969 Nixon inauguration plus White House dinner invites. Following the 1970 campaign victory over Democrat Howard Miller, Broyhill received congrats from Vice President Spiro Agnew, preceded by an Oct. 28 telegram from Nixon thanking him for “strong effort.”

After clouds of Watergate gathered, Nixon thanked Broyhill for a supportive Oct. 24, 1973, floor speech, telling him, “Despite the highly charged atmosphere, you injected a note of calm and reason.” On Feb. 20, 1974, “RN” thanked him for a joint letter urging Nixon not to resign.

A folder is devoted to condolences after Broyhill’s surprise November 1974 loss to underdog Democrat Joe Fisher. The Northern Virginia Sun for Oct. 26, 1974, reprinted the Ralph Nader report attacking Broyhill’s record. It analyzed campaign spending indicating “a consistent pattern of voting in favor of legislation that would benefit the Congressman” and his banker associates personally.

In defeat Broyhill was comforted by Judge James Cacheris and future Maryland Congresswoman Helen Delich Bentley. Chinese lobbyist Anna Chennault told him: “1974 has been a disastrous year to the Republicans. Your loss is not only a loss to the Republican Party, but a loss to the U.S. public as well.” Arlingtonian Albert Ingraham bemoaned Broyhill’s loss for those resisting “this ever-growing onslaught of Socialistic Statism.”

Yet by October 1974, Nixon having resigned, Broyhill got a letter from the Ford White House legislative director thanking him for attending the signing of that year’s major, post-Watergate campaign spending reform bill.

The Sept. 4 death of Willard Scott, 87, made national and local news. The “Today Show” weatherman with that gift of gab had been a local celeb as a radio “Joy Boy,” and while made up as Ronald McDonald and Bozo the Clown.

In Bozo garb was how I met him in the early ‘60s, honking a hand-horn at Lubber Run Community Center. But before he made it big and moved to Middleburg, he was also my neighbor in a secluded property in Arlington’s Chain Bridge subdivision of Arlingwood. That was where I delivered his Washington Post, as did my brother Tom before me and my friend Jon Rintels after.