Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

We knew in advance—by intuition—that breaking news would require an update of the plaque being prepared for the induction of a music recording group to the Yorktown High School Hall of Fame and Inspiration.

SOJA, the global-impact eight-member reggae band whose four founding members were Yorktown kids in the late 1990s, was selected among six acts on April 2 at the Grammy Awards in Los Angeles for “Best Reggae Album.”

As a member of our high school induction committee, I had been in touch with the musicians for weeks before their promotion from “twice-Grammy-nominated” to winners.

My alma mater is fortunate to boast several globally famous alums, among them TV broadcaster Katie Couric (’75), information technology executive Eric Schmidt (’72) and Olympic swimming medal winner Tom Dolan (’93).

As in our rounds of inductions in 2004, 2008, 2014 and 2018, our panel of volunteer alums, a retired teacher and a current student strived to balance the not-always-substantive concept of fame with special accomplishments either national or local. And in our deliberations on nominations submitted over years by anyone in the Yorktown community, we leaned toward alums whose career identities come across to current-day teenaged students. It is they who pass by the plaques in the school hallway near Patriot Hall.

So I can now announce that at our May 20 evening ceremony, the following distinguished alums will be honored:

Tom Faust (’72) a three-time elected Arlington sheriff and justice innovator.

Hubert N. (Jay) Hoffman III (’62), a business executive, developer and Alexandria philanthropist.

Torri Huske (’21), last summer’s Tokyo Olympic swimming silver medalist now in the pool at Stanford University (our youngest inductee).

Mike Leinbach (’71), NASA space shuttle engineer whose memoir describes his 11 years leading the launch program, with 37 missions from 2000-11.

Tom Liljenquist (’70), jeweler and philanthropist whose collection of 5,000 original images of Civil War soldiers both Union and Confederate he gifted to the Library of Congress.

Alyson Shontell (’04), first female and youngest editor-in-chief of 92-year-old Fortune Magazine.

M.J. Stewart (’14), the first Yorktowner to make the National Football League (Washington-Liberty and Wakefield graduated many). The defensive back who played at the University of North Carolina was recently traded from the Cleveland Browns to the Houston Texans.

Bob Witeck (’70) a nationally known Washington, D.C.-based public affairs counselor and LGBTQ activist.

The Arlington boys in SOJA, whose Grammy was awarded for their latest album “Beauty in the Silence,” include Jake Hemphill (lead vocals, guitar), Bobby “Lee” Jefferson (bass, vocals); Ryan “Byrd” Berty (drums) and Ken Brownell (percussion).

In an interview, Jefferson told me he has never forgotten their Williamsburg Middle School music teacher Eric Green “the best ever,” whose urging that Jefferson attempt a solo from Earth, Wind and Fire, “made me feel like I could actually sing.” His future bandmates fell in love with Jamaican roots reggae during the cassette era after hearing songs by Bob Marley and other trailblazers on streets downtown at Freedom Plaza, and later at such venues as the 9:30 Club. (SOJA originally stood for “Soldiers of Jah Army.”)

The fascination with creating original music “was not conducive to school work,” Jefferson said, which meant the guys did catch-up study at the Langston Community Center, though, he added, they eventually got their diplomas from Yorktown.

Next time you hit the county fair or recreate at the Thomas Jefferson Community Center, think of its founder Constance Rollison McAdam.

The retired county Chief of Recreation and community leader died April 16 at 92.

The first female to head up the recreation division, Connie McAdam created the first senior nutrition site, at Drew Elementary School. She sponsored our first racially integrated school dance and helped launch the Arlington Agency on Aging. After retiring, McAdam became the first woman Chair of the Arlington Chapter of the American Red Cross and was named Woman of the Year by the Arlington Community Foundation.