One of the county’s historically standout youth athletes, now a prosperous business leader and high-impact philanthropist, made a new mark here.
Multi-family housing magnate Ron Terwilliger, together with his attorney brother Bruce, in 2019 gave $1.5 million to the nonprofit partnership that built the modern, soon-to-open veterans-preference housing complex (named for their parents) at the Virginia Square site of American Legion Post 139.
In chatting with 81-year-old Ron Terwilliger, now in Florida, I was pleased to time-travel to his experience in the sports scene early in post-World War II Arlington.
His road to wealth began humbly.
The Terwilliger parents (his father sold petroleum products), were living in the Buckingham apartments in the early 1940s when they bought a home at 4815 S. First St. in Arlington Forest. Costing $5,000, the three-story brick colonial (still standing) offered 1,200 square feet, one bathroom and an unfinished basement, the housing professional recalls.
“My mother used to wash clothes in the basement and hang them on a clothesline—very basic living,” he said. “Everyone in the neighborhood was a street kid” riding bikes, and he remains in touch with many. As a “public school product,” he attended Barrett Elementary, Thomas Jefferson Junior High and Wakefield High School. His heart lay in youth basketball and baseball, in which he starred for the dominant Optimist Club teams coached by his future father-in-law Jim Bowman. “In the 1950s we had it pretty good—I don’t think we suffered.”
At Wakefield, Terwilliger was an All-Metropolitan shortstop and pitcher in baseball and starred in basketball for the 1958 team that finished third in the state, he being Virginia’s fourth leading scorer. He retains vivid memories of hitting a home run and triple off of menacing Washington-Lee High School pitcher Chuck Davis, which made his father proud. Terwilliger was named Arlington athlete of the year 1958, and in 2009 was inducted in the Wakefield Hall of Fame.
Because his parents’ finances were modest, he depended on an athletic scholarship at George Washington University. But a back injury meant he lost the room-and-board. So he ended up at the U.S. Naval Academy. There he also starred in baseball and basketball. “I could have played pro baseball, but my dad wanted me to stay in college,” Terwilliger says.
He delivered a not-too-shabby sports career in Annapolis, starring at baseball and basketball with friend and football star Roger Staubach. (Chuck Davis was there too as an ace pitcher.) Graduating in 1963, Terwilliger served five years active duty in submarine supply. In 2021, both Terwilliger brothers were honored by the Naval Academy for donating money for the football field and scoreboard named for them, plus a student athletic center. He is the academy’s largest donor, its website confirms, and serves on its foundation board.
Ron’s later career brought him an M.B.A. at Harvard Business School. That opened the way to his decades-long success as a nationally ranked builder of 300,000 apartments in 35 states, largely for the Trammell Crow company. Since retiring in 2008 as a multi-millionaire, he has devoted himself to spending down, giving to such organizations as Habitat for Humanity.
And the veterans housing project in Arlington.
The redesign plan for Crystal City aims to create more “biophilic” walks to encourage connectivity with nature through sustainable green space. Environmental consultant Peter Harnik wants to go farther.
Despite many awards for its parks, Arlington has no large focal park the way Washington has Rock Creek Park or the National Mall, observes the author of “From Rails to Trails.” But “we have a considerable parkland located along nearly the entire length of Four Mile Run, from Falls Church to the Potomac River. Unfortunately, since it consists of 18 separately named parks with no consistent nomenclature, signage, way-finding or unifying image, no one realizes it.”
If all 18 were unified under a single name, say “Four Mile Run Park,” we “would instantly have a 365-acre park, which would really put this ecological feature on the map.”
Arlingtonians could then take one long walk on the wild side.