Area leaders praise Ron Kirby’s expertise, good humor

November 12, 2013
Ronald Kirby, file photo, from Dec. 14, 2012.(Jeffrey MacMillan/The Washington Post) Ronald Kirby, file photo, from Dec. 14, 2012.(Jeffrey MacMillan/The Washington Post)

As news of his death spread, there were many words of praise from local leaders for Ron Kirby, a transportation expert who could bring warring sides together to find smart solutions for regional transportation problems.

Police say Kirby, 69, was found shot and killed in his Alexandria home on Monday. His death is being investigated as a homicide.

In a nod to his ability to navigate the complexities of the debate, champions of cars and champions of transit said Kirby will be sorely missed. A sampling of the outpouring.

Chuck Bean, executive director of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.

“All of the officials and employees of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments and the Transportation Planning Board are devastated by the loss of our colleague, Ron Kirby.

Dr. Kirby, one of the region’s leading experts on transportation planning, was a key figure in all aspects of our work on regional planning and collaboration.  He guided the work of the Transportation Planning Board for more than 26 years. His deep knowledge and wise counsel assisted local, state and national officials in reaching consensus on the major transportation issues over the years. 

More importantly, he was a trusted colleague and a dear friend to all of us at the Council and his associates around the region.  We extend our deepest sympathy to his family at this difficult time.”

U.S. Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.)

“I am deeply saddened to learn of the loss of Ron Kirby. His behind the scenes work and sage advice saved Washington area commuters a lifetime of avoided congestion and traffic delays. He was both a visionary on what this region could become through smart growth and strategic transportation improvements, and an expert who gained the confidence of elected officials to make it happen.” 

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray

“I was extremely saddened to hear about Dr. Kirby’s death today. I have worked closely with MWCOG over the years, and Dr. Kirby was always a consummate professional and a highly regarded transportation expert. His work strengthened the District as well as the entire region, and his loss will be felt greatly not only in the planning community, but across our city and our metropolitan area.”

D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson.

“I worked with Ron Kirby for more than 14 years. He was an expert on transportation and respected by transportation leaders across the nation. Few people understood our transportation problems and needs as well as Ron — he was the go-to guy for transportation. His untimely death is not only a personal loss, but an enormous loss for our region.”

Council member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4), who worked for Kirby in the 1990s, when she was a staff member at the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments:

We lost a champion for our city and our entire region. I was devastated and saddened to hear the tragic news of the passing of Ron Kirby. Ron was a tireless advocate for the transportation needs of the entire Washington Metropolitan region. In his capacity as the Director of Transportation Planning for the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board (TPB) at the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG), he was critical in ensuring collaboration within the entire region to meet our transportation goals.

 I had the honor of calling Ron boss when I worked at COG in the 90s and now as a member of the TPB. He was a thoughtful mentor, strong leader, transportation guru, and most of all, a great friend.”

Alexandria Mayor William D. Euille

“It is a very sad affair. He is a professional and it is a tremendous loss for COG and the metropolitan region because he is a transportation guru.

Kathy Porter,  former mayor of Takoma Park who served on the Transportation Planning Board for 15 years until 2007.

He’s had an enormous impact on transportation planning in the region. He probably knows more about transportation issues in the region than anybody. He understood the politics of issues and how they’d be perceived by the public. He could offer his expertise in a way that everyone saw as fair.”

 

Scott L. Peterson, Deputy Manager of Communications/Press Secretary, Office of Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker, III

“Ron Kirby was an icon and a nationally recognized leader on transportation planning. He was a dedicated steward on behalf of Prince George’s County and a consensus builder throughout the region. He will be sorely missed by those who worked with him in the Prince George’s County government. His legacy will be the positive and tangential impact he had on the growth and development of Prince George’s County and Washington Metro region.”

 

Richard Sarles, general manager, Metropolitan Washington Area Transit Authority.

“For a generation, Ron Kirby has been a thoughtful and dedicated advocate for our transportation network. Ron’s leadership in making transit a regional priority is his legacy to Metro that will benefit millions of riders for years to come.”

 

Lon Anderson, spokesman, AAA Mid-Atlantic.

“He saw the big picture and helped everyone deal with the big picture. He didn’t favor one mode or one area over the area. He walked a fine line, and he walked it with the ability of Fred Astaire. He was an artist in the orchestration of regional transportation debates. He always kept above the shrill and the stupid.”

Stewart Schwartz, executive director, Coalition for Smarter Growth.

“We’re all stunned and it really is like a punch in the gut. It is a significant and tragic loss to our region. He’s one of the most dedicated public servants we know. He had a very difficult and complicated job in coordinating the technical and political issues involved with planning for the future of our region. These will be some big shoes to fill.”

Stephen C. Fehr, Transportation reporter at The Washington Post, 1989-1996. Now a researcher at the Pew Charitable Trusts.

“Ron Kirby was the first source I called on my first day as transportation reporter at The Post in 1989. He knew everything about the region’s transportation system, past and future. He was a mass transit guy who rode the subway and bicycles but he was careful not to impose those views on a board of directors whose members included suburban elected officials partial to roads. Ron never took himself seriously but was serious about improving the Washington region’s transportation system.”

Eric Weiss, former Transportation reporter at The Washington Post.

“He really enjoyed [his work]. He fed off of everyone’s passion.  Whatever movement or momentum that occurred in the region in terms of solving our transportation problems whether it’s the Silver Line or the HOT lanes or the mixing bowl — Ron had a lot to do with that. There’s been a lot of concrete poured and a lot of transit projects in this region, and there’s a little bit of Ron everywhere.”

Katherine Shaver, Dana Hedgpeth, Luz Lazo, Mike DeBonis and Robert Thomson contributed to this report.

Lori Aratani writes about how people live, work and play in the D.C. region for The Post’s Transportation and Development team.
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