Former D.C. area airports authority chairman kills himself and sick wife

Charles D. Snelling, who recently stepped down as chairman of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, took his own life and that of his ailing wife Thursday at their home in Fogelsville, Pa., airport officials confirmed.

Snelling, 81, had taken care of his wife, Adrienne, also 81, who had suffered for six years with Alzheimer’s disease. He often brought her along, paying travel expenses for her caregivers, when he came to the D.C. area or traveled elsewhere for meetings.

“Together they struggled greatly to manage the effects of this devastating disease,” said a statement provided on behalf of the family by the airports authority. “After apparently reaching the point where he could no longer bear to see the love of his life deteriorate further, our father ended our mother’s life and then took his own life as well.

“This is a total shock to everyone in the family, but we know he acted out of deep devotion and profound love.”

The family and the authority are not commenting on how the couple died, saying the matter is under investigation.


Charles D. Snelling presides over a Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority meeting at Reagan National Airport in March 2011. (Gerald Martineau/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

In 2003, President George W. Bush appointed Snelling a member of the airports authority, which oversees construction of the $6 billion Silver Line for Metrorail as well as the operation of Dulles International and Reagan National airports. He served as chairman from January 2010 to December 2011. He held 20 issued patents and founded Cryo-Therm Inc., a company in the applied thermodynamics business.

In a December 2011 column in the New York Times, Snelling wrote that his “sweetie” was a “very, very sick puppy” but that she remained a “sweet, happy, loving and generous person.” He called Alzheimer’s a “relentless wasting disease [that] destroys the mind.”

He wrote that his wife had cared for him “in every possible way” for 55 years. “The last six years have been my turn, and certainly I have had the best of the bargain.” He described how she liked to be with him wherever he went.

The couple, married for 61 years, had five children and 11 grandchildren.

On the airports authority board, Snelling was known for presiding over the debate about whether to build a Metro station above or below ground at Dulles Airport. Ultimately, the board agreed to build it aboveground.

On Snelling’s watch, the board also wrestled with funding issues related to the second phase of the Silver Line, which would extend service to Dulles Airport and Loudoun County. It also argued with Virginia officials about a project labor agreement for the Silver Line and adding more members to the board from Virginia.

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Dana Hedgpeth is the Washington Post’s lead reporter in covering the Metro rail and bus systems in the D.C. region and the Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority (WMATA) that runs them.
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