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Bridges Carry Bits of History Along With the Traffic

Betty Cooke died in May 1999 at the age of 91. Later that month, residents of Georgetown Pike approached the Fairfax County supervisors and urged that the bridge over Scotts Run not far from her home -- and not far from the wilderness she had saved -- be named after her.

Harry W. Nice Bridge

The bridge that carries Route 301 over the Potomac between Maryland and Virginia is a nice bridge. But more important, it is a Nice Bridge.

_____By John Kelly_____
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When it opened in 1940, it went by the blandly descriptive name of the Potomac River Bridge. It was renamed in 1968 for Harry Whinna Nice, Maryland's Republican governor from 1935 to 1939, during whose term the bridge's construction was approved.

Born in Washington, Nice moved with his family to Baltimore when he was 8. He became one of that city's most acclaimed criminal lawyers. "A simple, sentimental fellow," as The Post editorialized after his death in 1941, Nice was able to "easily play upon the sentimentalities of other simple souls."

Maybe so, but he had one unusual trick up his sleeve: Nice was known for being able to affect a "heart-breaking tremolo" in his voice when pleading cases. "So effective was this device," wrote The Post, "that often not only the jury or audience but also the speaker himself were moved to tears."

Officer Kevin Welsh Memorial Bridge

The Harry W. Nice Memorial Bridge crosses the Potomac and honors the Maryland governor who authorized it. (BY MARK GAIL - THE WASHINGTON POST)
The Anacostia River's current was swift on the day that Miriam Lieb decided to end her life. The mentally ill woman had spent 18 months at St. Elizabeths Hospital and was worried she wouldn't be able to cope after her upcoming release. On the afternoon of Aug. 4, 1986, she jumped from the 11th Street Bridge into the murky water below.

Officer Kevin Welsh and his partner were 10 minutes from the end of their shift and patrolling Minnesota Avenue SE when they got the call and drove to the scene. Welsh kicked off his shoes, put down his service revolver and dove in. Others did, too, and they pulled the woman from the Anacostia, though she'd suffered a heart attack and eventually died.

By that time, Welsh himself was in trouble. "He was only a few feet away, and we lost him," said his partner, Steven O'Dell.

Welsh was 34 when he died and had been in the D.C. police department for seven years. In that time, he had become renowned for his uncanny ability to make arrests, once nabbing three people while on his lunch break during a trial. He'd received eight commendations from the chief of police, 31 from his commanders and 60 letters of praise from residents, the sort of record a veteran cop would be proud of.

In honor of Welsh's heroism, the D.C. Council voted to rename the southern span of the 11th Street Bridge in his honor.

John Kelly's column appears every weekday in the Style section. He can be reached at kellyj@washpost.com. Julia Feldmeier helped research this report.

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