Herrity's Humor, Style Fill Service

By Bill Turque
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 5, 2006

Allies and adversaries joined family and friends yesterday in remembering former Fairfax County Board chairman John F. "Jack" Herrity as the colorful, combative politician who helped create modern Fairfax County.

Eulogists at St. Bernadette Church in Springfield conceded that their most vivid stories about the voluble Herrity, 74, who died Wednesday of heart failure, were not suitable for a Mass.

"There are many stories that couldn't be shared today," James Wordsworth, chairman of the Fairfax County Convention and Visitors Bureau and Herrity's friend for a quarter of a century, told the crowd of about 500.

He credited Herrity, board chairman from 1975 to 1987, for ushering in the county's development boom and for his leadership on several major road projects, including the Dulles Toll Road, the Fairfax County Parkway and the widening of Interstate 66 inside the Capital Beltway.

Wordsworth, who said he had a "tough-love relationship" with Herrity, also poked affectionate fun at Herrity's sometimes high-handed style, motioning to the coffin and referring to him as "His Highness" and "His Honor."

"Please don't attempt to rearrange the management of your new home," Wordsworth said as he closed. "Let them call on you, for one time."

Herrity's eldest son, Pat, recalled a few of Herrity's choice one-liners, including his declaration that if Loudoun County refused to go along with the widening of Route 28, "We'll just take our four lanes and shove 'em up your two lanes."

Herrity made good use of his political skills as a parent, Pat Herrity said. When another of Herrity's five children, Tim, had a medical problem that needed attention, he called Tim's siblings and insisted that they urge him to see a doctor.

"Then he called around to make sure we all made our phone calls," Pat Herrity said.

But he also described his father as "a man with a tough exterior and a marshmallow interior" who kept many acts of generosity and kindness out of public view. One involved a lonely elderly woman who called Herrity's office about once a month and asked to go to lunch with him.

There was no political or personal agenda, Pat Herrity said. "He did it because it was important to her."

"They say that when a great man passes away that they broke the mold," he said. "I don't think they broke the mold. He was made from scratch."

Those who fought Herrity also paid tribute. Former board chairman Audrey Moore, a slow-growth Democrat who defeated Herrity in 1987, served as one of six honorary pallbearers yesterday. Although they had fundamental differences on how the county should grow, Moore said there was also common ground.

"We were always pals," she said. "One of the things I always knew was that when something came out of the blue in the middle of the night, some staff proposal that was completely crazy, he would look at me and I would look at him and we'd say, 'No way, no how.' "

The service was attended by many big names in Northern Virginia politics, including Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.), state Sens. James K. "Jay" O'Brien Jr. (R-Fairfax), Janet D. Howell (D-Reston) and Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax), Fairfax Board Chairman Gerald E. Connolly (D), Supervisors Michael R. Frey (R-Sully) and Elaine N. McConnell (R-Springfield), former supervisor Stuart Mendelsohn and Fairfax Republican Party Chairman Eric Lundberg.

At the end of the service, a Fairfax County honor guard of police officers presented Herrity's family with a folded U.S. flag. As a member of the choir sang "The Celtic Song of Farewell," his coffin was wheeled into the gray, rainy afternoon for a private burial at Fairfax Memorial Park.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company