Lawyer, Investor and Business Owner Helmi Carr Dies

By Arianne Aryanpur
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 16, 2006; LZ03

Helmi E. Carr, a landowner, lawyer and accomplished Loudoun County entrepreneur, died June 28 at Inova Loudoun Hospital from lung cancer. She was 95.

Mrs. Carr was born in Mountain Iron, Minn., and was one of the first women to graduate from the University of Minnesota law school. She later became one of Minnesota's first female city attorneys.

"She was a visionary, a pioneer," said Marc Albert, Mrs. Carr's attorney since 1981. "She did things her way."

Mrs. Carr and her husband, Lester, moved to Leesburg in 1950. Together, they established Developmental Engineering Corp., a Leesburg-based military subcontractor with offices around the world. Mrs. Carr was the company's lead attorney.

DECO designed for the U.S. government groundbreaking radio and satellite technology, including the moon relay, the first communication system that bounced messages through space using the moon as a satellite.

At its peak, the company employed about 2,000 people in Leesburg, daughter Cynthia Shrump Marsh said. But its size didn't diminish its personal feel.

"The fact is the whole company was like a family," said Howard M. Nicholson, a technician there for 20 years. "It was just [the Carrs'] personality and the people they chose to have work for them."

After DECO was sold in 1965 and her husband's death in 1967, Mrs. Carr turned her attention to community projects.

She soon emerged as a passionate businesswoman and savvy real estate investor, buying and restoring historic properties, including the Eagle Hotel in downtown Leesburg. She also founded the Loudoun Museum and, in the mid-1970s, established International Pavilion, which developed the Carrvale subdivision in Leesburg.

Mrs. Carr served on various boards and committees, including the Virginia community college board, on which she helped fund and construct Northern Virginia Community College's Sterling campus; and the Committee for Dulles, on which she aided in Dulles International Airport's expansion. She was president of the Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce and owned and operated the Fauquier Democrat and the Metro Virginia News newspapers in Warrenton and Leesburg, respectively.

"This was a woman who could charm anyone -- bankers, they loved her," Albert said. "You first looked at her and she was tiny . . . but she was powerful." Carr stood 4-foot-11.

Despite her public successes, Mrs. Carr ultimately was a family woman.

When her 2-year-old granddaughter was hospitalized after an accident, she "literally lived at the hospital in her clothes for days without sleep," Albert said. The young girl eventually died; Mrs. Carr also was preceded in death by two children, Alice and Richard Carr. "She did what needed to be done in many trying circumstances in her life," Albert said. "She kept on plugging away."

Mrs. Carr remained active into her nineties, friends said.

Survivors include daughters Marsh and Roberta Jane Carr Ochoa; grandson Shawn Hayden Carr, whom Mrs. Carr adopted when Alice Carr died; five other grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.

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