Piedmont Stories

By Eugene Scheel
Sunday, April 5, 2009

Frank Raflo, who passed into eternity three weeks ago at 89, grew up bright, urban and Jewish in the insular, rural and Protestant county that was Loudoun before 1950. For him, it was easier to fight the establishment than be part of it.

In his historical work, "Within the Iron Gates; Loudoun: Stories Remembered (1925-1975)," Raflo describes himself as "the local troublemaker . . . always eager to get involved in every public debate and to begin his rebuttals." He had that New York City style of gab.

The book's title refers to the iron gates at the Loudoun courthouse grounds in downtown Leesburg. Raflo was born a scant block away, in December 1919, above a store called New York Bargain House. The store was founded in 1911 by his mother, Fannie Bulitsky Raflo, and was later run by her husband, Joseph, under the name Raflo's.

At the time, many towns in the South had one clothing store run by a Jewish family. Jewish people were considered by many to be the best tailors and the most astute buyers of the latest fashions.

A graduate of old Leesburg High School, where he always ranked at or near the top of his class, Raflo graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the College of William and Mary in 1940. Shortly afterward, he took some knocks in his hometown as editor of the now-defunct Loudoun News, one of two Leesburg newspapers.

As an editor, he became adept with figures and statistics, a hallmark of his later writings and conversations.

Once, the county bought space in the other Leesburg newspaper for a lengthy legal ad that was to run four times. But the ad had a mistake, so it ran four more times after the correction was made.

In such cases, the advertiser usually would not have to pay for the incorrect version of the ad. Raflo, however, suspected that his competitor had double-billed the county. He checked county records, found out he was right and wrote an editorial accusing his rival of fraud.

The other paper's editor accosted him on the courthouse corner. As Raflo tells the story in Frances Reid's book, "Inside Loudoun: The Way it Was," he demanded that Raflo tell him who had written the editorial.

"Who writes the editorials in the Loudoun News is none of your damned business," Raflo replied. The other editor, who outweighed Raflo by 60 pounds, responded by belting him. But Raflo stood his ground.

His introduction to local politics came at age 21, when some friends persuaded him to go to a polling place on Election Day and give out hand stamps with the name of a write-in candidate so voters could stamp it on the ballot. The incumbent was Michael Henry Whitmore, who had been the Leesburg District supervisor for more than 30 years.

As Raflo recalls the scene in "Within the Iron Gates," Loudoun Circuit Court Judge J.R.H. Alexander came up to him and asked, "Boy, what are you doing here?"

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