John H. Ariail Jr., co-founder of Sport and Health clubs, dies at 68

Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 10, 2011; 10:03 PM

John H. Ariail Jr., 68, an Alexandria entrepreneur who co-founded the Sport and Health chain of fitness centers, died Jan. 20 at Inova Fairfax Hospital of endocarditis, an inflammation of the lining of the heart.

Mr. Ariail and the late W. Forbes Ramsey, a lawyer and businessman, established the Arlington Y Tennis and Squash Club in 1973. Mr. Ariail, a former college tennis player, opened the club as an alternative to joining a country club.

"If he couldn't solve a problem, he did it himself," said his daughter Allison Erdle. When people in the community were looking for more than just a tennis club, Ms. Erdle said, her dad and Ramsey expanded the club into a full-scale gym.

Under the name Sport and Health, they opened more locations. There are 24 in the Washington area. Mr. Ariail was the company's board chairman until 2002 and remained a shareholder.

Since expanding the health-club chain, Mr. Ariail became an investor in other local businesses, including the Alexandria Times. He also co-owned a group of restaurants run by chef Cathal Armstrong, including Restaurant Eve, Majestic and Society Fair, all in Alexandria.

Armstrong said that Mr. Ariail "had a keen eye for the entrepreneurial spirit" and took a leading role in the business aspects of opening the restaurants.

John Harvey Ariail Jr. was born in Greenville, S.C., and was a 1964 mathematics graduate of Davidson College in North Carolina. He received a law degree from the University of Virginia in 1967. He served in the Army from 1964 to 1969 at Fort Belvoir.

Early in his career, he was a special agent with the CIA in Salzburg, Austria, an assistant commonwealth's attorney for Arlington County and a lawyer with the firm Mays and Valentine.

Since 1967, he had been a partner in B.M. Smith and Associates, a real estate management and development business started by his wife's family.

From 1968 to 1997, Mr. Ariail lived in Lorton. In the late 1990s, he bought and renovated the Lord Fairfax House, a historic home in Alexandria.

He was a member of St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Alexandria, the Metropolitan Club of Washington and the Old Dominion Boat Club in Alexandria.

He served on the board of the St. Stephen's School in Alexandria and the Flint Hill School in Oakton and was a past president of the Arlington County Bar Association. He was a past chairman of the Virginia State Water Control Board, the Lorton Arts Foundation and Goodwin House, which operates retirement communities in Virginia.

In addition to his daughter, of Alexandria, survivors include his wife of 43 years, Leslie Smith Ariail of Alexandria; two other children, John H. Ariail III of Alexandria, and J.E. Shreve Ariail of Brooklyn, N.Y.; two brothers; and three grandchildren.

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