The citizens of Vienna celebrated Clay Harrell Day last week to honor the man who has been their town manager for the past 15 years. The occasion also gave residents a chance to do some boasting about their town which they say is now the largest in Virginia.
"It's more like Clay Harrell Month," said Planning Commission member Martha Pruett at a community reception, one of three events held Sunday to thank Harrell for his good works and to wish him well when he retires next month.
"There have been dinners and parties for weeks - I think the last one is June 27," Pruett said. "Clay is a very dedicated public servant. He trained his staff to always give help, to never make you feel like a nuisance . . . He is probably the reason the town is solvent."
Harrell, who is 65, has been in public service for more than 40 years, having served with the U.S. Corps of Engineers and as city manager for towns in Missouri and Oklahoma. He was hired in 1963 to oversee the day-to-day operation of Vienna's government during a period of rapid growth and at a time, according to former mayor Jim Martinelli, when "town spirit was down."
At the reception at the Vienna Community Center, whose development is largely credited to him, Harrell said that building community spirit and identity was probably his best accomplishment. "Everyone out here is from somewhere else. You can get lost in this sprawl. Now we have programs for all ages. (Rep.) Joe Fisher (D-Va.) was at an event for senior citizens recently," he said, pulling out a fistful of snapshots of that occasion.
"Clay has been active in Rotary, the Chamber of Commerce and in the Vienna Baptist Church," said Paul Lyons, a former councilman and one of the organizers of Harrell Day. "He has been very involved personally. He has been very involved personally. He has done a lot of parks and recreation . . . When City came to Vienna, our Fourth of July celebration had dwindled to about 400 people. Now we have 20,000 . . . We didn't spend one tax dollar on all our Bicentennial events. In fact, we came out ahead."
Harrell Day began with an "ecumenical service" at the Baptist Church which was attended by hundreds of Vienna's 18,000 residents. Tributes came from local politicians, the graduating class of the Vienna high school and by Harrell's 24-year-old son, Richard, who is a profossional singer.
The afternoon reception followed the best American tradition - minus speeches. Fruit punch flowed from a lighted fountain set up in the gym, and guests nibbled cookies and talked. Attendance may have been somewhat reduced because of the playoff basket-ball game between the Washington Bullets and the Seattle, Sonics, but the enthusiasm wasn't.
Friends and colleagues, former mayors and councilmen pumped Harrell's hand and joked with him and told his wife Virginia that they would both be missed.
"Clay is the best town manager in the state," Shirley Martinelli said to an onlooker. "He put Vienna on the map."
The climax to Harrell Day came at a dinner at Westwood Country Club where 180 guests showered tributes and affection on Harrell for "being not just a fine manager, but a fine human being." Eighteen groups, including the neighboring town of Herndon, presented awards, gifts and plaques to Harrell, and Assemblyman Wyatt Durrette returned from the GOP convention in Richmond to be the main speaker.
But the town manager was perhaps moved the most by the songs sung for him by his son and his dauther, Elizabeth.
Breckinridge Bentley, a former Army officer from the Chicago area, has been hired as Vienna's new manager. Meanwhile, Harrell will leave in July "to build a house in Oklahoma and to catch up on my fishing."