Two decades ago, Marguerite Mott and her husband moved from their comfortable Arlington house to a forgotten island of 169 largely impoverished homes in rural southwest Fairfax County called Lincoln-Lewis-Vannoy.
It was not the sort of move that most suburbanites would be expected to make: there were, after all, no sewers, running water, indoor bathrooms or local community services.
But today, county officials say that, thanks to Mott's efforts, the community is well on its way into the 1980s with its own community center, playground, civic clubs and programs for children, the needy, the hungry, the homeless and the unemployed. In recognition of her efforts to help the community, the county last week gave Marguerite Mott its Human Rights Award.
"I don't think things would have happened in the community without them," Robert C. Counts, director of the Fairfax County community development office, said of the Motts. "The community was never known for its organization. People fell into step" only after the Motts began pushing them.
To Mrs. Mott, however, what she did was nothing that anyone else couldn't have done.
"Sometimes I wish people could learn more about how to help themselves," she said. "I grew up on a farm down in Virginia. There wasn't much money, but my grandparents knew how to survive."
She was one of three recipients of the award at ceremonies last week. State Del. Kenneth R. Plum (D-Fairfax) and the Mitre Corp. of McLean also received the award for their contributions in equal rights.
Plum is director of adult and community education for county schools and has pressed for legislation to help minorities attain equality. He directed the establishment of adult education courses.
The Mitre Corp. has offered financial and management assistance to charitable equal-opportunity organizations.
Now retired from the Interior Department, Mott, 61, runs the Lincoln-Lewis-Vannoy Community Action Outreach program from her home. She served on the Human Rights Commission in 1978 and in 1965 successfully sued the Lake Fairfax development, forcing it to open to people of all ethnic origins.
"When we first came, I guess we were really green. We found it hard to believe the conditions here," Mott said. "We would hear comments from outside that this was a trashy area just because it doesn't have certain facilities."
But that didn't intimidate Mott, who said she thought then and still thinks, "We can take a little and do a lot with it, make something nice of it."
There have never been sewers in the area, only a number of bootleg septic systems. But, says Mott with a smile, after a seven-year tug-of-war with the county over the matter, the roar of bulldozers digging proper sewage systems should be audible in the community by summer's end.
Without running water, residents depend on wells, and even some of the nicest and best-kept homes still sport tall wooden privies.
Her efforts have made her a mainstay in the community. Children wave as she drives by. A pickup truck toots its horn.
"Once, a lady's daughter was sick," resident Diane Jones said. "And there was no way to get to the doctor. What do you do? You call Mrs. Mott."
"I wish I had an award. I'd give it to her myself," resident Bessie Boyton, 76, said. "I say to you and everyone in Fairfax County, whatever you can do for Marguerite, she deserves it. You don't find people like that everywhere."