Arthur Mock has seen Arlington parks grow for 39 years. When he joined the parks division at age 18, the county's dirt roads and three main drags were dotted with three small parks. When he retired two weeks ago, he left a system that includes 125 parks and 87 employes.
Park system employes, including 25 in the team Mock headed as construction supervisor, include specialty workers such as landscapers, pruners, painters and bricklayers. When Mock started in 1946, there were three park employes. They did everything.
"I didn't know anything about parks when I started," Mock recalls. "I learned to lay stone walls, install playground equipment, construct comfort stations and shelters." And he kept doing it for 39 years, the longest tenure of any Arlington park employe.
Ask him if four decades of bricklaying and planting and hauling and building have been difficult. Mock smiles a little smile, the corners of his blue eyes crinkling. "The toughest part was coming to work," he says. "None of it was really that hard."
It was an accident that brought Mock to the parks division. "I was working with Kimels furniture company when I broke my collarbone playing football at Lyon Village," one of three parks the county boasted in the mid 1940s. When he returned to work, the company wanted to give him a job in the warehouse. But Mock didn't want to work indoors.
"I liked the outdoors; I enjoy . . . working in the woods. I never wanted to be cooped up inside.
"I've enjoyed doing everything; it's an experience and a challenge to me. If I tear something apart I can put it back together. The best part is being able to start from scratch and build a comfort station complete, or a tennis court."
In the early days, park employes started from scratch and didn't always keep the recipes. "They didn't do plans back in those days, so it's stored in somebody's head," says Stan Ernst, operations supervisor for the parks division. "Arthur was there when the first pipes were buried and the first electrical hookups were made in our parks. He's the only person who knows where all of that stuff is."
Ernst and others who worked with and for Mock sketch a picture of a hard-working boss, a gruff talker with a soft spot under the shell, a man who would rather help plant a rose garden than plan a schedule.
"He was one of the hardest workers I've ever seen, probably a better worker than he was a boss," said Bert Fary, who worked closely with Mock from 1956-63. "He never asked anybody to do a job he wouldn't do himself. If you had to dig a ditch, he was right beside you."
"He was fine, A-number-one," said Tommy Ott, a painter on Mock's crew for 13 years. "He has a good personality; he was easy-going. He always let you do your job."
"He was very proficient at what he did. Very good at budgeting . . . some people might even have called him tight," Ernst said. "He comes on as a tough guy, but he's really very sensitive once you get to know him."
Mock, 56, has seen Arlington change dramatically since the late 1940s. "I remember when they just had dirt roads. Now they've got superhighways and subways, stuff I didn't think Arlington County would ever have. It takes longer to get to work now than it used to."
The parks have changed, too. "In the late '50s and '60s, they used to get great use; there were more family-type picnics. Little League ball fields were jam-packed every night during the week. Tennis and baseball used to be the biggest thing."
Now that he's leaving the parks, Mock has no intention of an indoor retirement. He plans to tend his garden and can green beans and tomatoes with his wife. The couple will take a trip to Florida in their motor home. And a bench with Arthur Mock's name on it will be placed in Arlington's Bon Air Rose Garden.
Park employes have told Mock he may receive desperate phone calls during emergencies -- when they need to know where the sewer pipes run or how an ancient boiler works. They haven't had to summon him yet. "We're keeping our fingers crossed," said Ernst.