When Jean R. Packard was elected chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors 13 years ago, the county's comprehensive plan, as she recalls it, was sorely outdated and development grew with little regard for its impact on traffic, public services and schools in the area.
"Rezonings were based strictly on who you knew," said Packard. Land-use planning "didn't have an order . . . . The comprehensive plan had been passed in 1958 and nobody paid much attention to it anyway. The whole county was just in total disarray."
Today, Packard said, with a revised comprehensive master plan for the fast-developing county and an organized system of land-use planning, Fairfax County's future looks brighter. "Fortunately, we're big enough so we can recoup some of our mistakes," she said.
Packard, whom friends and colleagues describe as a "role model for all women activists in Fairfax County," is the 35th recipient of the Fairfax County Citizen of the Year award. The award, which is sponsored by the Fairfax County Federation of Citizens Associations, honors an individual's service and contributions to the residents of Fairfax County.
Since retiring from politics after her defeat by John F. Herrity for reelection to the board chairmanship, and later by Richard Saslaw for the state Senate, Packard now volunteers her time and political acumen to numerous civic and public-service organizations. She is a director of at least a dozen local community affairs groups, among them the Mental Health Association of Northern Virginia, the Fairfax-Falls Church United Way, the Committee of 100 and the Fairfax Cable Association.
Packard, 63, also helped organize Channel 61, a local cable television station that specializes in public affairs programming. She has served as president of the three-year-old station for two years.
Virginia Del. Leslie Byrne (D-Fairfax), who serves with Packard on the TV station's board of directors, said Packard's foresight and leadership on the Board of Supervisors saved the county from expanding its large residential and commercial base in a hodgepodge manner.
"She was telling people what was going to transpire in Fairfax County in the next 10 years," said Byrne, who has known Packard for nearly a decade. "There is not anything Jean has touched that was not left for the better . . . . Her energy is astounding."
Packard, who moved to Fairfax County in 1951 and lives in the same house in Fairfax she shared with her husband, Fred, for 35 years, is also active in national and local conserveration groups, such as the Sierra Club and the National Parks and Conservation Association.
Her husband, who died in 1981, was the first director of the Fairfax County Park Authority.
Packard said she is worried that the county's 14,000 acres of park land will be destroyed by the renewed surge in development in the Northern Virginia area.
"I'm upset about having enough park land left for the foreseeable future . . . . We're changing so fast, I really don't think that anybody has sat down and taken a good hard look at where the county is going," the Cincinnati native said recently.
"I'm committed to Fairfax County," Packard said. "But I don't think we're looking far enough ahead again. We got caught up in growing so fast that I don't think there's a philosophical base on where we're going from here."
Packard will be presented with the federation's award, The Washington Post Cup, May 7 at Tysons Corner Holiday Inn. The Washington Post is a sponsor the annual award and recipients are selected by the federation. Citations of merit will go to William J. Bestimt and Marie T. Lewis.