"WHATEVER YOU say, don't write my obituary," John F. Herrity pleaded as he packed up the memorabilia and just plain junk of years at the helm of Fairfax County's government. Nobody who knows Jack Herrity would believe for a minute that he would go off into the sunset silently -- or even all that permanently. Trounced at the polls by archenemy Audrey Moore, he has tried (and for him it is trying) to be gracious to the victor while turning over the spoils.

Though voters clearly wanted Mr. Herrity to go, their discontent with the results of enormous growth may have cause to linger. It is simple and temporarily fashionable now that Mr. Herrity is down to pile on, to attribute every unhappiness to the politician that many of these same voters kept returning to office. His strength then rested in large part on the very thing he suddenly lost in 1987: a keen sense of his constituency, of its day-to-day desires. And though there is no formal power of consequence that rests exclusively with the office of chairman, Mr. Herrity's leadership abilities made things happen in Fairfax and certainly not all for the worse.

Authorities of other jurisdictions around the region -- even those with whom he jousted over such issues as Lorton or what do about sewage -- note that Chairman Herrity's gruff bark was often worse than his bite, that frequently he would sound off for his voters and then sit down to negotiate. This ability, along with his deep personal pride in the county, enormous energy and knowledge of how to get things done, did contribute to the prosperity and high quality of services that have won Fairfax national attention.