ON PAPER, the resume of Charles P. Monroe tells an impressive story of an Arlingtonian whose achievements as a lawyer, civic activist and County Board member had been rewarded only this month with a turn as County Board chairman. Yet the summary does not begin to reflect the respect and fondness that Mr. Monroe earned for his extraordinary commitment to making his native county an exceptional place to live. On Saturday morning -- speaking from the dais in response to a resident's concern -- Mr. Monroe collapsed in mid-sentence and within hours was declared dead of a brain aneurysm at 46. Speaking for anyone who had known Charles Monroe well, County Board Vice Chairman Paul Ferguson said, "He was one of the kindest, fairest people I think any of us ever met. He loved Arlington County, his job and his family. . . . He approached every issue with an open mind."

Mr. Monroe had good reason for his deep pride in his family. His mother was the first African American member of the county School Board, and his father was the county's first African American judge. His own dedication to public service began early, as an advocate for the working poor and a member of human rights and housing organizations. His approach then and later in politics was quiet, attentive and polite. Ann O'Hanlon, who as a Post reporter covered Mr. Monroe's first two years on the County Board, noted in an appreciation Monday that, unlike most politicians, he rarely spoke: "When he did speak, it was in a quiet, deliberative voice" that most times would enrapture those in attendance. On issues, Mr. Monroe took any criticism with grace and a warm willingness to understand opponents' positions. He constantly encouraged residents to get involved in county government -- to learn how to use government to improve neighborhoods and schools.

When he took the chair at the traditional New Year's Day organizational meeting, Mr. Monroe asked the county manager to compile a list of Arlington's most dilapidated properties and vowed to push for changes to give the county broader powers to enforce local ordinances and fire codes to remove the blight. It was one of at least a dozen ideas he wanted to set in motion. His colleagues would do honor to him and the county by pursuing the improvements that Charles Monroe sought.