Once upon a time not long ago, Arlington County was more backwoods/country than urban/suburban, and its public schools reflected the difference. Virginia, like much of the South, was not exactly pouring money into its classrooms, nor did officials take kindly to notions of racial desegregation. But those notions would become a Supreme Court decision, and if there was a distinction in how Arlington would address the change, it was due in great measure to exceptional public servants such as Barnard D. Joy, member and chairman of the Arlington County School Board over a remarkably tough 16 years for public education in the state.

Dr. Joy, who died here Monday at the age of 76, represented the best in a new wave of people who came to Arlington in the 1930s and 1940s and who would complement career service for the federal government with vigorous civic work at the local level. Fortunately for Arlington, Dr. Joy and several other residents of good will and vision were members of the school board in 1954, when the U.S. Supreme Court ordered that public school systems be desegregated "with all deliberate speed."

Unlike too many other officials in Virginia, the Arlington board members went to work on a plan. In January 1956, they voted to begin desegregating the county schools the following fall, becoming the first jurisdiction in the state to decide to proceed. But three years of court battles, threats and state sanctions would follow. As Dr. Joy recalled last year, "All hell broke loose. It shook the state." Enraged lawmakers in the state legislature immediately revoked Arlington's right to elect school board members and ordered the Arlington County Board to appoint members who would stop the desegregation plan.

In the meantime, Virginia hunkered behind a "massive resistance" policy advocating closing the schools rather than desegregating them. The courts eventually threw out that policy, and once they did, Arlington moved on its plan. The strength of Dr. Joy was in his calm and firm determination to keep the schools open and to move with as much dispatch as politically possible.

Somehow Dr. Joy found time for still more service. He was a founding board member of WETA- TV and the founding board chairman of Northern Virginia Community College. He also was a distinguished contributor to other educational organizations, serving as a president of the Virginia School Board Association and as a member in the American Association of School Administrators.

In so many ways, Barnard Joy was "Mr. Arlington" at a critical time in the county's history. But that would be too flamboyant a title for this modest man who was content to take courageous stands with calm wisdom and a quiet persistence that delivered results. The results of Dr. Joy's labors were, are and will be Arlington's to cherish.