Loudoun County high school teacher and decorated Vietnam War veteran George Barton took every opportunity to remind his students about the importance of service to one’s country and community — a driving principle of his life, according to those who knew him and worked beside him.
“I will always think about him on Veterans Day,” said Virginia Minshew, principal of Park View High School, where Barton taught English and journalism. “George made sure that the students understood the importance of that day, and what it meant not only to him and the other veterans on our building, but what it meant to the kids in terms of the freedoms that they now enjoy.”
Barton, 68, a longtime Hamilton resident who was active in many aspects of the Loudoun community for decades, died Saturday of a heart attack while on vacation in North Carolina. It was the second sudden loss of a beloved Loudoun educator within days, after the death of Sanders Corner Elementary School Principal Kathleen Hwang, who was struck by a vehicle and killed Wednesday while walking near her home in Sterling.
Loudoun County School Superintendent Edgar B. Hatrick III said that Barton’s loss was felt across “the whole of the Loudoun community,” of which he had been a substantial part. Barton was editor of the Loudoun Times-Mirror in the 1980s, a longtime volunteer fireman in Hamilton, the county’s first at-large chairman of the Board of Supervisors, from 1992 to 1995, and an educator at Park View High School and Northern Virginia Community College.
Barton had always been dedicated to education, Hatrick said, including during his four years as a supervisor.
“When he served as chairman of the Board of Supervisors, we were really beginning to work on technology in our classrooms,” Hatrick said. “George, if he was in a meeting and found some money, he’d call me up and say, ‘In an hour, can you give me a plan to spend X amount of dollars?’ . . . He always had a real interest in education.”
Barton led the board during a critical period of Loudoun’s development. As one of seven Republicans swept into office on promises to bolster the county economy, Barton and his fellow board members oversaw a challenging time in Loudoun’s financial history, when the county was defined, in part, by stalled revenue growth and the mounting cost of services.
With the goal to help spur growth, the board approved the construction of more than 20,000 homes during the four-year term and helped shape the vision of Loudoun’s residential development through planned communities, such as Ashburn, Cascades, Broadlands and Brambleton.
Loudoun County Treasurer H. Roger Zurn (R), who served with Barton on the Board of Supervisors from 1992 to 1995, said he admired Barton’s leadership in an unprecedented role.
“He had to figure out how to do the job without a playbook,” Zurn said in an e-mail. “He did it well, too.”
Zurn also recalled Barton’s dry sense of humor and modesty about his military service.
“He did not speak about it to too many people, but he was a true war hero,” Zurn said. “He suffered from several ailments as a result of his wounds, but never complained and was always proud to say he served his country.”
Barton was “probably the best chairman” the county has had, Zurn said.
Although not everyone supported the board’s drive for residential growth, Barton was effective at rallying political and public support for his initiatives, said Peggy Maio, a former chairman of the Loudoun Planning Commission who served as a field officer for the Piedmont Environmental Council during Barton’s tenure on the board.
“I didn’t agree with everything they did, but George was very efficient in implementing an agenda,” Maio said. “He remained an amicable person to people who didn’t agree with him, including me. We were always able to at least have a discussion — a meaty discussion, not just pleasantries — and I always appreciated that about him.”
After deciding not to run for reelection, Barton returned to teaching. He was named Teacher of the Year at Park View High in 2005, Hatrick said.
It was a role he cherished and intended to continue: “Just two weeks ago he sent me a short e-mail to tell me that he had submitted his paperwork to renew his teaching license for another five years,” Hatrick said. “So I thought we’d have him on faculty for at least another five years.”
Barton’s death, Hatrick said, came as a shock.
Minshew, who worked with Barton at Park View for the past eight years, said she wanted the community to know that Barton “truly did have a heart of gold.”
“George wanted everybody to think that he was a little old curmudgeon, but he really wasn’t,” Minshew said. “He genuinely cared about his students and his colleagues, and he did a lot of things that people didn’t know he did” — many small acts of unseen kindness, she said.
Asked for an example, she declined to offer one out of respect to Barton’s humility, she said.
“You know, whenever you mentioned things like that to him [to express gratitude], he brushed it off. He didn’t want acknowledgment,” she said. “That’s how he wanted it, and I think it’s important to be respectful of that. That’s how he chose to pay it forward, with the quiet acts of kindness that he did.”
Barton is survived by his wife, Kathy Fleming Barton, a teacher at Evergreen Mill Elementary School; three children; and four grandchildren.
Services will be at 2 p.m. Thursday at Harmony United Methodist Church in Hamilton. Burial will be at Arlington National Cemetery at a later date.
Memorial contributions may be sent to the Hamilton Volunteer Fire Department, P.O. Box 44, Hamilton, Va. 20159; or to the American Heart Association, P.O. Box 5216, Glen Allen, Va. 23058.