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Haywood Lowe, Chantilly Historian, Dies at 76

When T. Haywood Lowe died last week at 76, a whole lot of Chantilly history went with him. A resident for 70 years, he was a living repository of knowledge of the area's past and was always willing to share it with others.

In fact, he was one of 22 long-time residents who, in 1996, turned their recollections into a book called "Voices of Chantilly" to preserve their memories and the area's history for posterity.

George Gould of Poplar Tree Estates knew Lowe since 1958 and marveled at Lowe's knowledge. "We'd gather at the Greenbriar McDonald's for coffee," he said. "And whenever someone asked about something that had happened in Chantilly in the past, he knew the answer."

Unfortunately, though, time ran out for Lowe last Thursday evening, Dec. 12, when he died of cancer, at home, as he'd wanted. His wife of 47 1/2 years, Alice, was by his side, as were some of his children and grandchildren, plus two pastors. Said his wife: "He had a roomful of love when he died."

Born in North Carolina in 1926, he moved with his family to rural Chantilly in 1932 — at age 6. He attended Floris Elementary and was an accomplished athlete at Herndon High, from which he graduated in 1944.

During World War II, Lowe served as a signalman in the Navy aboard the U.S.S. Perry in the South Pacific. He later attended the University of Virginia and the University of Southern California. He worked four years for Washington Gaslight before beginning his 30-year career at Downs' Store in Chantilly — a popular country store on Route 50, a half-mile east of Centreville Road.

He began as a clerk, took classes and learned to be a butcher and later became owner of the business from 1965-78. He even continued to work there until it burned down in early 1981. He then worked as a cashier at the Dulles Exxon in Chantilly until he retired in 1988.

But it was the store that played a pivotal role in his life. Besides making a wealth of friends there, it was also the place where, in 1951, he met his future wife.

"I worked next door as the Downs' babysitter, and I went to the store for something and met him," recalled Alice. "Actually, my mother saw him first. She came home one day and told me, 'They have the nicest young man working there, behind the counter.'"

Alice agreed: "He was very handsome, very kind and had a wonderful sense of humor." But they waited a few years to marry and tied the knot on her 19th birthday. "We tell everybody we married first and then grew up," she said. "The experiences you have together are what make you grow up."

She also praised him as a husband and father; they raised four daughters, including twins, and have nine grandchildren. Daughter Cathy Burleson, 46, a teacher, lives in Boone, N.C., with her husband Albert; Donna Yowell, 46, also a teacher, lives in Etlan, Va., with husband Kenneth and three children, Erin, 17, Trevor, 15 and Rachel, 8.

Vickie Harrison, 42, a home-nursing clinical manager, lives in Warrenton with husband Ronald and daughters Heather, 15, Hannah, 11 (born on her grandpa's birthday) and Holly, 4; and Robin Adams, 38, employed by a water-testing company, lives in Midland with husband Michael and three children, Charlene, 21, Jessica, 15 and Michael, 11. Lowe is also survived by two brothers, W. Dale Lowe of Chantilly and Edwin Lowe of Manassas.

Haywood Lowe's love of history also played an important part in his family life. "We'd take the children on field trips to Williamsburg, Appomattox and Harper's Ferry," said his wife. "I learned more Virginia history from him than I did in high school."

After their children were grown, the Lowes still enjoyed traveling — especially cruises to Alaska and the Yukon; Cozumel, Mexico and Hawaii. And they liked vacationing at North Myrtle Beach.

Lowe also made his mark in the local community, serving as charter president of the Chantilly Lions Club in 1959 and as a charter member of Chantilly's Ox Hill Baptist Church. Naturally, he was church historian, as well as a trustee.

However, in recent years, Lowe's health failed him. He was diagnosed with prostate cancer in January 1999; but by then, it had already metastasized into the bone, and doctors gave him two to five years to live.

"He'd been real sick for quite some time," said his wife on Sunday. "He was hospitalized twice in April and had been bedridden since May." Still, he was alert and aware. "He did not lose his sense of humor," said Alice. "And he loved to have the children and grandchildren come."

Indeed, 79 relatives helped him celebrate his 75th birthday. Said Alice: "The times when we'd gather together for family reunions were some of our most precious."

Friend George Gould said Lowe "was special in that, no matter what was going on, he was always the calm person in the group. He was always a willing helper and a leader when you needed one." And after Lowe took ill, said Gould, he still didn't complain. "He never fussed about his condition," he said. "Whenever I'd ask, he'd just say, 'I'm not doing too badly."

Viewing was Sunday night at Adams-Green Funeral Home in Herndon; funeral services were Monday afternoon at Ox Hill Baptist Church. Officiating were the Revs. Dean Majette, Bill Ellis, Mark Miller and Paul Brill. Burial was at Chestnut Grove Cemetery in Herndon.

"It's amazing — the lives of all the people here that he touched," said Gould. "At the viewing, we had to wait in line 30 minutes to get into the funeral home." He estimated more than 250 people attended the funeral service. Another of Lowe's old friends, Oak Hill's Dale Wilson, added, "It was probably one of the largest funerals I've ever attended for a person his age."

Those speaking at the service noted Lowe's kindness and compassion. "Someone told a story of how they needed a turkey on Christmas Day, and he opened his store especially for them," said Gould. "He was just that way."

Wilson, who knew Lowe 35 years, said he "attended the Sunday School class I taught until he became too sick to attend." He also noted how active Lowe was in the church's Silver Threads group for senior citizens.

Betty Mathis of Greenbriar was close friends with Lowe for 25 years. "He and my husband shared an interest in fishing," she said. On the surface, said Mathis, Lowe was quiet and humble but, "once you got to know him, he was a wealth of interesting information and anecdotes."

She also admired him because "he had his priorities in the right order — God, family, community and country," and she and her husband were "very grieved" to learn about his death: "It's a great loss to us personally, to the church and to the community."

In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to Hospice of Northern Virginia, 6565 Arlington Blvd., Suite 501, Falls Church, VA 22042, or to the Ox Hill Baptist Church Building Fund, P.O. Box 220536, Chantilly, VA 20153.

"We'll certainly miss him," said Alice Lowe. "But we feel like he's been lifted up and is out of pain and misery now."