As he had so many times before, Jack Knowles said good-bye to his wife, Frances, last Thursday at 4:30 and left for another weeknight meeting. He said he'd be home at 10, but when Frances saw him again, it was at Fairfax Hospital.
John Fielder Knowles, better known as Jack, died after collapsing in the middle of a Fairfax County Public School (FCPS) Budget Task Force Meeting. He had just finished giving his part of the presentation. He would have been 75 next month and he and Frances were one year short of their 50th wedding anniversary.
Dan Storck serves on the task force, and said, "I don't think any of us expected it, we just thought he was weak. I think, however, even his wife will agree how appropriate it was that he was at the meeting."
Appropriate because Knowles had dedicated so much of his later years to the advocacy of education in Mount Vernon.
"It has to be the biggest loss for Mount Vernon's education system," said Isis Castro, Fairfax County School Board Chair. "He was the greatest advocate for education."
Castro said that Knowles would go around to the teachers and principals in the various schools to find out their needs and then present them at the school board meetings.
State Del. Kristen J. Amundson (D-44) worked with Knowles on school board issues for years, and said, "The public school children have had few friends as dedicated as Jack Knowles. At a time of his life when he could do anything, the fact that he chose to help the schools I think is such an admirable quality. He was my advisor, sounding board and friend. I'm going to miss him," said Amundson.î
KNOWLES WAS a Foreign Service Officer with the Department of State for 27 years, retiring as Consul General. His work led Knowles and his wife to exotic ports in both Japan and New Zealand. When he retired from the Foreign Service, he went to Georgetown Law School and received his law degree. Knowles used this knowledge not only to practice law, but to assist in advising the Mount Vernon Council of Citizens Associations (MVCCA). Knowles chaired the education committee for MVCCA for many years; he also was part of the Mount Vernon Coalition for years.
"I'M GLAD THAT I had the opportunity to work with him on the task force," said Storck. "Jack was a gentleman and a scholar. He was totally committed to the education of the children of the Mount Vernon district."
Queenie Cox, co-chair of MVCCA, said, "He [Jack] was great to work with. He and I worked really well together. He looked forward to the annual budget and finance committee meeting and thought it was the best part of the council."
Cox went on to say that Knowles was the backbone of the council, and said that they relied on him to keep them in check.
"He was our legal voice. He would tell us what we could and couldn't do," she said. "He was a wealth of information and was involved in everything. He died doing what he liked best. He will be sorely missed."
Col. (Ret.) David Bolton has been associated with Knowles for more than 20 years, and agrees that Knowles was the one to go for information.
"He was so diligent and kept records of everything. He could go back and talk about SOL scores from prior years. Jack was really a dedicated guy. He took care of more details than anybody else," said Bolton, who currently serves as the editor for MVCCA. He was been with the council since 1985, serving as the chair and co-chair for the Planning and Zoning Committee for many years.
"Jack was so assiduous and energetic. He was fascinated with the educational needs and went far beyond what anybody else did."
BOTH COX and Bolton credit Knowles with the rewriting of the council's charter and by-laws.
"We kept putting it off, but Jack kept telling us that we need to do this," said Bolton. "Now we have an updated set of rules."
Frances Knowles said that her husband loved classical music, studying the clarinet and attending classes at Julliard in New York City. He also enjoyed attending operas and concerts at Kennedy Center, Baltimore, Catholic University and Wolftrap.
In his obituary, she wrote, "He was an honorable man, kind generous and beloved by his family and friends. He will be sorely missed."
Memorial services will be held at a later date; information will be published as it is made available. Donations can be made to: J. F. Knowles Memorial Fund, c/o Fort Hunt Elementary School, 8832 Linton Lane, Alexandria, Va. 22308.