So many from Arlington wanted to say goodbye to Charles Monroe, even the pastor called the church “too small.”
The sanctuary of Mt. Zion Baptist church held about 450 people for Charles Monroe’s funeral, while hundreds, perhaps thousands more, watched at home on Channel 31. Leonard Smith, pastor at Mt. Zion, led the optimistic ceremony, saying that even in death, Monroe’s vision would bring together Arlingtonians.
Monroe died Saturday, Jan. 11, just 10 days after becoming board chair, at Virginia Hospital Center-Arlington, following a massive, catastrophic stroke. County officials worked with Monroe’s family to plan a public remembrance ceremony last Tuesday, which was followed by Wednesday’s funeral and a Thursday interment.
“It’s a wake up call for all of us to be one nation, one community,” said Juanita Winkler before Monroe’s funeral Wednesday, Jan. 15. Funeral services were held at Mt. Zion Baptist Church and were televised at Drew Model School and the Central Library via a live video feed by Channel 31.
Winkler, a resident of the Nauck Community, brought her granddaughters to watch the services at Drew. The live telecast at Drew and at the Central Library drew fewer people than expected, as many residents chose to stay at home to watch, but Winkler said it was important to get out.
“I felt that I want to be among the people,” she said, noting that Monroe had fought to bring all Arlingtonians together. “It’s what Charles would have wanted.”
In his eulogy, the Rev. Leonard Smith, pastor of Mt. Zion, called on the congregation to look to each other to see Monroe’s legacy, and not to see Monroe’s death as an end for his ideas. “Look at us all joined together by one common bond – Charles P. Monroe.”
Although the community was “united in pain, united in mourning,” it was still important to see the positives, he said. “It is a wonderful thing to reach the finish line and still be in the race,” he said, pointing out that Monroe died doing what he loved. “The final years of his life were given in service to humanity.”
HUNDREDS BRAVED FREEZING cold weather to remember Monroe and pay their respects at the funeral, and at a viewing immediately preceding the service. Residents came to the viewing at 4 p.m., and the line often extended out the front door of the church.
“It’s a very sad moment for all of us,” said Scott Springston, a Cherrydale resident who had seen Monroe collapse at the board meeting. Springston had planned on seeing Monroe in a different capacity Wednesday night – at the Cherrydale Civic Association Monroe had promised to attend. Instead Springston was at Mt. Zion, mourning. “We had big hopes for him,” he said.
Dianne O’Leary worked with Monroe at Dunkin & Hopkins law firm, and came to the viewing with a group of people from work. The law offices are slowly coming to terms with the loss of Monroe, she said. “We got to the point today where we were able to tell good stories – funny stories – and laugh a little.”
She recalled Monroe’s sense of humor. Last year, following a come-from-behind victory by Monroe’s alma mater, Duke, over O’Leary’s beloved Maryland Terrapins, O’Leary arrived to work to find a gift from Monroe on her desk – a Duke notepad with “Great Game” written across the front. “A lot of attorneys aren’t like that,” she said, noting that Monroe’s accessibility and good nature set him apart.
Monroe’s relatives began entering the church shortly before 6:30. Charles Bragg, one of Monroe’s cousins, waited on the steps of the church for the rest of the family to arrive, and said even as he entered the church, reality had not set in.
“I’m still waiting for the alarm clock to go off and tell me this has all been a dream,” he said. Monroe’s teenage sons, Christopher and Jonathan, were reacting the same way, said Bragg. “The kids seem to be very calm at this point. Reality hasn’t hit yet,” he said.
The loss of Monroe was a shock to the entire family. “Charles has been healthy all his life,” he said.
LARGE TURNOUT at the viewing and funeral gave some residents hope that Monroe’s death would bring Arlingtonians together in the future.
“He was very community-oriented,” said Ron Griffin, who attended the viewing with his wife Asha. The Griffins, who have worked for the county for over 20 years, said it was fitting that so many residents came to pay their respects. “The community has shown a lot of respect,” said Ron Griffin.
“It’s very encouraging,” Asha Griffin said.
At Drew, Nauck residents said Monroe’s death hit the community hard. “He was representing our community,” said Regina Richarson. “I think that he was getting ready to change some things, to make it better.”
Richardson, a school board employee who works in the after-school program at Drew, stayed at work late, joined by her sister Vonda, to watch the funeral services with other Nauck residents. Vonda Richardson, who graduated from high school with Monroe, called his death “devastating.”
Monroe was laid to rest Thursday, Jan. 16 at Pleasant Valley Memorial Park in Annandale. The interment ceremony was more solemn than the funeral, with a police honor guard serving as pallbearers and officer Matthew Owens playing taps.
But the day was “not an assemblage of hopelessness,” said Mt. Zion’s Smith, despite heavy hearts in the crowd. Smith spoke of resurrection and concluded his remarks with an allustion to the previous night’s eulogy, “This is merely a reflection of ending on a high note.”
BOARD MEMBERS PLEDGED to continue Monroe’s plans. The board resumed operations Friday, Jan. 17, to complete the meeting that had been adjourned when Monroe collapsed.
“This year will be dedicated to his priorities that he laid out for us in our January first meeting,” said Paul Ferguson, who was elected by the other board members to take over as chair.
With just two items on the agenda, the meeting ended quickly, but the mood in the board room was somber. Ferguson remained in his old seat Friday, leaving the chairman’s seat empty throughout the meeting.