A favorite saying of Tip O'Neill, former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representative was, "All politics is local." Rose Lambert brought that philosophy right down to the neighborhood and project level.
On May 14, the governmental landscape in Mount Vernon District will undergo a seachange rarely experienced in a non-elected position. Mount Vernon District Supervisor Gerald Hyland's Chief of Staff, and in many ways, his alter ego, will retire after 16-plus years of service to him and the district's citizenry.
As Hyland stated at the recent Chamber of Commerce 50th anniversary gala, "Whatever we have been able to accomplish, it's because of Rose. She has been at my right side, my left side, and made a difference."
That difference started even before she became his first and only Chief of Staff. Rose was active in a variety of civic matters as a Mount Vernon resident from the moment she moved to the Hollin Hall area.
Born in the Bronx, raised in Queens, and having lived in Staten Island, she came to the this area to get married. "We lived in Arlington for two years and then moved to Hollin Hall. I was so impressed with all the beautiful greenery after New York I felt like I was in heaven," she confided, sitting in her Mount Vernon Government Center office.
"I met Gerry when I was working for the State Department Credit Union. He was the attorney for the Credit Union when they were building their new building," she said.
"After he was elected I gave him my resume because I thought it might be interesting to work on the governmental side of issues I had been involved with on the volunteer side," Lambert recalled. "I had been on the flip side as president of a civic association."
HYLAND WAS FIRST elected in November, 1987. Lambert became his Chief of Staff in March, 1988. "For 16 years I've been very fortunate to have such a competent professional to help me in the Mount Vernon District. And the people of this district have been equally fortunate," Hyland said.
"Rose has handled people's problems with uncanny ability. I will truly miss her. She's someone I could count on at all times," he acknowledged.
Over the years, Lambert has been personally and professionally involved in virtually every major governmental priority addressed by Hyland. From the revitalization of Richmond Highway to the capturing of the U.S. Army Museum to the establishment of the South County Government Center, she has been not only at Hyland's side but also many times his point person.
"My main interest since the very beginning was to improve Richmond Highway. But I couldn't work on my priority until it became the citizens' priority and then the Supervisor's priority. Then it became the Chief of Staff's priority," Lambert said.
That interest was verified by Becky Witsman, executive director, Southeast Fairfax Development Corporation. "Rose has always strongly supported Richmond Highway revitalization. She has been proactive in promoting and facilitating quality projects that make revitalization progress possible."
Throughout all her efforts, Lambert has worked with a host of civic and business leaders to better Mount Vernon District. "I've met wonderful people in this job and have been able to work with them to help change the face of the district over the years," she confided.
TWO OF THOSE are Andy Somerville, president, Somerville Management Group, and John Thillmann, vice president, Landmark Companies. Both are responsible for a number of developments along the corridor.
"This whole area has no idea what an asset they are losing. I'm a developer and we don't get to work with many people who are so straight forward. Rose is the best," Somerville said.
"She's very patient and explains what people need. In all my dealings with the county, Rose is the best. She's also a great communicator. She's famous for her e-mails and bringing all different factions together. She is what you hope for and rarely find as a developer," Thillmann added.
That cohesive ability was echoed by Richard F. "Rick" Neel, past chairman, Mount Vernon-Lee Chamber of Commerce. "Rose has been indispensable not only to Gerry but also to the residents over the past 16 years. The Army Museum will be one of her lasting legacies. She provided the logistics and coordination to bring the right people together and keep them focused," Neel said.
Lambert's talent to guide and nurture has been evident within Hyland's district office as well. "She taught me a lot about this job. She's been great to work with and I will definitely miss her," said Rhonda Hallesy, a long-time staff aide.
Charles Unger, another staff aide, will assume the role of Chief of Staff on May 17.
But, it hasn't been all projects and causes and meetings. There have been a lot of light times. "It's Gerry that brings fun to the office," Lambert said.
"I remember when a staffer, while driving to work spotted an injured mallard duck on the parkway. When she came in and told Gerry, he said, 'let's go get it before it gets killed.' The next thing I knew we had a duck running around the office," Lambert reminisced.
"Soon after he took office, a traveling animal show set up in the South Valley Mall. It was in the worst heat of summer. An animal activist called saying the animals had no water and were suffering. Gerry called the fire department, got them water, then got the animals moved to a cool area. The show got fined. They have never come back," she recalled.
"Now, I feel it's time to retire," she said. "I've been working since I was 16, except when I took time off to have my kids," she noted. That retirement also means she is leaving the area.
LAMBERT IS MOVING to New Port Richey, on Florida's west coast, close to her daughter, Deborah. Her son, Charles, and her two granddaughters, live in Freehold, N.J. "I love them but between moving to Jersey or Florida, it was not a hard choice. Besides, I can increase my standard of living there because of the difference in real estate prices. That's not the case in Jersey," Lambert pointed out.
"I've bought a three bedroom home with a two car garage in an over-55 active adult community with only 45 homes," she explained as she brought up pictures on her computer. "I wanted the extra bedrooms because I expect to be getting guests from here when the weather turns cold."
When asked if she was going to get involved in civic activities there, her reply was, "I'm going to play."
But, Sy Berdux, former president of the Southeast Fairfax Development Corporation, who has known and been a friend of Lambert for 15 years, has a different take on her future. "My advice to her new community is, 'watch out Pasco County.'
"She is dedicated to improving the quality of life whereever she is and will do so there. I won't be surprised if in a couple of years we don't hear about Rose being deeply involved in the actions of that area," he said, adding, once again, "Watch out Pasco County, here comes Rose."