An overflow crowd packed the ballroom of the Springfield Hilton Hotel on Dec. 14, to pay tribute to the recipients of the 2004 Les Dorson Awards and witness the naming of a major Virginian Department of Transportation highway project in honor of the late Robert J. "Bob" Heittman.
His son, Robert Sean "Rob" Heittman, was on hand to accept the honor of naming the 100-foot-high, mile long I-95 South bridge, the "Robert J. 'Bob' Heittman Memorial Bridge," from VDOT officials.
"This event generates so much warmth and memories, and we are so grateful for this honor," Rob Heittman said in accepting the large framed montage of proclamations and photos honoring his father. He was joined by his wife Alison and her parents, Rich and Judy Andella.
"There are two of these [framed dedication documents]. One will go home with Rob and the other will hang in the Franconia Museum," Supervisor Dana Kauffman (D-Lee) told the crowd attending the 49th Annual Lee District Association of Civic Organizations Holiday Banquet.
Bob Heittman, among his array of civic activities, was a co-founder of the museum as well as a member of the Fairfax County History Commission. He also served on the Fairfax County Transportation Advisory Commission and was past chair of the Lee District Land Use and Transportation Advisory Committee. He was known as an ombudsman "for citizens impacted by transportation and development issues."
"This tribute recognizes the importance of Bob Heittman's contributions," said Katherine Hanley, former chairman of Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.
THE OTHER HIGHLIGHT of the annual banquet is the presentation of the Les Dorson Awards by the Civic Organizations to "outstanding members of the County staff or key County leaders as well as to dedicated citizens who have faithfully served Fairfax County and Lee District." They are made in memory of the association's former vice chairman.
"Les made such a mark in increasing our sense of community, it's an honor for anyone to receive an award in his name," said Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerald Connolly (D-At-Large).
This year's Lee District Citizenship Award was presented to John Lynch, a long-time civic activist. As noted in the presentation, Lynch has been active in both the Lee District Association and the Fairfax County Federation of Citizens Associations. Like Heittman, he served on the Lee District Land Use and Transportation Advisory Committee.
His expertise in economic development led to his appointment as a vice chair of the County Economic Development Authority "where he served for many years." He was also instrumental in establishing the Southeast Fairfax Development Corporation to "spearhead" Richmond Highway corridor revitalization.
"When I was first called and told I was the recipient of this year's award my first reaction was I was not eligible," said Lynch, upon accepting the award. "But they told me I was definitely eligible. And I am very pleased and very humbled to receive the Les Dorson Award."
Two other Les Dorson Awards, the Distinguished Public Service Leadership Award and the Distinguished Public Service Professional Award, were presented to Kathy Ichter, division chief, Transportation Planning and Operations, and Chris Wells, pedestrian program manager, both with the Fairfax County Department of Transportation.
In presenting the award to Ichter, Connolly said, what is "wonderful about this banquet is that our county employees get recognized. There are 12,000 of them. We expect nothing but the best from them and they deliver."
As noted in the event's program, Ichter "has been involved in just about every major transportation project ... including such ... projects as the Springfield "Mixing Bowl" and Woodrow Wilson Bridge Project." Her duties cover all aspects of "planning, design and project coordination."
She was cited as the "consummate professional, balancing common sense and effectiveness with a superb professionalism." In addition to her involvement with both state and county highway projects, Ichter works on transit projects, such as the new REX express bus services on Richmond Highway.
Wells, who was not present due to a death in his family, was praised for his "improvements in pedestrian safety in his role as pedestrian program manager." Included among his credits were pedestrian safety awareness campaigns, intersection and bus stop construction improvements, and plans for future sidewalk and trail areas.
THE EVENING'S guest speaker, Chief David M. Rohrer of the Fairfax County Police, told the audience, "Preparedness and public safety is a shared responsibility with the community." This is particularly true when it comes to the growing presence of gangs in Fairfax County, according to Rohrer.
"We get a lot of questions about gangs," he said. "It's a regional concern and we have no intention of backing down. We must work together to eradicate gangs." Rohrer also challenged the audience to join in finding ways to help "at risk kids."
Eighty-two known gangs operate in Fairfax County, Rohrer said. They have an estimated 2,000 members in the county and 5,000 members throughout Northern Virginia.
In kicking off the evening, Kauffman acknowledged this was the first banquet in a number of years that was undertaken without the aid of Bob and Elaine Heittman. "The primary planning and organization was undertaken by Debbie Wilson on my staff and she has done a tremendous job," he said. He then presented her with a bouquet of roses.