When five-term former Alexandria mayor Charles E. "Chuck" Beatley, Jr. died on Dec. 29, he left behind much more than a public library that bears his name. His legacy is a family and friends who loved him and a modern urban city that bears the many marks of his visionary ideals.
"Looking back, I grew up essentially watching my father doing planning," said Timothy Beatley, the youngest son of the former mayor who teaches urban planning at the University of Virginia. "He tackled a variety of complex issues and did so with such grace and vigor and, in a sense, my childhood was a kind of a boot camp. I might not have realized it at the time, but it was. I learned much more than the technical particulars of any city planning topic.
"The lessons really were much deeper and much more profound. I learned from my dad the value and virtue of vision and the courage to give voice and expression to that vision. Dad was a visionary; he was a visionary in the truest sense. Somehow he was able to see a bigger picture and a different path and to inspire other people into joining him in pursuing that vision. In so many areas, he was so far ahead of his time, from transportation to energy to environment and urban design."
That vision began on May 17, 1916, in Urbana, Ohio. Beatley grew up on a small farm and sold vegetables and delivered newspapers to help earn money for his family. He earned a bachelor's degree from Ohio State University in 1938 and a master's degree in business administration from Ohio State in 1947.
During World War II, Beatley was employed as a pilot for Pan American Airlines, based in Lima, Peru. He ferried military aircraft to various parts of the world for the U. S. military.
In 1945, he met and married Marjorie Perry and they moved into a small house with another couple in Old Town Alexandria. The couple had three children.
IN THE LATE 1940s, the Beatleys bought five acres of land next to Shirley Highway.
"At the time, that was Fairfax County," said former city manager Vola Lawson, who worked for Beatley when he was mayor. "Chuck said that it reminded him of his farm back in Ohio because that western part of the city was then a group of farms. Chuck said there was even a pig farm just about a block from his house."
In the 1950s, there was an annexation lawsuit and the Beatleys were once again Alexandrians. And that's when Beatley became involved in the city's affairs.
"He was very active in the Seminary Hill Civic Association and forged a relationship between Seminary Hill and the Old Town Civic Association," Lawson said. "There were some plans that would have turned everything west of Quaker Lane into high-rises. That wasn't Chuck's vision of the way things should be."
William E. O'Neill, Jr. was a long-time friend of the Beatleys. "I will remember Chuck for many reasons," O'Neill said at the memorial service for Beatley that was held at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Alexandria earlier this week.
"I will remember Chuck because I can look out my window, up Seminary Hill and see the roof lines of single family homes and trees, not high-rise apartment buildings."
THAT VISION guided Beatley as he changed a city. "If you had been in Alexandria in 1964, and on a beautiful Saturday afternoon in the spring, had walked toward the river, you would have found, if you were lucky, 30 retail establishments that were open for business; the Seaport Inn, a pool hall and a grill. When you reached the Torpedo Factory, you would have seen an ugly, hulking building blocking access to the waterfront and a blight on everything around it," said Wiley F. Mitchell Jr, a member of the Alexandria City Council during Beatley's first three terms as mayor and a former Virginia State Senator.
"The waterfront from Jones Point to the Pepco plant was abandoned warehouses, rotting peers, scattered litter and piles of trash with no access at all to the river for the public. If you had stood at the intersection of King and Washington and looked toward the George Washington Memorial, you could not see the memorial for the power lines on King Street. Alexandria had had little or no commercial development.
"The urban renewal project that was operating in the 300 and 400 blocks of King Street was stalled. This was the situation when Chuck Beatley was first elected to Council in that bitterly cold special election in February, 1966," said Mitchell.
Mitchell was vice mayor under Beatley from 1970 to 1973. Mitchell is a Republican. Beatley was a Democrat. "He always called that Council his dream Council," Lawson said. "There were three Democrats, three Republicans and an Independent. Ira Robinson, the first African-American ever to be elected to City Council, served on that Council. Chuck always felt that they accomplished more than any other Council on which he served. They were fun to watch."
MOST CREDIT Beatley with bringing Alexandria into the modern era and turning it into a real city. "He really did lead Alexandria from a sleepy little suburb of Washington to an independent urban city with its own commerce and industry," said former mayor Kerry J. Donley. "He encouraged trade associations to relocate here and transformed the downtown area into a real central business district."
But his contributions were about much more than bricks and mortar. "His impact on the tone of civility in the city was incredible," Mitchell said. "Under his leadership, what had been hostility was replaced by cooperation. Confrontation gave way for conciliation; openness took the place of secrecy and skepticism was converted to confidence. People in opposing camps in this city actually began to talk to each other and to work out solutions to problems and in the process, this sleepy little back water town became the vibrant urbane city of the new millennium," Mitchell said.
Mayor William D. Euille met Beatley when Euille was a high school student at T. C. Williams. "A group of us went down to City Hall to protest the flying of the Confederate flag and to ask that the statue of the Confederate soldier on Washington Street be removed," Euille said. "Mayor Beatley invited us into the chamber, welcomed us and listened to those who had been designated to speak. He made a commitment to work with us and to listen to us when we had concerns.
"When we are born, our lives are a blank canvas and we can paint on them what we will. Chuck Beatley painted a vibrant, warm canvas that is the Alexandria we know today. He will be missed," Euille said.