Paula Elsey, 50, knows her history — everything from the cheese press at the historic Walney House to the soapstone quarries peppering the area. She knows what Centreville looks like on the eve of the Civil War and how it looked after.
Elsey, this year’s nominee for Lady Fairfax for the Sully District, is being honored for her contributions to local history — from writing articles and editing books to serving on the Fairfax Historic Commission.
Elsey’s personal history with the area began when she first moved to the East Coast from California during the winter of 1981.
FOR SOMEONE who was three generations deep in San Luis Obispo style of living, her move to Washington, D.C., was not particularly smooth or warm.
“It was a heady experience and a total culture shock,” said Elsey as she recalled her first job as an executive assistant in the Federal Emergency Management Agency. She only worked there for a few months, but left with a life-long taste for the metro area.
“The weather in California is much better. But the culture and history here is a big draw,” said Elsey.
She met her husband while working at a software consulting firm here. She married Bill Elsey, 63, and has two children, Henry, 19, and Julia, 16 and the family lives in Sully Station.
Henry attends Santa Barbara City College in California and Julia attends Westfield High School in Chantilly.
Paula Elsey, dressed in a pink blouse and dark khaki pants and sporting a pearl necklace, remembers how her lifelong love of history began.
“I took classes at George Mason to refresh my degree (a B.S. in Social Sciences). I started taking some classes from their two-year archaeology program,” said Elsey.
A field trip with her archaeology class to Gunston Hall, George Mason’s residence, and she fell in love with the historic site.
It was a slippery slope, and her realization of her love of history has led to articles on historic sites, model airplanes, and book reviews. A stint editing the Historical Society for Fairfax County’s yearbook led to a freelance job of editing books.
She was appointed to the History Commissioner for the Sully District by Supervisor Michael R. Frey.
She never thought she'd be named to Lady Fairfax.
“I was surprised, and then I said that I would consider it to be an honor,” said Elsey.
Frey credits her with helping to renew interest in the Centreville Historic District and with historical sites all over the county.
“THERE’S A whole new interest in the area. There are so many people that do not have roots and are looking for ties to the past. Paula’s been a big part of that,” said Frey.
He said Elsey came up with the idea to hire an intern to help record land records from all over the area, and also helped set up historic markers, or signs, at historic sites.
“If we had tried to find a way to get Fairfax County staff to do it, it would have taken months or years. Paula was able to get started right away,” said Frey.
Elsey's editing resume includes “The Battle of Chantilly (Ox Hill: A Monumental Storm),” written by Charles Mauro. She said working with writers is one of her favorite activities.
“Everybody has a story to tell, whether it be of family members or a historical article,” said Elsey. “That is what I love doing most — mentoring authors.”
Mauro met Elsey through the Fairfax County Historic Commission after it gave the OK to publish his book on Ox Hill.
“She was very good. It was the first book that I had published and I had no idea what to do. She helped me get through it," said Mauro.
Elsey helped with references, fact-checking, and what Mauro describes as one of the draws of the books — maps.
“You have a lot of Civil War books about famous battles but there are never enough maps. People like to see where the soldiers went. Paula helped me with that,” said Mauro.
Frey said there is no one more deserving of the award than Paula Elsey. The nomination is a way of honoring the achievements of people within the community.
“It’s a way of thanking those who give their time, their effort, and their expertise to benefit the community. That’s what its all about,” said Frey.