The spirit of Martha Pennino, “Mother Fairfax,” returned to Reston on Monday, May 23, her name forever commemorated at the Post Office on Sunset Hills Road.
She would have felt right at home among the many politicians — including U.S Rep. Jim Moran (D-8), U.S. Rep. Tom Davis (R-11), U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf (R-10), state Sen. Janet Howell (D-32), state Del. Kenneth Plum (D-36), and Supervisor Cathy Hudgins (D-Hunter Mill) — who came out to honor Pennino and reminisce about her service to the community.
Moran recalled many fond memories of Pennino, including the time she held a party for, at the time, Gov. Jimmy Carter. At the party, Pennino had run out of ice. “So she told the next president of the United States to go out and get some more ice, and he did,” said Moran.
Pennino, who died last September, was best known for her 24 years of dedicated service on the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, but both her career and life were distinguished by her pioneering work for human services and social justice.
The dedication was made possible by Moran, who sponsored legislation to have Reston’s main Post Office designated in her name. Last October, the legislation passed unanimously.
“She’s a legacy and it’s important for the next generation to know the imprint she left on Reston,” said Moran at the event. “If it’s the right person and the right place, this is one of the most important things we do in Congress, and this is definitely the right person and the right place.”
Moran said that hopefully people will see her picture in the Post Office, learn about her community achievements, and be inspired to follow in her footsteps.
“The Post Office was her second office,” said Bonita Pennino, Martha Pennino’s daughter. In her remarks, Bonita Pennino recalled a story in which her mother would often spend a lot of time in the Post Office, talking with people, until one time when her husband pleaded with her to just buy stamps. Similar to her mother, Bonita Pennino challenged the audience to be more involved in their communities and to strike up a conversation with the person standing next to them at the Post Office. “Because the Post Office is more than just a place to buy stamps,” she said.
OTHER PROMINENT COMMUNITY members told their stories of Pennino and recalled her tireless work for the area.
“I knew Martha for 20 years and worked with her on a number of issues,” said Howell, who represents Reston. “I also think of her as a great political role model at a time when there were so few women representatives.”
“I always considered her a mentor and I was blessed to know her as a friend,” said Plum.
“She was the model that provided human rights in our ordinance in Fairfax County,” said Hudgins.
Pennino started her political career by serving on the Vienna Town Council, a position she held for three terms. She was first elected to the Board of Supervisors in 1967, representing the Centreville District, which at the time included the Reston area. For 17 years, she was vice chairman of the Board of Supervisors. Pennino then went on to serve on the board of Fairfax Water.
She was such an advocate for the poor and the homeless that she was known for bringing cots into her office for the homeless before the Embry Rucker Shelter was established.
She worked tirelessly on human services programs, helping to establish the Fairfax County Human Rights Commission. In 1994, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors dedicated the Fairfax County Human Services Center in her name.
Pennino was also a major influence in shaping and developing Reston’s civic and cultural infrastructure. She is credited with being the driving force behind the establishment of the Embry Rucker Shelter, South Lakes High School, the Reston Regional Library and the Reston Hospital Center.
In his remarks, Davis, who formerly represented Reston before the area was redistricted, reflected on working with Pennino. Davis and Pennino served on the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors together for 12 years.
“She made it happen, didn’t she Bob?” said Davis, referring to Robert E. Simon’s dream of Reston. Davis then looked back at Simon, who was one of the event’s speakers.
“You bet,” said Simon, who recalled meeting Pennino for the first time when she moved into the Heron House at Lake Anne.
Pennino, according to friends, loved people and spending time with people. “She loved parties; she loved to dance, and she never passed up an opportunity to have fun,” said Eleanor Oremland, a 40-year friend of Pennino. Pennino and Oremland, along with their husbands, once traveled to Paris together.
“She was always ready for everything,” said Oremland.