Jana Gagner, who nominated Richard Rosenthal for the Potomac Chamber of Commerce’s Citizen of the Year Award, predicted that Rosenthal would feel sheepish about the accolade.
“You know how I think he feels about this is probably like, ‘There’s other people more worthy than me,’” said Gagner, a neighbor of the Bells Mill Elementary School PTA president and youth sports coach.
“I was totally shocked,” Rosenthal said in an interview three days later. “I figured in all of Potomac there are lots of people doing a lot more things than I’m doing.”
But Rosenthal is exactly the kind of person the Chamber of Commerce awards are designed for, Gagner and others said — someone who quietly and steadily contributes to the Potomac community and seeks no special recognition in return.
Rosenthal, a former teacher and attorney, is in his second year as PTA president at Bells Mill, a job he took over after several years as a volunteer at the school.
Linda Ackerman, Rosenthal’s predecessor as PTA president and co-president with him last year, said that Rosenthal is not only a leader at Bells Mill, but also an innovator, who has worked to increase PTA membership.
“He’s just one of these unique people. He’s incredibly hands-on, he’s always at the school helping out, [and] he never says no to anything,” Ackerman said. “The kids love him, as do the parents.”
In a telephone interview, Ackerman said Rosenthal’s name and was quickly drowned out by the sound of her daughter Melissa, 11, shouting from the background: “Richard is so nice and he’s the best swim coach.”
Rosenthal was head swim coach at Tallyho Swim and Tennis for two years in the 1980s before going to law school and returned to coach from 1997-1999 and 2002 to the present.
Ackerman credits Rosenthal with helping Melissa grow from a reticent swimmer to a dedicated one, who now competes in the winter and summer.
“She thinks the world of Richard. I think he is one of the reasons she’s really stuck with the Tallyho swim team,” Ackerman said, noting that her family has remained with Tallyho despite moving to a house across the street from another Potomac swim club.
Rosenthal has also coached Montgomery Soccer Inc. (MSI) youth soccer teams for six years and teaches religious education at the Cedar Lane Unitarian Universalist Church in Bethesda.
“Families in our area look up to him,” Gagner said. “He’s very unpretentious. But he’s still very effective and very competent.”
Rosenthal grew up in Montgomery County and graduated from Walter Johnson High School, Haverford College, and the University of Michigan Law School. His wife, Audrey Anderson, is a partner in the law firm of Hogan and Hartson. Rosenthal gave up practicing law when he and Anderson had their first child.
As for Rosenthal’s feeling that he isn’t especially deserving of the award — Gagner and Ackerman had ready responses.
“I really honestly think he has no concept of how much he does and how much value he adds,” Ackerman said.
“He’s just a little bit above and beyond,” added Gagner. “Of the many wonderful volunteers in our community, he’s a particularly special one.”