It was appropriate that Ginny Barnes found out about her award in the middle of a West Montgomery County Citizens Association board meeting.
GINNY BARNES and her husband George Barnes were doing what they do best when colleague Elie Pisarra-Cain informed let them know: the Potomac Chamber of Commerce had selected the Potomac civic activists as the recipients of its Lifetime of Service Award.
"We’re actually kind of overwhelmed," Ginny Barnes said.
The award was established in 1993 for the purpose of "honoring a person or persons who have truly devoted their volunteerism tirelessly and in depth throughout their life in the Potomac community."
The award is separate from the annual citizen, businessperson, and youth of the year awards handed out in connection with Potomac Day. It has only been given out thrice.
It was first given to Mary Ann Thane in November of 1993 for 30 years of uninterrupted attendance at hundreds of meetings and testimony at hearings to assure that Potomac developed in the best way possible, that codes and zoning requirements were followed, and that changes in zoning and codes only strengthened the quality of that development.
THREE YEARS later then Washington Hebrew Congregation Rabbi Joseph Weinberg was chosen for his caring and nurturing well beyond the walls of the synagogue for all his years in Potomac having touched so many people and making remarkable differences in their lives. Weinberg died of a brain tumor in 1999, but continues to leave his mark in the charities he supported and the Falls Road children's center that bears his name.
This year, the award recognizes Ginny and George Barnes. George Barnes grew up in Potomac and Ginny Barnes came here when she married him.
"Between the two of them there isn't a plan filed or a wetland threatened that they aren't on top of the issue gathering facts to completely understand the project and its impacts on Potomac as a community," wrote Pisarra-Cain, who nominated the Barneses for the award. "They go to hearings, give testimony, attend County Council Committee meetings and their hearings, meet with Planning Board staff and attend Planning Board hearings and arrange community meetings to keep residents informed about issues that affect all of us living here."
GINNY AND GEORGE also are longtime leaders in the West Montgomery County Citizens Association, which Pisarra-Cain called "the most respected citizens organization in Montgomery County." Ginny Barnes is the current president.
"What they do is remarkable and the citizens of Potomac should be thankful every day that the Barnes team is so deeply committed to the well being of this wonderful community," Pisarra-Cain said.
Ginny Barnes said it was a special honor to be in the company of Mary Anne Thane.
"George and I were both kind of mentored by her," she said. "She’s one of the reasons I’m an activist today, because of what she did for the community. We both really admired her."
Q&A with Ginny Barnes
Q: How did you become a civic activist?
A: George’s father had been very active. He was very active in the Democratic Party here, so there was a history of that in George's family.
I came here to be with him and we, for the longest time, we weren’t involved in anything. But the threats to the Glen kind of woke us up.
There was a plan to widen the one-lane bridge and roads into the Glen in 1989. That’s when we all got together and fought it and won.
We got involved in west Montgomery and we also started an organization called the Glen Preservation Organization.
That sort of gave rise to the rustic roads program.
Q: One of the prior recipients of this award — Mary Anne Thane — was a mentor to you. What did you learn from her?
A: We were neophytes … We had all the passion and drive but we didn’t have the experience. She did.
It's from her that I really learned — and I think it's held us in good stead — we learned the importance of making policy and then defending it, rather than fighting one little battle at a time.
She treated the Master Plan like the Bible, and she could quote it chapter and verse.
Q: Are there any particular accomplishments that stand out for you — either things you helped bring about or helped prevent?
A: I would say, I think the Master Plan is certainly an accomplishment. For me, all the work I've done on Legacy Open Space.
Really, [it's about] what makes Potomac important, making that visible to people. It gets away from the fact that Potomac is a wealthy community. That’s not the point. The danger here in the county is that Potomac only be seen as a rich enclave. It's much more than that; it's an environmental enclave and a sensitive area.