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Getting to Know...

Walt Lawrence

Great Falls resident and photographer Walt Lawrence was recently invited to be a part of "Photographers of Northern Virginia," a television show for Cox Cable Channel 10. Lawrence will appear on the show with host Luella Murri, and will discuss approximately 25 images from his "Images of Great Falls" collection. The show will air on Wednesday, Nov. 8 at 12:30 p.m. and at 7:30 p.m. , as well as on Friday, Nov. 10 at 9:30 p.m.

Lawrence is continuing to develop an extensive collection of images that focuses on significant landmarks, landscapes and wildlife of the Great Falls area. Lawrence says that he is constantly searching for images from unusual perspectives, in all seasons of the year and under different lighting conditions. He has also started a collection that depicts the beauty of the Outer Banks.

Both collections are on display at his studio and can be seen by appointment. Lawrence is also a member of Great Falls Studios and The League of Reston Artists, and serves on the boards of both organizations.

Number of years in the community. I moved to McLean in 1971 from California after finishing graduate school at Stanford and then moved to Great Falls in 1977. A couple of months ago I figured out that I had 17 different addresses in the first 35 years of my life so Great Falls is really where I have put down roots.

Family. I am married to Maria Berardi and have two terrific stepsons, two beautiful daughters-in-law and three cool grandsons ages 5, 4 and 2 ½. These little people are a lot of fun to play with and to do grandfatherly things with, like going to parks and museums.

Education. With all the moving around my family did when I was a kid I ended up going to three grade schools, two junior high schools and two high schools. I followed all of that with a BA in history and government from the University of Maine and 10 years later with an MBA from Stanford.

Activities/interests/hobbies. I retired in 2000 from a career in the public safety computer and communications business and immediately went to work as a "semi-professional" volunteer. My first stop was at the Great Falls Library where I still put in a couple of hours every Friday morning sorting out books that have been put on hold by citizens in Great Falls. This has been very satisfying because I have met several great people and have a terrific opportunity to identify many more books that I want to read. The Fairfax County Library System is an unbelievable asset to the community. I stop to visit other libraries in my travels and nothing compares to what we have here. A couple of years ago I was in Florida and saw a library that occupied one half of a single wide trailer and the other half was a bait shop! I have always had an interest in photography and have taken a couple of courses at NOVA; however, my business travels prevented me from pursing it seriously. I had always loved the natural and manmade beauty of the Great Falls so I started to develop a collection of images of the area. Many people encouraged me to show my work and surprisingly I realized that there are many in the community that feel the same way I do about all this beauty that surrounds our daily lives. I began to offer my images for sale at the Taste of Great Falls in 2004, and the response has been very positive. In December 2004 when the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum opened up the Udvar-Hazy Center at Dulles Airport I went over for a visit during the first week. After going on a tour I asked one of the docents how he got his job and was immediately handed an application. In September 2005 I started docent training for the Air and Space Museum downtown and in June of 2006 I got qualified. Now I go down every other Sunday morning and give tours. I have always had an interest in aviation and was an Air Intelligence Officer in the Navy but to be able to speak to visitors about people like the Wright Brothers, Charles Lindbergh, Amelia Earhart, Chuck Jaeger, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins is the ultimate high.

Favorite local restaurant or place in the community. Our favorite restaurant is Mediterranee in the Colvin Run Shopping Center. It's small, the owner Jacques and his staff are very friendly and the food is terrific. My favorite place in the community I would say is the land along the Potomac be it Great Falls Park, River Bend Park or the strip that one can walk all the way to Lowe's Island. I can go out along the river with my camera and tripod and lose myself in the sheer beauty at any time of day or season of the year. What I see through the lens is always different because the light is so variable.

What are your community concerns? What are some ideas you have on ways to improve your community? These are two great questions for which there are no simple answers. From my perspective I believe that if more people in the village get involved in defining and working on local issues then we will all benefit from the improvement in the quality of life. Through my involvement with the library and Great Falls Studios I have learned that far too few people are actually "involved" in our community. Those that are "involved" are spread far too thin since they typically serve in multiple civic groups. We have about 8,500 people in our area/zip code and I would guess that less than a couple of hundred people are really involved in anything.

What brought you here? When I finished graduate school in 1971 I rejoined my employer Planning Research Corporation in McLean with plans to return to Europe where I had been working for four years prior to school. As fate would have it I never did move back to Europe but I spent a good deal of my career flying between the U.S. and Europe, the Mideast and some to Africa.

What community "hidden treasure" do you think more people should know about? I had the opportunity to see the inside of the old Colvin Run Schoolhouse about a year ago. The place is a "time capsule" of Great Falls history. There are all sorts of old photographs and articles about the place that must be preserved for the community. Going there is like stepping back into the 1940s.

When you were younger, what did you want to be when you "grew up?" This is a question that I still ask myself today and one that I hope never has a definitive answer. Even my 5-year-old grandson asked me the same question just three months ago and I almost fell off my chair. I don't have a clue as to how to answer this question but I do know that I feel that I have lived a fulfilling life both professionally and personally and I love being with the people that are in my life and doing all the things that currently occupy my time. I am really busy in my retirement and I don't know how I ever had time to work.

Where do you see yourself in five years? I would like to be doing exactly what I am doing right now, volunteering at the library and at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum and continuing my search for images of Great Falls, the Outer Banks and any other places my travels may take me. This past summer Maria and I drove across the U.S. to the Columbia Gorge area in Oregon to visit family and along the way we saw such incredible beauty everywhere that we regretted having flown across the country for so many years during my business career.

Personal Goals? One of my goals is to continue to develop my collection of images of Great Falls and another is to help Great Falls Studios find a permanent location in the community. I am active in our local art group, Great Falls Studios, and one of the organization's goals is to find a facility where the artists in our village can work, teach and display our work to the public. Great Falls has the potential to become the art center of Northern Virginia and I want to work towards making it a reality.