According to Supervisor Elaine McConnell (R-Springfield), it originally took some leg-pulling to get her into office. Once there, however, she found the position had much in common with her life's passion — teaching. She is now entering her 24th year as supervisor. The Jacksonville native and founder of Accotink Academy, McConnell is also a musician and writer: her poem, "I Am a Child," reflects her love of children and appears on much of her office's printed literature. She recently found some time to sit down and discuss her work and her district.
How long have you lived in the community and what brought you here? We moved here in 1961. My husband was a federal agent for [The Bureau of] Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, and he transferred here from Florida, so I came with him.
Family: I have three children, a daughter and two sons, so I have nine grandchildren. Two sons live here, on the same street I do, and my daughter lives in South Carolina — Columbia. We have a business that my son is working at, Accotink Academy. I own [the school], started it in 1964.
Education: I went to a two-year program in Florida for teaching kindergarten. I taught for about four years. When I got here I went to work for another school … I wanted to teach [in preschool], so I designed a program at Accotink to actually teach. Five years later, after I started it, it was a smashing success. It went from 40 students to 400. Area schools didn’t have programs for children with learning disabilities, so I started a school for children with learning disabilities at Accotink Academy.
Activities/interests/hobbies: I was church organist for eight years and choir director. I love to write. I’ve written a number of short stories and a cantata for church. I write for my own pleasure … I’m writing a book now, a first-century story of four kings.
What is the biggest change you’ve seen in the Springfield District? The amount of growth that has taken place in Fairfax County. Jobs are plentiful, it has the quality of life they like. The biggest changes are growth and traffic. People don’t understand the Dillon Rule, in which we don’t have the power to stop growth or limit it, it is all decided at the state level … our hands are tied. People get upset because we are the ones accountable at this level. That’s one thing about Virginia laws: land rights are very, very sacred in this state. Judges won’t stop growth just because there isn’t a road nearby.
How did you become involved in politics? In 1983 they asked me to run for office, and I was not all that interested … finally I said OK. From that point on I’ve been in for 24 years this year. This is the type of job that appeals to me, it is like in education: serving, working with children and people … I had name recognition because of my school and I had seen a number of children in the neighborhood. That’s a big thing when you are going into politics, name recognition. People know you, know your name, what you’re like, your reputation and all that.
Favorite restaurant or place to spend time in the community? We have two that everyone loves nearby us: Milano’s, a Greek restaurant, and Asian Grill.
Community concerns: The big thing, like all people, is transportation. I initiated commuter rail, I’d like to expand upon it. The expansion of the Fairfax County Parkway was a big thing I had been working on. We finally completed [Route] 123. Our education system is good, so we need to continue to support that. Public safety is a big thing I’m concerned about. There’s a huge communications center for the whole county going in my district, that is a big, big project. If we have an emergency, I hope not to have the communication systems problems we had on 9-11. Everyone would be there. One of my concerns, one nobody talks about, is being attacked again. So public safety and disaster response are my biggest concerns. It is going to happen, it is imminent and we need to be prepared.
What was the last book you read or the last movie you watched? I read one called “The Red Tent” [by Anita Diamant]. I don’t have the time to read anymore, so now what I’ve started doing is getting books on tape. My grandchildren took me to see “Cars.” I don’t like violence, so it’s very hard to pick a movie. When I leave here, I want to leave all problems behind and watch something light and funny. We go to the Kennedy Center; I love Marvin Hanley and the National Symphony Orchestra. I love the Fairfax Symphony too.
What is your most notable accomplishment as Supervisor? The rail is the thing I’m most proud of having started, Virginia Rail. A number of schools were built in my district, I’m very proud of those. Even before we had gang problems, I started a gang squad because I knew it was coming. Public safety. It’s important to feel safe in our neighborhoods. If there is an emergency, we have an excellent fire and safety department. We watch their response time very closely, we make sure people are within a six-minute response time. I’m very proud of having worked on those issues: roads, VRE, getting street officers, these are all things I worked on for so long.
When you were younger, what did you want to be when you “grew up?” I always wanted to be a teacher from the time I was 10. I love music, and when I went into the program and taught for five years, I loved early childhood education and reading programs. When I opened the school, I taught, drove buses, did office work … children have always been my life outside this job.
What are some of your personal goals? Will you seek re-election? I’m trying to make up my mind. The joint communications center is so important for me, finishing the Parkway through the EPG is very important because you have all these people coming in as part of BRAC. There are roads I would like to see finished. One thing I would like to do is start a Springfield Boys’ Choir, like the Vienna Boys’ Choir. Other goals are to try to find ways to help the tremendous problem with traffic. One of my biggest goals this year is to complete that book. I love decorating, so that’s another one of my goals, to redecorate the house.
— Lea Mae Rice