Robert E. Simon, 101, Reston Founder, Dies
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Robert E. Simon, 101, Reston Founder, Dies

Reston founder’s legacy remains immortal.

Bob Simon cuts the cake celebrating his 101st birthday on April 11, 2015.

Bob Simon cuts the cake celebrating his 101st birthday on April 11, 2015. Photo by Ken Moore.

Paul Hartke invited Bob Simon on his pontoon boat on Lake Audubon when Simon was in his 90s. “He stood on the back of the pontoon boat and we revved the motor and he beamed, ‘This makes you feel like a kid.’ That’s what kept him going I think.'”

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Del. Ken Plum, School Board member Pat Hynes, Sen. Janet Howell and Chairman Sharon Bulova got special permission to sit in the reserved seating section with the bigwigs, Bob Simon and his wife Cheryl Terio-Simon.

“It was fun to see him around all the time. He’s been the guy who’s always symbolized what everybody likes about Reston,” said Hartke.

“I wanted to talk to somebody about him today, because I wanted to say what a good guy he was,” he said.

“I think we lost one of the true giants today,” said John Lovaas. “He was the only person that I met personally in my life who was a true visionary of gigantic proportion. He could look at something and see what it really might be in 25 years.”

“We sure did lose a wonderful, wonderful person to Fairfax County,” said Sharon Bulova, chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. “He has been a real visionary. But more than that, he has been the heart and soul of Reston and has been so much fun.

“I really enjoyed spending time with him. He lights up whole events,” she said.

Sridhar Ganesan, president of Reston Citizens Association, enjoyed Simon’s daily presence in Reston.

“It was fantastic to see the founder of Reston setting an example as an active member of the community. We were lucky to have Bob around, run into him on his walks or have other opportunities to interact with him. Reston will miss his guiding hand voice and hand,” Ganesan said.

“He was a good friend and liked everyone. We at Cornerstones feel blessed to have worked with him,” said Kerrie Wilson, of Cornerstones.

“Everyone is going to benefit from the legacy he leaves. … He has been an inspiration to all of us for so long.”

“Of course, it’s with sadness, but we also all say, ‘Thank you.’ Thank you for having a Bob Simon,” said Supervisor Cathy Hudgins.

“He gave all he had to our community,” she said, “and showed what a model community can be. He built Reston, he came back, and he continued to give.”

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Robert Simon overlooks Washington Plaza at Lake Anne, where Reston’s opening ceremony was held in 1965. Simon died Monday, Sept. 21, 2015 at home at Lake Anne in Reston. He was 101.

ROBERT E. SIMON died Monday, Sept. 21, 2015 at home at Lake Anne in Reston. He was 101.

Simon grew up in New York, where his father ran a real estate business whose holdings included Carnegie Hall. Also among Robert Simon Sr.’s holdings was part of Radburn, N.J., America’s first Garden City that was founded in 1929.

When his father died in 1935, Simon was 21 and had just graduated from Harvard. Within a couple years, he was running the family real estate business.

Part of his responsibilities involved running Carnegie Hall. Most of Simon’s co-workers lived nearby in Manhattan, while Simon commuted by train from Syosset, a suburb in Long Island. His long commute and other suburban experiences translated directly into his vision for Reston of working, playing and living in the same area.

Simon also saw the value of convenient, local recreation and shopping centers at this time in his life. During this period, Simon also developed his appreciation for the value of housing opportunities for all income levels, not just the very wealthy.

In 1961, Simon purchased a 6,750-acre parcel of land in Northern Virginia, located 18 miles from D.C. Simon inspected the land and instantly fell in love, even though at the time it was in the middle of nowhere. Fairfax County was then the fastest growing county in the country and nearby Dulles International Airport was being built.

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Three-year-old Kieran Romano, sitting on Bronze Bob’s lap, and his one-year-old brother Soren play around the Bronze Bob sculpture before the Fifth Annual Founder’s Day celebration on Saturday, April 12, 2008. The Reston community celebrated Reston’s 44th and Bob Simon’s 94th birthday at the Lake Anne Village Center.

Simon decided to develop Reston into a New Town, a large-scaled development that includes all functions of a well-rounded community — residential, commercial, industrial, cultural, recreational and civic. The team first developed Lake Anne and the more traditional Hunters Woods simultaneously. The first families started moving into their homes in November 1964.

In the fall of 1967, Reston’s population had grown to 2,500, though it had fallen short of projections. The development group headed by Simon made an agreement with Gulf Oil to get loans of millions of dollars to cover some of the debts Reston was quickly accruing. But the new managers forced Simon out.

"What happened was we were going full blast and running out of money," Simon said in an interview with the Connection on the occasion of his 100th birthday.

"They said, ‘you’ll have to leave,’ and he said, ‘no, you’ll have to fire me,’" said Simon’s stepdaughter and Reston Museum board member Lynn Lilienthal.

At the time, Reston was one of the only places in Virginia where housing was not segregated.

Simon left Reston and moved back to New York, but returned to Reston in 1993.

NOW HIS LEGACY starts.

“We don’t expect this even though he’s 101. We see him in public, we see him talking. You expect him to go on forever,” said Ganesan, of the Reston Citizens Association.

Joseph Letteri, a junior at South Lakes, said Simon just a couple of months ago “opened his house and took time to meet with me” for Letteri’s leadership project for high school.

“I am so honored to have met a visionary like Mr. Simon. I learned a lot,” he wrote The Connection.

Hartke recalled the Nature Fun Run earlier this year, when Simon was the one to call the beginning of the race. “Before he said, “Ready, Set, Go,” said Hartke, “he said, ‘It’s so nice to see so many children running here today rather than moving their thumbs on a cell phone.”

“Bob Simon created Reston in pursuit of a far-sighted vision of what a community should be like, a community that is inclusive for people of all ages, backgrounds and income levels, a place where people work, live and enjoy their leisure time to the fullest within the same community,” said Ganesan. “My family and 65,000 others today are the beneficiaries of Bob Simon’s vision to establish Reston.”

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Reston founder Robert "Bob" Simon poses for a photo with Reston artist Dana Scheurer. In the image is a black silhouette of Simon.

MANY OTHERS have made statements about the importance of Bob Simon.

U.S. Rep. Gerald Connolly wrote, “I was extremely saddened to learn of the loss of our beloved Bob Simon. To the end of his 101 years, he was a grand man of extraordinary vision, heart, and charm. Most people know Bob as the founder of Reston, but his insistence on making Reston the first racially integrated housing development in Virginia also made him a civil rights pioneer. He was an environmentalist before the term was invented, a patron of the arts, and passionate advocate for social justice. The Northern Virginia region owes much of its character and success to Bob. I feel this loss sharply and shall miss his dedication, his laugh and his friendship. A local giant is gone from our midst."

“Bob Simon was not only the founder of Reston, he was the person who conceived and helped implement the way Reston was and continues to be governed,” said Reston Association CEO, Cate Fulkerson. “He placed his trust in the association and residents to protect the founding principles – principles which have led to Reston setting the standard for all planned communities. Bob Simon will be dearly missed, but his work and vision will continue on through the efforts of the association, its members and volunteers.”

“Bob was a man ahead of his time,” said Reston Association Board president, Ellen Graves. “His wisdom throughout the years is what still guides us today. His passion for this community was evident in everything he did, whether in advising the board or in just having a friendly conversation with a neighbor at Lake Anne.”

Simon and his family have asked that in lieu of flowers, donations be sent to Cornerstones.

“As you might imagine, we were very humbled by it,” said Kerrie Wilson, who tried to choke back her grief.

“Here, we loved how we would light up when he talked and had the opportunity to be with the kids from our programs.

“He was such a good friend and mentor,” said Wilson.

101 Years of Robert E. Simon Jr.

1914: Robert E. Simon Jr. Born 1922: Robert E. Simon Jr.’s Grand Tour of Europe, School in Paris

1925: Robert Simon Jr.’s Father Purchases Carnegie Hall from Louise Carnegie

1931: Robert E. Simon Jr. Graduates from Horace Mann

1935: Robert E. Simon Jr. Graduates from Harvard

1935: Father, Robert E. Simon Sr. Dies 1942: Robert E. Simon Jr. Enlists in the U.S. Army

1946: Robert E. Simon Jr. Leaves U.S. Army as a Captain

1960: Robert E. Simon Jr. Sells Carnegie Hall to New York City for $5 million

1960: Robert E. Simon Jr. signs contract to purchase 6,750 acres of farmland and woods located between DC and the airport under construction (to be named Dulles)

1962: Fairfax County Board of Supervisors adopts Residential Planned Community Ordinance (RPC)

1964: Singer Electronics Laboratory and Air Survey Corporation open for business. First residents move in.

1964: Carnegie Hall Declared a National Historic Landmark

1966: Official dedication of Reston with presentations by Poet Laureate Steven Spender and NYC Parks Commissioner August Hecksher, interior Secretary Stuart Udall and representatives of 37 countries with “New Towns”

1967: Reston’s population grows to 2,500, but far short of projections. New financing from Gulf Oil resulted in Simon being forced out of the project, and he returned to New York.

1993: Robert E. Simon Jr. returns to Reston and move into condo on 13th floor of Heron House

1998: Robert E. Simon Jr. meets Cheryl Terio, his fourth wife

2002: Reston designated a National Planning Landmark

2004: The first Founder’s Day was celebrated on April 17, 2004, on Reston’s 40th Anniversary.

2015: Robert E. Simon Jr. dies at his home at Lake Anne in Reston on Sept. 21, 2015.

SOURCES: Robert E. Simon Jr.; Reston Museum Biography of Robert E. Simon Jr.; George Mason University Libraries; Reston Connection Archives.

Remembering Bob

Remembering Reston’s Civil Rights Icon

By Gerald E. Connolly/U.S. Rep. (D-11):

No one can say Bob Simon didn’t lead a full life, but that fact doesn’t make his loss any easier. To the end of his 101 years, he was a grand man of extraordinary vision, heart, compassion, humor and charm.

Last year my office embarked on a project to celebrate the Civil Rights Movement by capturing the histories, memories and stories of those who fought for equality. Our goal was to make sure we allowed these brave voices to share their accounts, firsthand, and preserve them for future generations. Today, that archive is available at http://ethnograph...">http://ethnograph....

I was fortunate to bring Bob into this project and sit down with him for a few hours to hear his civil rights story. Most of us know Bob as the founder of Reston, but it is his legacy as a civil rights icon and its lasting impact on our community, that I will forever hold in my heart. You see, Bob hated discrimination and bigotry because he experienced anti-Semitism firsthand as a young man. That experience forged in him a passion – a quiet passion – to build a small corner of the world where equality would be a reality.

Bob's insistence on making Reston the first racially-integrated housing development in Virginia made him a civil rights pioneer. It was not the popular thing to do, and he lost critical investment opportunities because of this decision. But to Bob, it was not a matter of doing the easy thing, or the popular thing. It was about doing the right thing. He had great clarity that to realize his vision of Reston there could be no racial barriers. To fulfill Reston's goals we had to be inclusive and welcoming.

Throughout his long life, Bob's moral compass remained true. He was an environmentalist before the term was invented, a patron of the arts, and passionate advocate for social justice. Northern Virginia owes much of its character and success to Bob. I feel this loss sharply and shall miss his dedication, his laugh and his friendship. A local giant is gone from our midst. But his spirit and legacy will remain in Reston and beyond.

We Owe Him a Special Debt

By Leila Gordon, executive director, Reston Community Center:

Reston Community Center’s Board, staff, volunteers – all of us – felt that Bob was a part of our working family. He spent many happy and productive hours in our company, working on projects and initiatives and enjoying the many programs, activities and events that RCC offered. We owe him a special debt because as our landlord at RCC Lake Anne, Bob took care to build into our special lease an option to buy the facility in the future for $1. He was thinking of how to “build community” his whole life.

I loved Bob for his intellect, vision, passion and kindness. I personally will miss his ever-ready wit and his delight in the company of others with great food, champagne, a chilled martini and wide-ranging conversation. I am so glad he is part of Reston’s name because Reston means so much to all of us and to our nation. That “R-E-S” will last for generations upon generations. Although we mourn his passing, like everyone, I rejoice in having had the pleasure of his company and the joy of his friendship.

R.e.s.ton Will Not be the Same

By John Lovaas/Reston Impact Producer/Host:

We retired from foreign service life with the U.S. Agency for International Development in 1994 and came back to our home in Reston to stay. While we had lived in Reston during a couple of tours in Washington, we had never put down actual roots in the community before.

But, I was fortunate. I met Priscilla Ames, who was already a Reston legend. Well into retirement herself, Priscilla was a fixture at Lake Anne and was concerned about the future of Reston’s first (and last) real Reston village center. One day, Priscilla asked me if I would be interested in teaming up with Founder Robert Simon to run for the Reston Association’s Board of Directors. At that point, I had not even met Bob who had recently returned from his long exile in New York. She introduced us; we ran for the Board as a mini-slate, and we won.

Bob’s priorities were to energize RA, and get the Association to do some serious community building. At Lake Anne Plaza, retail was in a downward spiral, with scant traffic in the spring and summer, none in the winter months. Bob was anxious to breathe new life into the Plaza which he now called home. I had never met anyone like Bob. He was a true visionary, able to look at a place and imagine what it could become in 20 years. And he had a new idea every minute. One evening we got lucky. A group calling themselves the Friends of TOMATO (The Organic Market At Tall Oaks) led by Debbie Shprentz came to the RA Board meeting and asked for RA support to start a farmers market. TOMATO wanted the market at Tall Oaks, but the grocery store anchor at the time, Giant Food, would not allow it. So, Debbie explained that the Fairfax County Park Authority agreed to locate it at struggling Lake Anne Village Center, if TOMATO could get support from the RA Board. Bob and I thought it sounded like a great idea. At Bob’s urging, the Board agreed to provide modest funding for start-up publicity and I raised my hand to be the volunteer Market Master.

The market opened Spring 1998 with just 12 farmer-vendors. Bob Simon and Delegate Ken Plum were the featured speakers at a joyous opening day that I’ll never forget. The Reston Farmers Market was an instant success, thanks in no small measure to Bob’s personal promotion efforts, in addition to being a regular customer Saturday mornings. He and Cheryl shopped at the Market nearly every Saturday right up to the end of his life. The last time we saw Bob at the Market, just a few weeks ago, he was perched on the seat of his Swedish walker in front of Arnest’s Seafood, happily eating oysters and clams out of the shell.

Many years later, Bob would finally achieve his longtime goal of getting plans approved for revitalizing his beloved Lake Anne. After years of shepherding a new master plan for Lake Anne through Fairfax County’s approval processes so that development could proceed, he played a leading role in identifying the developer with a grand plan to make his vision a reality. Ground may be broken for the project late this year. Sadly, Bob will not be with us physically for the big day, but you can bet he will be there.

Robert E. Simon, Jr.

By Kenneth R. “Ken” Plum/State Delegate (D-36):

I don’t know why I was surprised at Bob Simon’s passing. After all, he was 101 years old. Few people reach that age, and fewer still live beyond it. Yet Bob was such a prominent figure in his namesake community that unconsciously those of us who were surprised by his death may have thought he would always be there. His passing was so noteworthy that it received coverage in all the major news outlets.

He will be greatly missed by those who knew him and by those whose life was touched by him: by the little children who huddled around the pedicab when he was brought to the Founder’s Day Program or to the Bike-to-School program at Lake Anne Elementary; by the children at a daycare center named for him; by residents and visitors alike as he ambled around Lake Anne; by everyone who saw him in the annual Holiday Parade at Town Center; and by politicians at all levels of government with whom he shared the podium at numerous public events in his town and who witnessed his popularity and couldn’t help but be a bit envious.

Surprise and sadness at the passing of Bob Simon are quickly replaced by overwhelming joy at having known him. Few times in life do we get to know a visionary: a person who can see beyond the immediate to a better society. That sizable chuck of Virginia countryside in which Bob Simon invested in the 1960s could have easily been turned into a subdivision for quick profit, but for Bob and his vision it represented an opportunity to create a better place for people where they could live, work and play.

Better than anyone I know, Bob Simon knew and appreciated community. His plan for Reston did not start with designing a government structure. Some land use laws had to be changed to accommodate his plan, but the governance of that place he named Reston was left to the community. While there have been healthy debates about issues over the years, there has been a recognition that local neighborhood citizen organizations and nonprofits formed by the residents could resolve those issues without the need for another layer of government or partisan involvement. While it is difficult to discern the elements that create the sense of community in Reston, it is undeniable that it is there and that it was nurtured by its founder Bob Simon. The basic principles he outlined in the beginning for his new town give us the best insight into what he envisioned. The most radical notion at the time and place of Reston’s founding that people of all races could live together in harmony has become a societal norm.

Robert E. Simon, Jr, our immediate surprise and sadness at your passing have quickly turned to joy at having known you. Rest in peace inspirational leader, wise counselor and good friend; you made a wonderful difference for all!