Honoring Fairfax City Women Making a Difference

Honoring Fairfax City Women Making a Difference

Kelly O’Brien and Lorraine Koury are ‘Women of Influence.’

Commission for Women members pose with the mayor and the honorees. Back row, from left are Mary Baker-Mezlo, Lisa Whetzel, Teresa Byrne, Taylor Geaghan, Simmy King, Mena Crawford and Lesley Abashian, Fairfax Human Services director. Front row, from left are Lorraine Koury, Catherine Read and Kelly O’Brien.

Commission for Women members pose with the mayor and the honorees. Back row, from left are Mary Baker-Mezlo, Lisa Whetzel, Teresa Byrne, Taylor Geaghan, Simmy King, Mena Crawford and Lesley Abashian, Fairfax Human Services director. Front row, from left are Lorraine Koury, Catherine Read and Kelly O’Brien.

In 2020, Fairfax City’s Commission for Women established the Women of Influence Award: Celebrating Women Making a Difference in the City. Now in its fifth year, it recognizes outstanding women who live here and have made a significant impact on the lives of their fellow City residents.

And this year’s selections are no exception. Last Tuesday, April 2, before their families and friends in City Council chambers, Kelly O’Brien and Lorraine Koury were honored as the 2024 Women of Influence. Each received a crystal statuette presented by Fairfax Mayor Catherine Read.

O’Brien, a 13-year City resident, is an active volunteer for her neighborhood and the wider City community. She serves on the city’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Board and the Old Town Fairfax Business Association Board of Directors. 

She also volunteers at City events and administers a Facebook page clearly explaining the issues and projects Fairfax City officials are considering. She’s currently employed as the Town of Vienna’s deputy director of Planning and Zoning.

Koury, a City resident for 16 years, has worked diligently to maintain the integrity of Fairfax City’s elections and also volunteered as a poll watcher. And from April 2018 through December 2020, she was the first woman in 19 years to serve on Fairfax’s Electoral Board.  

An attorney, Koury has specialized in divorce law and also provided pro bono services in the case United States v. Commonwealth of Virginia, which dealt with discrimination against people with intellectual disabilities.

At the outset of last week’s ceremony, Commission member Mena Crawford said, “We’re appreciative of the community for supporting this award – and even more appreciative of the two deserving winners. They’re nominated for their inspiring leadership, active and ongoing community engagement and high level of positive impact within the City. And it’s even more special because people in the community nominate them.”

Crawford also acknowledged the past winners: Susan Barborek and Janet Jaworski, 2020; Jennifer Passey, 2021; Hildie Carney and Carolyn Sutterfield, 2022; and Janice Miller and Katy Malesky, 2023. Then, referring to one of the City’s mottos, Crawford said all these women model what it means to “Live Life Connected.”

Kelly O’Brien

Taylor Geaghan, the Commission’s student representative, told the audience about O’Brien’s many achievements on behalf of the City. “Her impact on the City of Fairfax is transformative,” said Geaghan. “With a career spanning over a decade, she’s left an indelible mark on every aspect of our community, from business development to civic engagement.”

As secretary of the Old Town Fairfax Business Association and a key organizer of the City’s annual Asian Festival on Main, said Geaghan, “O’Brien has been instrumental in fostering economic growth and cultural vibrancy within our City. Her strategic vision and tireless efforts have propelled initiatives that celebrate diversity and promote local entrepreneurship.”

Geaghan further called O’Brien’s former tenure as a Fairfax City planner “a testament to her foresight and commitment to sustainable urban development.” While in that position, she played a pivotal role in the creation of the “Mason to Metro” bicycle plan. A joint effort among the City, Fairfax County and GMU, it dealt with the issue of bike transportation between the university, the City and the Vienna Metro Station.

However, said Geaghan, “It’s O’Brien’s dedication to grassroots community engagement that truly sets her apart. Recognizing the need for accessible information and transparent governance, she pioneered the creation of the Fairfax City 411 Facebook group – a platform that serves as a beacon of knowledge and empowerment for hundreds of residents. Through this initiative, she’s bridged the gap between government and citizens, inspiring active participation in civic life.”

But her efforts go beyond the computer. The quintessential volunteer, O’Brien is a constant presence at City events – often, the first one there to help with set-up – cheerfully giving her time, talents and energy to ensure their success. 

“Whether promoting local businesses or fostering connections among residents, her passion for our community shines through in everything she does,” said Geaghan. “In recognition of her outstanding contributions and commitment to the betterment of our City, we’re excited to award Kelly O’Brien this evening as a Woman of Influence.”

Before presenting her award, Read – Fairfax’s first woman mayor – said women have been influential since the dawn of time, so it’s “great to have an award recognizing officially the things women have always invested in, in this community.” She also congratulated the Commission on its 40th anniversary.

“It’s a testament to our community that people step up – not because they’re elected or have a title – but because they care about this community and want to make it a better place,” said Read. “They don’t do it for the recognition or the pay – because there isn’t any. And they’re sometimes criticized, but it doesn’t stop them from doing the bold things that make a difference. And in my opinion, no one embodies that more than Kelly O’Brien.”

With her husband, son, brother and friends in the audience, O’Brien thanked the Commission for honoring her. Gesturing toward some of the previous honorees there, too, she said, “I know I’m in a great group of women.” O’Brien said that when people ask, “Why do you do it?” she replies, “It’s about the connection and wanting to help and to make the community better.”

“Sometimes, it’s something as small as cleaning up a park or some bases [on a ballfield] – a one-time thing, but you meet somebody who has a similar interest,” she explained. “And you don’t know who’s watching.” Eyes shining with tears, she added, “Kids are hugely important to me; that’s why we do it – for them. Thank you all.”

Lorraine Koury

Commission Secretary Simmy King then spoke about Lorraine Koury’s accomplishments and addressed her directly. “Congratulations on your recognition,” said King. “You truly are a woman of influence. 

“When I related your work to the Women’s History Month theme of ‘Women Who Advocate for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion,’ it was clear to me that everything you’ve done through your career and for this community exemplifies that. Your work is truly aligned with this theme.”

Regarding equity, King explained that, through Koury’s job as an attorney, she’s been “a true advocate for those who haven’t had the means [to obtain] legal services. You’ve done pro bono work for others to ensure they received fair and equitable representation. Specifically, in 2013, you assisted in a class-action lawsuit focusing on providing fairer resources to individuals with intellectual disabilities.”

In another realm, said King, Koury has advocated for transparent, free and fair elections. “Over the years, you’ve served as a volunteer to ensure that election processes are conducted with integrity,” said King. “In addition, your appointment to the City of Fairfax Electoral Board has given you opportunities to support election-worker training and absentee voting and make sure the electoral process is sound.”

Therefore, King told her, “You are a Woman of Influence in your community, and we honor you. It’s my distinct pleasure to award you the Women of Influence Award for 2024.”

Addressing Koury before presenting her statuette, Read said it’s wonderful “when people take their day job and give their expertise to vulnerable populations needing it. And the fact that you’ve been so committed and generous in looking out for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities is amazing. Thank you for doing that.”

Koury said she appreciated everyone’s gracious words and is awed by the important work the Commission does in “identifying women’s needs and taking action to meet them. So I’m thrilled such a wonderful organization has chosen to give their award to me. I’m especially grateful that the work on my life’s two passions – helping ensure free, fair and transparent elections, and helping improve the lives of mentally disabled people – has generated this award.”

She then thanked her friends for coming to the ceremony, and especially her husband Daryl, “who has supported me in every single thing I have ever done in my life.” Thanking the Commission again, Koury hoisted her award and said, “I will treasure it always.”