Local Commentary

Editorial: The Legacy of Len Michalowski

There are pluses and minuses to living in a small town. The plus side is that you know everybody and everybody knows you. The same goes for the minus side. Intimacy and privacy don’t mix, and in the modern era, the latter is more valued (although ironically totally abandoned by anyone working the Internet. In the pursuit of electronic intimacy, privacy is wantonly surrendered).

In Falls Church, the slogan “The Little City” is, among other things, an attempt to project an image of both intimacy and privacy: it is little, but it is also the ultimate refuge of those seeking anonymity, a “city.” Because we are “little,” we claim the right to know our neighbors, for good or ill. Because we are a “city,” we reserve the right to tell our neighbors to buzz off.

Some dive into the notion of intimate community, insisting Falls Church is not a “city” at all, but a village, a sleepy antebellum replica of Mayberry, replete with folksy sheriffs, grandmothers and ice cream. Some prefer the opposite, focusing their attention on their careers, chosen circles of friends, Washington, D.C., and world travels. They weigh in on school-related issues where their kids are enrolled, but otherwise angrily defy the tug of Mayberryism with high hedges, blank stares in supermarket lines and boycotts of local elections.

In Falls Church, the Mayberryites strive to connect with the anti-Mayberry types as fervently as the anti-Mayberry types resist them. It’s nothing personal, it’s about different approaches to coping with life in “The Little City,” and we’re neutral when it comes to value judgments about one mode or the other.

This may be a strange and overworked way to introduce our lasting esteem for a recently-passed long-time resident of Falls Church, Leonard S. Michalowski, who passed away suddenly in the front yard of his N. West Street home on May 4. A Mass of Christian Burial will be offered for him at Falls Church’s St. James Catholic Church, 103 N. Spring St., at 10:30 a.m. Thursday, May 12, and internment will be at the Quantico National Cemetery.

Michalowski was omnipresent in the local affairs of Falls Church for decades, but he was always bringing the larger outside world into his involvements here, thus bridging the gap between hyper-local and wider contexts. His passion was for local government to be responsive to the needs of society’s silent ones, its war veterans, both here and gone, and its senior citizens on fixed incomes.

He spoke out at countless City Council meetings on these subjects, and took the initiative single-handedly to construct and maintain a Veterans Common on the W&OD Trail. There, he organized many vigils and commemorations of America’s war veterans. In World War II, he’d become one, himself.

He aggravated people because of his persistence, but in the final analysis, because he stuck to it, he got results. Everyone, Mayberryite or not, is indebted to him.

 

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