Since first joining the City of Falls Church as a public information officer in 1981, Barbara Gordon has worked with seven city managers, dozens of City Council members and, by her estimation, has attended 450 City Council meetings in her nearly 20 years communicating all things Falls Church to the public. Currently the director of communications for the City, Gordon will be leaving the position at the end of this year, bringing to a close a chapter of her career spent in the service of municipalities, businesses, organizations, and citizens who want to be in the know.
Gordon is a Nebraska native, born in Broken Bow and raised in the state’s capital of Lincoln. She is a graduate of the University of Nebraska with a degree in journalism, where she was a reporter at the student newspaper – and met her husband, the paper’s managing editor.
She began working in journalism, the family trade, the semester before her graduation in 1978. Gordon, the daughter of a newspaper writer and editor and the sister of a journalist, took a job at the Lincoln Star and, upon graduation, became a copy editor.
“Honestly, it’s all I remember I wanted to do,” Gordon told the News-Press of pursuing a career in journalism, recalling experience as early as working on her elementary school newspaper.
Gordon married and later relocated to Northern Virginia, both for her husband’s work and to take advantage of the opportunities that living near Washington, D.C. could provide them.
“We both thought it was such an opportunity to come out here,” Gordon said. “We never thought we’d leave the Midwest; and then, we thought ‘well, we’ll never stay in the D.C. area,’ but here we are. It was a good move.”
She worked for various newspapers in the area as a reporter and editor, but a career change was soon to come.
“I was frankly tiring of some of the things I was asked to cover by the editor,” Gordon said, recalling the “turning point” when she was asked, by police and the victim herself, not to report on death threats made against a Fairfax County School Board chairwoman. She wished not to report those details, but her editor’s insistence won out and the story was written.
“I felt that was not the right thing to do,” Gordon said. “That helped me make my decision that I was ready to move on.”
The reporter who once covered the City would be in its employ after she was hired in 1981 by Harry Wells, the longtime city manager for whom City Hall is named.
Her title was public information officer, and the job was done with “different tools” in those days before computers, emails, and websites, Gordon said.
In the 80s, she worked on Focus on Falls Church, writing stories for and quite literally pasting up the monthly eight-page newsletter sent to all the City’s businesses and citizens. She also wrote for the monthly employee newsletter and generated media releases.
She worked for the City until 1990, when she was hired as the deputy director of Public Affairs for Fairfax County, but returned to Falls Church in 1992 as the assistant to the city manager. She left that post in 1998, taking on a series of communications-related positions with the Northern Virginia Regional Commission, the City of Alexandria, the Greater Falls Church Chamber of Commerce, and Virginia Power, before returning in 2005 when she was hired as the City’s communications director.
“I’ve learned something from every job that I’ve been able to use in subsequent jobs – it’s been very helpful to me, and I think to others that I’ve worked with, that I’ve worked in other local governments,” Gordon said. “It’s been a wonderful experience to have the opportunity to work at many different places, but yet learn something at each one that I can take to the next place I go.”
Gordon has thrice in her career accepted positions with the City of Falls Church, which she owes to her fondness for the closeness of the community, as well as the desirable aspects of working for a small city.
“Almost anything I do, it helps someone make a decision, or take an action, or be safe, or make them aware,” Gordon said. “There aren’t so many layers between an employee and the public. We have direct contact.”
Gordon said she will remember the many projects she’s been involved with during those three terms. In that time, she has not only enjoyed assembling the City’s newsletter and annual calendar and working with the many volunteers who devote their time to the City, but also navigating the changing landscape of media for the City. From promoting cable television as a tool to inform the citizens of Falls Church early on, to now updating the City’s website and social media outlets, Gordon helped the City achieve its media “firsts.” She was also part of the team that brought back Falls Church’s Memorial Day parade in the 1980s and played an integral role in its planning, a source of pride for Gordon.
Susan Fuller Finarelli was selected to replace Gordon. The City is currently recruiting to fill Finarelli’s former position as communications specialist, a post which she has held since last February.
“I’m thrilled,” Gordon said of Finarelli’s promotion to communications director, adding that her experience and “can-do personality” make her well qualified for the position.
“I feel like I am leaving the City in very good hands,” Gordon said.
While she admits the decision was “bittersweet,” Gordon has chosen to move on, in no small part because of her desire to spend more time with her husband and devote her skills to her church, and also because of how cutbacks have escalated the demands of her position.
“The workload has grown so much, it’s almost oppressive,” Gordon said, adding that the City’s communications department is staffed by only two people, because a third position was eliminated last year.
Her final day on the job will be Dec. 22.
Departing as the City’s communications director will only be partial retirement for Gordon, who has accepted a part-time position at her church, Annandale United Methodist Church, beginning Jan. 3, and looks forward to building a communications strategy for the church from the ground up – continuing in a career of media firsts and public service.