It was unintentional, we think, but highly poetic. Absent from the 53rd annual Falls Church Citizens for a Better City (CBC) meeting and dinner Sunday night was Falls Church’s pillar among pillars, civic activist and three-term City Council member Ed Strait, who died in November.
Also absent, as rare an absence as Strait’s, was fried chicken on the buffet.
The story was told at the memorial gathering for Strait at the F.C. Community Center last month how, because he’d been forced to over-consume it as a child, Ed Strait hated fried chicken. But symbolic of his tireless, selfless community service to Falls Church, he accepted the task in recent years of being the guy to stop into the local fried chicken franchise and pick up a big bucket, just to make sure there was more than ample food on the buffets every year.
So, what a more fitting acknowledgment of his loss than by the absence of fried chicken this time.
Sunday’s CBC gathering was special because the memory of Ed Strait was palpable in the fellowship and camaraderie that permeated the larger than usual attendance (86 people signed up for the food). Councilman Phil Duncan underscored it with a moving tribute to Strait during the speech-making part of the meeting.
The room was filled with an almost reverential sense of the virtues of sustained public service that Strait epitomized, with many venerable leaders of the community present, including a half-dozen recipients of the CBC’s Wayne and Jane Dexter Lifetime Achievement Award (Strait was the recipient of the first one in 2000).
They, plus past and present mayors, City Council members, School Board members and assorted other civic activists all represented years-long sustained commitments to the betterment of the community, and not just flash-in-the-pan, single issue, ax-to-grind types who flare up and flame out (we’ve seen a lot of those).
Notwithstanding disagreements among them, sometimes heated, over the years, they were all still there, carrying on the sense of Falls Church as an archetype of ancient Athens, as Strait put it, where the spirit of service was the legacy of all citizens, and the city left better than it was found by all of them.
Now, the CBC is a healthy mix of young and older, and as another evidence of the shared community spirit Sunday night, it marked the first time ever that the chairs of the local Democratic and Republican committees with both present.
Equally poignant was the location of the event – for the first time, in the fellowship hall of the historic Falls Church Episcopal Church, redeemed for the progressive traditions of that denomination from a reactionary schismatic group that dominated its leadership for many years, eventually occupying the church by expelling continuing Episcopalians, sparking years of bitter legal battles.
Thus, Sunday’s meeting marked the wider community’s embrace of its historic church for the first time in decades, marking its reclamation as a vibrant part of the community, and vice versa.