Longtime City of Falls Church resident, business owner, Chamber of Commerce leader and civic activist Gary LaPorta died suddenly at his home in the City last Friday. City of Falls Church Police were called to his apartment in the 301 W. Broad building Sunday for a welfare check at the request of his daughter, who lives near Roanoke, and found him deceased, according to reports.
LaPorta, 72, was recovering from a heart attack shortly before Christmas. A employee of the Commissioner of the Revenue office at City Hall, he was given a “clean bill of health” following surgery and a recovery period in an area hospital following that incident and had returned to work. In the meantime, LaPorta was elected president of the City’s Citizens for a Better City (CBC) organization last month.
A veteran and widower, a native of Cold Springs, New York, since moving to Falls Church he ran a popular local business that drew busloads of touring miniatures collectors, known as Miniatures from the Attic. He was a two-term board chairman of the Falls Church Chamber of Commerce and an activist in support of a range of local causes from involvement in support of the Falls Church City Schools to being a board member of the Falls Church City Democratic Committee. He was also involved as a volunteer with the Creative Cauldron theater troupe, the Falls Church League of Women Voters, a City task force on parking and towing and was a member of the City’s Employee Advisory Council.
“Gary LaPorta made Falls Church a better place by making it his home,” said Falls Church Vice Mayor Mary Beth Connelly in a statement to the News-Press this week. “He was relentless in pursuit of the common good as a volunteer, leader, entertainer, employee, neighbor and friend.”
Also as a representative of the Falls Church City School System, Connelly said that “LaPorta was a valued school partner. In addition to attending numerous public meetings and asking great questions, he volunteered in the schools whenever he could.”
She cited among his contributions to the schools the following: He served on the Business in Education (BIE) Advisory Committee for many years. Starting in 2006, he hosted a series of Thomas Jefferson Elementary fourth grade field trips at his Miniatures From the Attic to learn about area, perimeter and scale by measuring for a doll house. He donated a Harry Potter dollhouse to TJ and visited classes while winning the Acacia Bank Good Guy Award for his efforts. At Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School he served for several years as a competition judge and he volunteered as a guest reader at Mt. Daniels’ Read Across America events.
School Board member Lawrence Webb wrote that he was “a true pillar of the community in Falls Church.”
“Gary was a great man and friend. He was the heart and soul of our community,” wrote Sally Cole, executive director of the F.C. Chamber of Commerce. “He was one of the most loyal, selfless, and supportive people I have ever met. He was a great friend to me personally and professionally, as he was to many in our community. He was a fixture at Chamber events and a tireless supporters of the Chamber, its events, and community events. His life here was too short but the impact he made will be felt for generations. He was a good man, one of the best men I have ever had the opportunity to know.”
With the Falls Church Chamber, he was the recipient of the Pillar of the Community Award in 2018, the Commander Hap Day Memorial Appreciation Award in 2013, and served as a the Chamber’s board chair in 2007 and 2008, was vice chair of its membership committee in 2006, 2016-2018, Chamber legislative committee vice chair 2007, 2008, 2013 and 2014, Chamber secretary 2017-2019 and on the Chamber board of directors from 2005-2010 and 2013-2019.
LaPorta’s boss in the Commissioner of the Revenue office, Tom Clinton wrote, “Gary was great to have as a friend, great to have in the office, and great to have in the community. He was always giving back to Falls Church City and in so many different ways.”
In comments to the News-Press, F.C. Watch Night co-founder Barbara Cram wrote “He shared so much of himself with others and was so kind and wise…I have lost a very good friend. I love Gary. He was selfless in his service because he loved helping others. He has such a great spirit of joy and sharing the good things in life.”
She added, “He was just a common sense person with a huge heart and always looking out for his friends and making new ones! He was always available for lending a helping hand. I will think of him when I see the stars twinkle at night. He leaves a big space to fill here in our hearts and in our City.”
Peg Willingham on behalf of the Falls Church Democratic Committee wrote, “Gary was a wonderful man whose warm smile, kind heart and generous spirit will be greatly missed. As an active and dedicated member of the F.C. Democratic Committee he was always quick to volunteer, contribute and welcome others. Whether it was registering voters, seconding motions at meetings, staffing booths at festivals, or tending bar at our annual potluck supper, Gary radiated positive energy and made everyone around him feel special.”
Chamber member Gordon Theisz wrote, “When you think of Falls Church, you think of Gary. He was ever present. He was a friend to everyone.” Planning Commissioner Tim Stevens wrote, “Always an upbeat person who looked for ways to make a positive contribution to everything he was involved with.” Local residents Dennis Szymanski wrote, “Such a good guy. Always engaging and interesting to talk with” and Karen Akers wrote, “Gary was one of the finest human beings I ever knew.”
Local activist Ken Feltman added, “Gary worked, almost always successfully, to find solutions to problems and contentious issues. He and I had a ‘pancake compact,’ as each time one of us had pancakes, one or both of us would contribute $5 to a local charity.” Former City Council member Johannah Barry wrote, “He was a gem.”
Delegate Marcus Simon has expressed an interest in obtaining a formal commendation in his memory from the Virginia State Legislature.
Funeral arrangements are pending and were not available at press time.