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Legendary Falls Church’s ‘Founding Father’ Lou Olom Dies at 102

LONGTIME CITY AND SCHOOL ADVOCATE Lou Olom sits in his Falls Church home with Sue Thackrey when being profiled for his 100th birthday in 2017. (Photo: Orrin Konheim/News-Press)

Lou Olom, a venerable founding father of the City of Falls Church and especially its world-renowned school system, has died at age 102. Olom is credited with introducing the International Baccalaureate curriculum into the school system in the 1970s when it was a genuinely novel program and virtually non-existent in U.S. public schools. Now, the system is a full K-12 IB program and is routinely ranked as one of the most outstanding in the region and even the nation. Olom was a resident of the City since 1953.

The City of Falls Church’s Public Information office confirmed the news to the News-Press Thursday afternoon.

Funeral services will be held on Wednesday, July 31 at 12:30 p.m. at Temple Rodef Shalom (2100 Westmoreland St., Falls Church). A graveside service will be held on Wednesday at 2 p.m. at the King David Memorial Gardens (7400 Lee Hwy, Falls Church).

Two years ago, on July 10, 2017, the Falls Church community celebrated Olom’s 100th birthday with a formal proclamation declaring his birthday as “Lou Olom Day,” and a community birthday party was held in his honor at the Mustang Cafe of George Mason High School.

An article in the News-Press at the time reported, “Though he only briefly served in an official capacity in the city with a term on the school board, Olom has been responsible for much of Falls Church’s historic preservation and beautification efforts since moving here in 1953. These accomplishments include his inaugural chairmanship of Historic Falls Church, Inc. preserving historic buildings in the City along with his co-organizing of the Falls Church Village Preservation and Improvement Society in 1965. He led the effort to win the All-America City Award for Falls Church in 1962 and to create the city’s first arborist position along with the creation of two public gardens. He also was one of the leaders co-founding Citizens for a Better City. He was a strong advocate historic preservation, appropriate architectural design and great landscaping in Falls Church organizing charettes here led by national known experts.

“To many, his most important contribution was convincing the Falls Church City Schools to adopt the International Baccalaureate program at its George Mason High School at a time when it was a truly novel move. Falls Church City Schools just last year celebrated the accomplishment that the entire system, K-through-12, is now built on the uniquely challenging curriculum of the internationally-acclaimed IB program. The initial adoption of the program in 1981 at Olom’s urging made Mason the first public high school in the state and among the first in the nation to join the program, and the national reputation for the excellence of the Falls Church School System was established, being maintained ever since.

“Before a 31-year stint in the U.S. Information Agency working under such luminaries as Edward R. Murrow, Olom was firmly entrenched in academia, ascending to the department chair of social and political science at what is now the University of Jacksonville and working previously for the Rockefeller Foundation on research on international information content analysis.

“Olom was born in Chicago in 1917 to two Russian immigrants. After his father died when he was 13, he helped run his uncle’s fish and poultry store with his mother and sister.

“In a story he shared with the News-Press’ publisher Nicholas Benton years ago, Olom described how after his father’s death, there were a number of regular customers at the fish store who remained loyal to his mother and their struggling family. One day, one such customer showed up to find Olom’s mother in tears. Asking what was wrong, she explained that her son, Lou, had just graduated with honors from high school but she had no money to send him to college.

It turned out the customer was on the board of trustees of the University of Chicago, and he arranged for Olom to be enrolled there. The rest was history.”