Local Commentary

Editorial: The Lou Olom Factor

A quote from one Rabbi Rami cited at the heavily-attended funeral service for longtime City of Falls Church resident and community activist Louis T. Olom, who died at age 102 last week, stated, “I am a Jew because Judaism values argument and doubt over revelation and belief,” and it adds such that the faith “is a conversation, rather than a creed,” and “is obsessed with justice” and more.

The quote was a perfect embodiment of what the veritable living legend of Lou Olom, up to the point of his passing on July 25, meant for the health of the soul of the City of Falls Church. “Argument and doubt” in the sense of this usage is not something filled with vitriol and hate, as has become so common in our culture these days, but an affirmation of the most positive notions of what it means to be human and to engage in free and open human discourse. It affirms the backdrops of respect for all persons and the democratic institutions that such requires.

The News-Press first encountered the formidable Mr. Olom as it was gearing up to publish its very first edition in January 1991. He’d moved to the City 38 years before, following a distinguished career in the U.S. foreign service (the U.S. Information Agency, or USIA, to be exact), and was 73 years old at the time, still well within his prime for the level of activity and involvement he generated in the Little City.

Over the years of our shared involvement in the City, Mr. Olom and the News-Press often disagreed on matters of policy, especially as related to economic development. But aside from our shared devotion to baseball (Mr. Olom always wore his Chicago White Sox hat to the many public events he attended and at which he routinely provided the benefit of his wisdom in lengthy and eloquent commentaries at the public microphone), there was a shared respect and civility in our interactions that were always valued.

That is, despite differences of opinion, which could be and sometimes were sharp on local issues, the News-Press and Mr. Olom shared a deep and abiding passion for democracy and its processes, which was why he never, to our knowledge, spoke against the value of our institution, as such. He publicly expressed appreciation for what it takes to produce a local newspaper, week in and week out, and held it up as a model for the kind of career toward which any young person might aspire.

In more recent years, frequent lunches enjoyed by our editor with the esteemed Mr. Olom at the Panjshir Restaurant in Falls Church always resulted in storytelling of his youth and great experiences advocating for the virtues of democracy around the world with the USIA in the presence of legends like Edward R. Murrow and others.

No wonder he was so passionate about education, and so at home in Falls Church in that worthy pursuit.

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