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Reston’s founder, Robert E. Simon Jr., believed that a good life was a product of being part of a cohesive, well-planned community. From the goals he established for Reston in the early 1960s to where he lived until his final day, Simon practiced what he preached and left behind a community that has far exceeded the loftiest of expectations.
Simon died at his Lake Anne home on Monday at age 101. While his death has saddened the entire Reston community, many are celebrating his life and expressing gratitude towards the man who created opportunities for those looking for a different way of living.
Since returning to Reston in 1993, Simon has resided at Heron House, the high-rise building that towers over what is now considered a historic location in Reston. The Lake Anne Plaza, with its public gathering areas and mixed uses, possessed Simon’s ideal attributes for a community. His vision of high-density housing combined with open space for recreational activities was the essence of what Simon planned for the entire area. More than 50 years after it was founded, Reston still embodies the sense of community that Simon treasured.
“Bob Simon was not only the founder of Reston, he was the person who conceived and helped implement the way Reston was and continues to be governed,” said Reston Association CEO, Cate Fulkerson. “He placed his trust in the association and residents to protect the founding principles – principles which have led to Reston setting the standard for all planned communities. Bob Simon will be dearly missed, but his work and vision will continue on through the efforts of the association, its members and volunteers.”
In 1961, Simon bought 6,750 acres of mostly undeveloped land in Fairfax County. He made the purchase with proceeds he received from selling Carnegie Hall. Simon, who ran his family’s real estate management business in New York, saw an opportunity to create a new kind of town in the suburbs of Washington, one that was diverse and based largely on residential clusters, walkability, facilities for all ages and the preservation of natural spaces. The name of the new and growing community was derived from Simon’s initials combined with “town.”
After leaving Reston in the late 1960s, Simon returned nearly a quarter century later and eventually formed Reston Association. Simon worked on a grassroots level to transfer the responsibility of governing Reston from developers to citizens. Many people credit Simon with creating the concept of community associations. He served two terms on the RA board of directors from 1996-2002.
“One of the amazing things about Bob was the fact that he started Reston at age 50 and was actively involved in all aspects of the community right through the later years in his life,” said Larry Butler, RA’s Senior Director of Parks, Recreation and Community Resources.
“Bob was influenced by his travels throughout Europe,” said Butler. “He believed European-style plazas helped foster a sense of community. Bob enjoyed talking to people and wanted Reston to be a place that provided residents with ample public spaces to gather and socialize.”
Simon entrusted Reston Association to carry on his vision first proposed in his Seven Goals he formed in 1962. To this day, RA works diligently to provide leisure and cultural activities for its members while preserving the natural beauty of the area and ensuring financial stability and growth.
“I am deeply saddened by the loss of our community visionary and founder,” said Laura Kowalski, who grew up in Reston and is RA’s Deputy Director for Recreation. “We celebrate and are thankful for the many years Mr. Simon continued to be involved and shared his vision for Reston. We continue to honor Mr. Simon in our work each day.”
Simon remained active in Reston. He was a proponent of public art, worked with the Greater Reston Chamber of Commerce and supported the opening of the Robert E. Simon Jr. Children’s Center. Simon was a regular at important Reston Association events and meetings. He enjoyed walks around Lake Anne, visiting with RA campers on warm summer afternoons and spending time at the Walker Nature Center on crisp spring days. The mark he left on Reston will be felt for generations. His belief in creating a community that protected the rights of individuals from all walks of life, where people could live, work and play, remains as relevant today as it was in the beginning.
“Bob was a man ahead of his time,” said RA Board President, Ellen Graves. “His wisdom throughout the years is what still guides us today. His passion for this community was evident in everything he did, whether in advising the board or in just having a friendly conversation with a neighbor at Lake Anne.”
(Updated 9/22: An informal candlelight vigil will be held at Lake Anne Plaza on Friday, Sept. 25 at 6:30 p.m. Check this posting for future updates on information about other memorial services. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to Cornerstones (www.cornerstonesva.org), 11150 Sunset Hills Road, #210, Reston, VA 20190. The family has requested that all calls be directed to the Reston Historic Trust (703-709-7700 or firstname.lastname@example.org).