But not before 200-plus toast, tease the county administrator at a moving retirement party
Last Friday night, not long before the final day — today — of his more than 10,900 as an employee of the County of Rappahannock, Virginia, more than 200 of John W. McCarthy’s friends, family and colleagues gathered for a private party at the Castleton Festival Theatre to mark McCarthy’s extraordinary 30-year tenure as county administrator.
It was a moving event, particularly when McCarthy rose spontaneously at the close to deliver some characteristically well-chosen words, primarily of gratitude. Before that, those in attendance — including nine of the 17 supervisors, past and present, for whom he’s worked — were most often moved to laughter, a not-surprising turn for which McCarthy’s own well-known wry sense of humor had been clearing the way during three decades of public life.
“They wanted me to talk about some of the things John has done in the county,” said emcee Peter Luke, county attorney now and formerly Rappahannock’s commonwealth’s attorney for 30 years — including in 1986, when McCarthy was first hired. “I tried to make a list of them,” he added, and a let the multi-page computer printout he was holding unfold to the floor, to growing laughter.
“Oh wait a minute, I think I have the wrong list,” Luke said. “This is John’s driving record.”
Although McCarthy would’ve had to serve another decade to become Virginia’s longest-serving county administrator, Luke, in a more serious moment, did point out that McCarthy and he, as county attorney, were always conscious of the “rule of three” — meaning that they served, as appointees, at the pleasure of a majority of the board of supervisors’ five members.
Of the 17 different supervisors under which McCarthy served, Luke said, “I don’t know that any of them ever had any intention of not keeping him on. It’s unusual for an administrator to last as long as John has, because of that rule of three.”
Among McCarthy’s achievements, Luke mentioned the supervisors-directed fight, early in his tenure, to keep the land application of biosolids out of Rappahannock — “the sludge wars, as we call them,” Luke said. “We were sued twice, at the state level and in federal court, but to this day, not one ounce of biosolids have been applied to land in Rappahannock.” He also highlighted McCarthy’s work to build the county’s first landfill, and to purchase, clean up and eventually sell — this year, finally — the former Aileen Factory property.
“But we were always conscious of the rule of three throughout,” Luke said, “especially in zoning. We redid the zoning ordinance in ’86, John’s first year. There’s still a lot of debate about that ordinance,” he said, alluding to one of the most restrictive subdivision ordinances in the state. “The best argument I can make is, look out when you leave here tonight, look out at the land you pass through, and decide for yourself whether the ordinance has been successful.”
Loud applause met that remark — almost as loud as the laughter that greeted former Culpeper County Administrator Frank Bossio’s straight-faced “revelation” that McCarthy had thwarted many of those who wanted to build residential subdivisions and commercial developments in Rappahannock County simply by deciding early on to print a stack of maps — maps, that is, to Culpeper County.
“I kept wondering why we were getting so much business in Culpeper,” Bossio said. “Somebody would come into John’s office and say, ‘We want to build a shopping mall.’ ‘Okay,’ he would say. ‘Here’s your map.’ ”
Fauquier County Administrator Paul McCulla presented McCarthy with a Clore rocking chair, on behalf of the county administrators of Planning District 9, which includes Rappahannock, Fauquier, Madison, Orange and Culpeper counties. Warren County Administrator Doug Stanley thanked McCarthy for being a mentor (and actual planning instructor, at Mary Washington College), in his early years.
Rappahannock Supervisor Chair Roger Welch and Supervisor John Lesinski presented McCarthy with tickets for he and Susan — McCarthy’s wife and “the person,” as McCarthy said later, “from whom all that is good in my life has flowed” — to a September game in Chicago between the Reds and McCarthy’s beloved Cubs.
Rappahannock writer and former CBS newsman Jed Duvall, in his broadcast-ready baritone, delivered an entertaining rewrite of “Big Bad John,” with full audience participation, and the presentations were “interrupted” later by the appearance of presidential candidates Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders — as portrayed, respectively, by Patty Hardee, Mark Allen and Bob Hurley. Somehow, the trio were able to incorporate an appreciation of McCarthy — in particular for his championship of the county’s comprehensive plan, and its effect on conservation and preservation of Rappahannock’s scenic beauty — into their otherwise incessant bickering.
McCarthy rose as Luke was about to bid everyone a safe drive home.
“My only real regret tonight is that my mother- and father-in-law couldn’t attend,” McCarthy said, after the welcoming applause ended. “Because I remember with perfect clarity going to them over 32 years ago for their blessing in seeking their daughter’s hand in marriage. And I remember telling them that because I was determined upon a career in public service that I could never make us wealthy.
“And I find, looking out tonight and listening to all of you,” he said, “that I have grown rich beyond dreams of avarice.”
After expressing love and appreciation for his wife and his four grown daughters, all sitting up front with other family and friends, McCarthy singled out Luke and retired circuit court clerk Diane Bruce for their help over the years, particularly early on. “That counsel and that advice, from Peter, from Diane, from the various other constitutional officers I have served with over the years, has been enormously meaningful to me,” he said. “And basically they deserve more of the credit for a lot of my success than I do.”
For organizing the Saturday event — on which, Luke pointed out, “no tax dollars were spent, so I don’t want to hear about that later” — McCarthy specifically thanked his wife; his successor, County Administrator Debbie Keyser, and county administrative assistant Candace Wroth; and Kay Miller, Bev Atkins and Jane Bowling-Wilson, director of the Northern Piedmont Community Foundation, on whose board McCarthy has long served, most recently as chairman.
“It’s extraordinary to me that the community that Rappahannock has built up, over the centuries, has got us to a place where there is generally absolute consensus on what we want the county to be,” McCarthy said. “[There’s a] fair amount of argument about how we’re going to get there, but that’s constructive and generally helpful.
“But people all agree that we are a beautiful place, we’re a caring place, we’re a concerned place,” McCarthy said. “I ask you to always maintain that in your hearts, and maintain that in your souls.”
Fauquier County resident McCarthy — who just last week began a new post as interim director of the Northern Virginia 4-H Educational Center in Front Royal — will continue with Rappahannock County as a $1-a-month consultant, primarily on zoning matters, for the next year.