Publisher, racing enthusiast Arthur W. ‘Nick’ Arundel dies

Arthur W. ‘Nick’ Arundel

Fauquier Times-Democrat
On the eve of yet another honor in a long list of local, state, national and international acclaims, former Rappahannock News publisher Arthur W. “Nick” Arundel died at his beloved Merry Oak Farm near The Plains, on Tuesday (Feb. 8). He was 83, and was to be named the Outstanding Virginian of 2011 by the Virginia General Assembly.

The son of Russell M. Arundel, a Pepsi-Cola executive and fox hunting enthusiast who once served as the chairman of the National Steeplechase and Hunt Association, and Marjorie Arundel, a renowned conservationist, Mr. Arundel took inspiration from both sides of the family.

Arundel, left, with filmmaker and Rappahannock resident Ron Maxwell at the 2007 Gold Cup races. Photo by Douglas Lees.

He played polo and raced steeplechase horses, was an avid rider and fox hunter and founded Great Meadow Field Events Center.
Mr. Arundel raced Sugar Bee, the only Virginia-bred horse to win both the Maryland Hunt Cup and the Virginia Gold Cup at Great Meadow. In his career, Sugar Bee earned Timber Horse of the Year and NSHA Horse of the Year honors.

Mr. Arundel also was an early enthusiast and a lifelong energetic supporter of land conservation programs, helping launch and nurture conservation easement programs that have done so much to preserve open space, agriculture and forestry in the northern Piedmont.

Wildcat Mountain, site of Merry Oak Farm, was one of the first large tracts of land to be put in conservation easement in Fauquier County. Altogether, the Arundel family has put more than 5,000 acres under conservation easement.

Great Meadow, perhaps, is the Fauquier County crown jewel that perfectly aligns Mr. Arundel’s interest in equestrian sport and land conservation. The 540-acre tract had been destined for houses on one-acre lots when Mr. Arundel purchased the boggy, low-lying property.

Arundel gives the thumbs up to a winner at the 2010 Gold Cup. Photo by Adam Goings.

“In an increasingly crowded nation with such large pieces of land for these events gradually disappearing,” Great Meadow Foundation trustees said in accepting Mr. Arundel’s gift of the land, “Great Meadow will provide a permanent open space green theater preserved from development to engage the graceful drama and color of these sports for the general public . . . . For the community and legacy of these great sports, we are grateful for Mr. Arundel’s characteristic thoughtfulness in making this possible.”

Born in Washington, D.C., Mr. Arundel grew up there and in Mason City, Iowa. He graduated from Harvard in 1951, a friend and classmate of Robert F. Kennedy, and served as a Marine Corps paratroop officer in Korea, where he was wounded, earning the Purple Heart.

In 1954, Mr. Arundel parachuted behind the lines into Hanoi, leading a clandestine team to successfully destroy key installations there before Ho Chi Minh took over the city after the French loss at Dienbienphu. That would not be his last mission in Southeast Asia.

Mr. Arundel left the Marine Corps in 1955 with the rank of captain, but returned to serve his country as a paramilitary officer attached to the CIA in Vietnam. He was wounded there, as well, earning a second Purple Heart.

Arundel on Virginia Gold Cup and Maryland Hunt Cup winner Sugar Bee with Jackie Onassis at the 1990 Orange County Hunt.

Mr. Arundel was fond of telling the story of convincing Edward R. Murrow that he had the skills and drive necessary to become a reporter. Murrow was apparently swayed by the young former Marine, and sent Mr. Arundel to work as a Department of Defense correspondent in the Washington bureau of CBS News. Mr. Arundel later joined United Press International, also covering defense news.

After a stint as a special assistant to the Secretary of Commerce, and with a bank loan of $75,000 and the courage of his convictions, Mr. Arundel purchased radio station WARL, changing the name to WAVA. Basically a country music station, Arundel and his staff began reading wire service stories on the air when the popular morning D.J. was killed in a car crash on his way into work.

WAVA became, “the first all-news station in the world,” Mr. Arundel said. “It’s very pleasing to see that being carried on today . . . in television.”

Over the ensuing years, Mr. Arundel built Arundel Communications (ArCom, now Times Community Media), adding radio, television and newspapers.

“I fell in love with print journalism and left broadcasting,” Mr. Arundel said. “The money was in broadcasting, but the joy was in print.”
Mr. Arundel bought the Rappahannock News in 1977 and sold it last year as his publishing company tightened its focus on Fauquier and Loudoun. At the pinnacle of his career as a newspaper publisher, ArCom operated 17 weekly community newspapers.

Politically active, Mr. Arundel was on a first-name basis with virtually every prominent Virginia politician and many others who walk the national stage.

While still at Harvard, he served an internship with then-U.S. Sen. Lyndon Johnson on Capitol Hill. He also ran the Virginia presidential campaign for Harvard classmate Robert F. Kennedy, and threw his own hat in the ring for election to the Virginia Senate in early ’70s as a Democrat.

Pragmatic and much more concerned about leadership than party labels, Mr. Arundel endorsed a variety of candidates for public office on the editorial pages of his newspapers.

“In the first part of your life, you learn,” Mr. Arundel was fond of saying. “In the second, you earn, and in the third, you give it all back.” He remained in active pursuit of the last-named goal until the end of his life.

Recent projects included the establishment of Morningside Training Farm, a 120-acre equestrian center at the very foot of the Merry Oak driveway. There, Mr. Arundel was building a training facility for every facet of equestrian sport.

He also was actively engaged in the Journey Through Hallowed Ground, which he founded and for which he served as chairman.

Mr. Arundel was a founder and president of Friends of the National Zoo; the first chairman of George Mason College (now George Mason University); a founder and president of Piedmont Environmental Council; founder of the U.S. Marine Corps Heritage Center in Quantico; co-founder of the National Press Foundation; co-founder of the Washington Journalism Center; co-founder and past president of the African Wildlife Foundation; and a member of the Board of Visitors of Harvard’s Kennedy Center of Government, Duke University’s Public Affairs Institute, the Monticello Founders Board, the Virginia Higher Education Business Council, National Sporting Library, National Military History Museum, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, George Washington University, Waterford Foundation, Fresh Air/Full Call Campaign, the Virginia Racing Commission, and the Americans at War Foundation. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame of Virginia Communications.

Mr. Arundel was married for 53 years to Peggy Arundel, nee Margaret C. McElroy of Philadelphia, who survives him.

The couple had five children, all of whom also survive — Mrs. Donald DeWees of Wilmington, Del., Peter W. Arundel of McLean, Va., Ms. Wendy Arundel of Sherborn, Mass., John Arundel of Alexandria, Va., Thomas B. Arundel of Washington, D.C., and 11 grandchildren.

A memorial service is planned for 11 a.m. Friday (Feb. 11) at Trinity Episcopal Church in Upperville.

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