I only met the late AV (Val) Symington once; it was a Sunday evening in my first year or two at Wage Radio (this would be the late ‘90’s) and I was putting things in order for the next morning’s news broadcast, when the doorbell rang. Now, it could have been just about anyone: A fellow employee who forgot his key, a local resident wanting help with a lost dog, a commercial client dropping off a check, a high school student seeking an internship, or someone with a potential news tip. But, in this case, I opened the door to find a charming little lady in an old work coat, glasses and a pair of rubber boots, driving an older model station wagon; she introduced herself as a former part-owner of the long-time, local radio station in Leesburg. We probably chatted for 20 minutes or so during our short tour of the building; we discovered a mutual love of hometown charm and character, I think she mentioned her enjoyment of Stokes Tomlin’s Classics in the Morning Show – and then we said our goodbyes, and AV drove off in her ‘clunker.’
Little did I guess that this ingenuous senior was also incredibly generous and about as well off as one could respectably be; the late Ms Symington eventually willed multiples of millions of dollars for the support of several local projects – Ida Lee Park, Oatlands Plantation, Loudoun Country Day School, Rust Library and Temple Hall Farm Regional Park. She had already donated the acreage at the latter facility in the mid-1980’s, upon the death of her husband, James; they had owned and operated Temple Hall Farm back in the heyday of 20th Century Loudoun County agriculture. So, I had a very healthy personal and professional connection with the story of this grand lady at the time of her passing, and memories of her life and legacy would generally surface each time I’d pass Limestone School Road on Route 15 north of Leesburg; you could guess, then, that I may have been just a bit wistful as I made a recent Visit to Temple Hall Farm – more than 10 years after AV’s passing, and approaching a decade since my tenure ended as News Director at Wage Radio.
A bit wistful, maybe – but also a good deal invigorated and inspired; I was happy to be able to enjoy a morning walk about this local park – preserved (in our 21st Century, Northern Virginia manner) as an old-fashioned working farm – and also experience a sense of gratefulness for my own relatively vigorous constitution and good fortunes. Having lost a disproportionately large number of our former ‘Family’ from the old Wage Radio, and being cognizant and understanding enough to appreciate the struggles of some of my friends and neighbors in trying to seek ‘a living,’ I was able – in that foggy, pre-dawn light – to offer thanks and praises for the forces that allowed me to be – period. As Rolling Stone Keith Richards has said: “Good to be here, good to be anywhere!” And we mean it.
Now, when the Symington’s lived and worked at Temple Hall Farm, I’ll bet that there were times of heavy labor, of sweat, turmoil and challenge; there were also times of discovery, joy, thankfulness and bounty. This facility, then, is a great example for our present-day world; our path through life may have periods as tumultuous as a river rapids, some as tranquil as a tidal delta, others a manageable in-between, and some of tragic loss. Life on a farm teaches us about the annual harvest cycle, the threat of crop failure, the daily regimen of animal husbandry, benefits of irrigation, the importance of soil retention and enrichment, innovative stock breeding and plant propagation – and most of all – the human ethics gained through good, honest (and often, very) hard work. Industry, service and even exhaustion often come with the territory; with the perspective of irony, they can be seen as our very rewards.
So, when you and your loved ones visit Temple Hall Farm, remember that that beautiful horse’s stall needs to be mucked out, the straw in the turkey roost needs changing, the post-harvest fields require plowing, fertilizing and planning for next spring, the sheep probably need shearing, the machinery takes periodic maintenance and repair, and even the farmhouse may need re-shingling or painting. And the workers would most likely appreciate a hot meal. Yes, it’s pretty, and the animals are charming, and the views of the open fields are inspiring, and these benefits are all wonderful – to be enjoyed after the expenditure of great time and effort. And this is good.