Last Thursday, RCA held my favorite annual tradition: our Citizen of the Year ceremony. Since we revived the Citizen of the Year Award in 2008, we’ve seen the event grow into a great community celebration, and a highlight of the year for RCA folks and award winners alike. This year, we had an award winner who brings the whole community together: Cate Fulkerson of RA. As I said in my remarks at the ceremony, if there’s one thing that unites all Restonians, regardless of background, length of residence, political persuasion, or issue positions, it’s that everyone loves Cate. And our ceremony was a fitting celebration of a very special member of our community.
One thing that was very different about this ceremony compared to previous years: we were being recorded for posterity by the folks who are making the movie about Reston’s history. As part of the recording, they met me at my house so that they could record my arrival at the ceremony. I assure you, it is not possible to be inconspicuous walking around your neighborhood with a camera following you. It was a different sort of experience, but a good one.
The ceremony began with a very special surprise guest, Congressman Gerry Connolly. He knows Cate from their work on Leadership Fairfax, and he was informed of the award by RA Board Member Mike Collins, who now serves on his staff. The Congressman delayed dinner with his family so that he could celebrate Cate.
He said a number of nice words about Cate and presented a commendation of her that he’d had entered in the Congressional Record. “Almost nothing in Congress today is unanimous, but this was,” he said. He then presented Cate with a framed copy of the Congressional Record, joking that “I had one frame left before the sequester.”
In my opening remarks, I noted that our award was symbolic of the stronger relationship that RA and RCA have built over the past year. By working together on issues of interest to the community, we are better able to serve Reston and our citizens. After the ceremony, Cate told me that she shares my goal, and she believes both our organizations benefit from our collaboration.
I turned things over to ARCH President Jerry Volloy, who worked with Cate when he was CEO of RA, and who had nominated her for the award. Jerry came with a surprise of his own. He had informed Character Counts, the national organization that sponsors South Lakes High School’s Ethics Day, about Cate’s honor. And they decided to honor her with a certificate of their own, commending her work with their organization. (Seeing this certificate moved me to quip, “Looks like it’s Give Cate Fulkerson Awards Night!”)
Jerry then gave a nice speech about the pillars of character, and how Cate embodies them. He mentioned how much he had always enjoyed working with her. And he concluded his remarks by reading a number of quotes he had collected from community leaders, all of them praising Cate and her dedicated service. Those quotes were a nice stand-in for the many, many people in Reston and beyond who could testify about Cate and everything she’s done to build a better community.
After Jerry wrapped up, two current RA leaders came forward and gave very different but equally affectionate tributes. RA President Ken Knueven began with a self-deprecating confession. He first heard about the award when Jerry sent him an email titled “2012 RCA Citizen of the Year.” When he read this subject line, Ken said that his first thought was, “Wow, how generous of them to give me an award!” When he discovered who the award with actually for, he was slightly chastened, but even more pleased. (Cate mentioned a similar anecdote afterward: When she received my email to inform her of her selection, she assumed that I was writing to find a venue for the ceremony. She was deep into researching available dates and times when she discovered why I was really writing.) Ken thanked Cate for helping him and the Board in so many ways.
Outgoing CEO Milt Matthews, on the other hand, took more of a roast tone in his remarks. He began by describing the women in his life – his wife, his mother, his sister, and so on – and how they were storng-willed women who weren’t shy about expressing opinion, and when he disagreed with them (which was often) they’d keep coming back at him to make their points heard. “Then I met Cate,” he said, “and I had another woman to add to that list.” He described his days at the old RA headquarters, where the walls were so thin that he could hear Cate negotiating with vendors and others. And when the conversations got especially heated, Milt would pop his head into her office to remind her, “You wouldn’t look good in an orange jumpsuit!” His speech was a wonderful blend of joking and sincere appreciation.
Right before I presented the award to Cate, RCA Board member Tammi Petrine jumped up to say a few words. She gave heartfelt and emotional thanks to Cate for her help with so many RCA activities and praised her for being “sunshine 24/7/365.”
Once Tammi had finished, I presented Cate with her award, and she stepped up to give a lovely acceptance speech. She mentioned growing up in Reston (like me!), and described how she felt it important to give back and contribute to the community. She described her credo, which is to think about what you want people to say about you when you die, and then live that way. She then read the poem “The Dash” by Linda Ellis. The poem is told from the perspective of someone eulogizing his friend, and speaks of the importance of “how you spent your Dash” (that is, the dash between the birth and death dates on your tombstone). There’s no question that Cate spends her “dash” as well as anyone in Reston.
Congratulations once again to Cate on her award (awards, really). Thanks to Jerry for a well-written and thoughtful nomination. Thanks as always to Leila Gordon and RCC for hosting the event and displaying the award plaque. And a special thanks to the Harris Teeter over at the Spectrum for donating food for our reception.
As I continue working hard on behalf of Reston and its citizens, it’s very reassuring to know that there are people out there like Cate Fulkerson, who never stop serving and making the community a better place. And it’s also reassuring to know that the community recognizes and appreciates her service.