When Roye Lowry was being presented with the Sun Gazette Cup for community leadership by the Arlington County Civic Federation in 2009, then-federation president Larry Mayer joked that he might lead a picket line outside Lowry’s house, aimed at preventing his planned move to the Goodwin House retirement community located close to, but just outside, Arlington’s borders.
Arlington needed Lowry too much to let him go, Mayer said.
Lowry, who served a four-year term on the Arlington County Board in the early 1960s (chairing it for a year) and later was active in a host of civic affairs, died Dec. 4, Goodwin House officials confirmed to the Sun Gazette.
He was 103 years old – probably the longest lived of any person who has served on the County Board since it was established in the early 1930s.
His more than century of living provided adventures aplenty, ranging from storming ashore at Anzio during World War II to tutoring elementary-school students later in life. His professional and civic life frequently revolved around crunching budget numbers, to make sure residents at the local and national levels received good value from government services.
A delegate to the Civic Federation beginning in the early 1960s (representing the Forest Glen Civic Association), Lowry used his professional skills to analyze county government expenditures, “always with an eye toward promoting the best of Arlington values within the constraints of numbers that must add up,” the Civic Federation said in making the announcement in 2009 that he would be presented with the Sun Gazette Cup. It is considered the highest honor in Arlington civic activism.
Lowry’s efforts on behalf of the Civic Federation were only part of a much broader sphere of influence in community life. In addition to his term on the County Board (more on that later) Lowry was active in the Arlington United Way, American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, Meals on Wheels, Arlingtonians Meeting Emergency Needs, the Arlington Parish Council, Emergency Food Committee and Columbia Pike Thrift Shop. During his county-government tenure, he served on the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (serving as president for a term) and Northern Virginia Transportation Commission.
On the schools front, Lowry served as a delegate to the County Council of PTAs. For his tutoring of students and other endeavors, Lowry in 2000 was honored with an Community Hero Award as part of Arlington Neighborhood Day.
Even as his 90th birthday came and went, Lowry remained active. He was a regular presence at Civic Federation meetings, and well into his 80s served on the county government’s Industrial Development Authority.
By the late 1950s, Arlington governance represented a tug-of-war between conservatives (many who had lived for years in what, prior to World War II, had largely been a sleepy Southern town) and those of a more progressive bent who put down roots after the war. Lowry – who had served in the Foreign Service – was one of the new arrivals.
In 1961, he was the County Board nominee of Arlingtonians for a Better County (ABC), which until the 1990s served as a booster of liberal voices (largely Democratic) in local politics.
He won, though hardly in a landslide: Lowry garnered 6,487 votes to 6,446 for Republican Kenneth Ludwig and 5,709 for Democrat William Wetmore Jr., according to a summary of election results from the county government.
(Rounding out the field was independent Julius Brenner, who ran for office frequently during the period. He won 1,193 votes.)
Four years later, when Republican gubernatorial nominee Linwood Holton lost the state race but won the Arlington vote, Lowry was swept out of office, losing to Kenneth Haggerty by a margin of 12,344 to 10,912.
Haggerty served for eight years, did not seek re-election and was succeeded by Ellen Bozman (running as an ABC candidate and later as a Democrat), who went on to serve a record 24 years on the board. She was succeeded in 1997 by Democrat Jay Fisette, who served 20 more. In 2017, Democrat Erik Gutshall won the seat; Gutshall died in 2020 and was succeeded by Democrat Takis Karantonis, who on Nov. 2 was elected to a full four-year term.