The late John “Til” Hazel helped transform Northern Virginia into the heavily developed economic juggernaut it is today, elected officials and business leaders said.
Tributes flowed in from local leaders after Hazel died March 15 at age 91 at his home at Huntley Farm in Broad Run.
“Fairfax County and Northern Virginia lost a visionary,” said Victor Hoskins, president and CEO of the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority (FCEDA).
“Til Hazel was as important as anyone in seeing Fairfax County’s potential to become one of the preeminent locations in the nation for corporate headquarters – and in reminding those who followed about continuing to invest in the assets that business needs to be successful here,” Hoskins said.
“Til was a giant in our region who has left a lasting legacy with his philanthropic investments, particularly at George Mason University,” said U.S. Rep. Gerald Connolly (D-11th).
“We didn’t always agree on what the county’s future would look like, but he will be remembered in Northern Virginia’s history for helping move us from as sleepy bedroom community, and transforming George Mason into a premier university in the country,” Connolly said.
John Tilghman Hazel Jr. was born Oct. 29, 1930, in Washington, D.C., and graduated from Washington-Lee High School in Arlington. He later graduated cum laude with a degree in American history from Harvard University in 1951 and three years later earned a law degree at Harvard.
Following a stint in the U.S. Army’s Judge Advocate General Corps, Hazel joined a private law practice in Arlington, where he specialized in real estate. He also served as a Fairfax County General District Court judge in the early 1960s, then formed his own law firm.
Hazel later helped acquire land for the Capital Beltway project and worked with the late Gerald Halpin to rezone land for development of Tysons Corner, including its two major shopping malls.
In 1971, he and developer Milton Peterson formed Hazel/Peterson Cos., which built major residential-housing developments in Fairfax County.
Hazel also helped George Mason University officials secure 421 acres of land for the institution’s Fairfax campus and in the 1970s helped the university acquire a law school. He for a time chaired the George Mason University Foundation, served on its inaugural Board of Visitors and did two stints as rector. University officials in 1987 bestowed upon Hazel the first-ever Mason Medal, GMU’s highest honor.
Hazel also boosted the fortunes of Flint Hill School. According to a statement from the school, Hazel led the school’s Board of Trustees and in 1989 helped reorganize then-Flint Hill Preparatory School, which in September 1990 took on its current name and opened an Oakton campus to serve students in kindergarten through 12th grade.
Hazel also led efforts to develop a separate Upper School campus a short distance away on Jermantown Road, which opened in September 2001. Flint Hill officials in 2020 renamed the other campus the Hazel Lower School.
“He was a force of nature, a persistent and insistent advocate for education,” according to a statement from Flint Hill Headmaster John Thomas. “We are so fortunate that such power, energy, loyalty and vision were with us at a critical time in our school’s history.”
Speaking at the Greater McLean Chamber of Commerce’s inaugural Honors Luncheon at Vinson Hall Retirement Community in December 2018, Hazel said local officials and business leaders must confront the region’s infrastructure and housing challenges if they wished for the area’s economic success to continue.
Hazel in that speech lamented that between 1972 and 1976, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors had removed from transportation plans two new beltways and a new Potomac River bridge, which he said the area now desperately needed.
“The theory of the board was, if you don’t have any roads, you won’t have any people,” Hazel said. “And that couldn’t be more fallacious or detrimental to the county. We are still suffering from the fact that a very good road system was stripped from the plans.”
Hazel “was a visionary leader who saw the potential of what Fairfax County could become,” said former U.S. Rep. Tom Davis (R-11th).
“His ability to form coalitions to make these visions a reality brought us George Mason University and its law school, the Fairfax County Parkway and a business-friendly environment that has attracted may of the world’s top companies to Fairfax,” Davis said.
Gerald Gordon, Hoskins’ longtime predecessor at FCEDA, described Hazel as a “giant,” whether as an attorney, visionary, leader or man.
“He was one of a very few who made Northern Virginia the extraordinary place to live and work that it is today,” Gordon said. “It was an honor simply to know him.”
Supervisor Patrick Herrity (R-Springfield) called Hazel “truly one of the titans of Fairfax County” who had worked with local leaders including his father, the late Board of Supervisors Chairman John “Jack” Herrity (R), to turn the county into an economic powerhouse.
“I enjoyed working with him on many issues,” Herrity said of Hazel. “He was a friend and mentor and his leadership and vision will be greatly missed.”
Supervisor John Foust (D-Dranesville) said he respected Hazel’s success as a lawyer and businessman.
“I also very much appreciate that he and some of his contemporaries created and supported great institutions, like George Mason University, that will always be essential parts of our community,” Foust said.
Julie Coons, president and CEO of the Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce, said the organization mourned Hazel’s death and sympathized with his family members for their loss.
“Mr. Hazel’s lengthy career literally paved the way for the strong, resilient and diverse Northern Virginia economy we have today,” Coons said. “Our business community owes a debt of gratitude to his vision and the tenacity and focus with which he realized it.”
Hazel led an impactful life that will resonate “forever” in Fairfax County, said Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay (D).
“He was a trailblazer and significant contributor to Fairfax’s title of being the economic driver of the commonwealth, not to mention [he] built homes now occupied by one in every 10 residents of Fairfax County,” McKay said.