Community loses a lot with two departures

People come and go all the time; they retire, move to new jobs. That’s part of life.

But two people are in the process of leaving public life in our community and their contributions deserve a mention.

A few weeks ago I attended the annual meeting of the Historic Virginia Land Conservancy. They were going to name their new director, but I was there to help celebrate the career and contributions of Caren Schumaker, who was retiring as executive director of the organization.

Caren and her husband Ed came to Williamsburg from Northern Virginia about 17 years ago to be nearer to their children. But they did much more than that.

As head of the Conservancy for 16 years, Caren has worked with land owners, board members, government officials and others to protect something most of us take for granted — significant scenic, agricultural and historic land. They have permanently protected more than 6,500 acres from development.

One of their more widely known achievements is the preservation of Mainland Farm, 214 acres in James City County that has been in farming since 1609.

This is the kind of quiet, good work Caren pursued every day.

I have gotten to know her through our membership in Kiwanis and there, too, her commitment to service and community are inspiring. She is a former president of the group, works on fundraising projects and is active on several committees.

While Caren is stepping away from her professional public life, she will stay active in Kiwanis and the Virginia Symphony Orchestra society along with her other community endeavors. That’s good news for all of us.

On the other hand, we reported this week that James City County Administrator Bryan Hill is headed to Fairfax County to take over the executive position there.

Fairfax is a large, complicated operation — it’s a challenge Bryan has long prepared to take on.

We’ve reported on his accomplishments: improving fiscal stability for the county based on the property tax increase and AAA bond rating; identifying five key priorities for the county such as stormwater management, insuring a water supply, etc.; and coming up with the county’s first comprehensive strategic plan.

But there is much more to how he works.

Bryan insists on a transparent government operation. When you request public documents, you get them; when you ask a question, it is answered. There are no games with the people’s business.

He also understands the importance of including the public in the county’s decision-making process. For example, when the county was going through the very difficult discussions on whether to raise the real estate tax rate, there were public meetings in every county district. Those neighborhood meetings continue to be held regularly.

But one of the things I admire most about Bryan is his human touch.

If you ever want to feel like a shrinking violet, go out to coffee with him. He frequents a Starbucks down on McClaws Circle, so he knows the regulars there, but his interest goes beyond merely knowing names. He stops to talk with one man about his kids, another young woman about how she’s doing in school. He knows the officers, the retirees, the folks he met at Busch Gardens — they all stop to share a word.

While Caren and Bryan move on to the next chapters of their lives, it’s exciting to think about those who will come next.

What gifts will they bring the community?

How will they challenge us to be better stewards of James City County — both its land and how it works with its citizens to plan for the future?

It’s a lot to think about, but if history is any judge, we have a lot to look forward to.

Bellows is editor of The Virginia Gazette. You can reach her at 345-2347 or at pbellows@vagazette.com or @peggybellows.

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