A little bit earlier this afternoon, the four remaining Arlington County Board members – Chair Libby Garvey, Christian Dorsey, Katie Cristol and Matt de Ferranti – spent several minutes each remembering former Vice Chair Erik Gutshall, who died on Thursday after an 8-week battle with brain cancer. See below for some excerpts from the remarks, along with the video. Rest in Peace, Erik.
Matt de Ferranti – “Erik was a committed leader and a wonderful person – kind, funny, honest, focused on community and always committed to the greater good…In his swearing-in speech, he spoke so passionately about the GLUP (the General Land Use Plant)…it takes a pretty special person to talk about the GLUP and make it sounds visionary, and Erik was that person…He was deeply kind and compassionate…he had a wise and funny way of saying things that I really loved…he encouraged us all to ‘level up’ and perhaps most of all, he said the word ‘sweetie’ with a voice that sounded way more southern and deeply good than almost anything I’ve ever heard. Like so many of you, I will miss Erik very much. He was a brother and mentor and I will always be grateful for the opportunity to have known him and worked with him. I’d ask that we hold Erik’s wife Renee and his daughters in our hearts and do all we can to support them. And I’d ask that we keep Erik with us as we grieve together and work through this pandemic together. Erik led by asking the most important questions and encouraging us all to reach for the best in ourselves. I know that is what he would want us to do in this difficult moment.”
Katie Cristol: “This board often engages in the activity of recognizing a community member that we’ve lost. This is not how it’s supposed to go. Generally that recognition is of a community member hopefully in their 80s or even 90s that we have the opportunity to share on behalf of a grateful community some thoughts to their adult grandchildren. And for that reason, that’s really colored everything I might want to share about Erik today. I think for example one of the greatest legacies of his time on the board is his passion for joint facilities planning…When Erik came on in 2018 he didn’t just take over that boulder and lift it up, he made that whole idea soar…I was so compelled by what he envisioned…That enthusiasm and gratitude is colored by the fact that, though we will all do our best to take on that work, he had more work left to do, and…[gets choked up]…That’s why this is so much harder to recognize a community member who left an incredible legacy but had a lot more legacy to give…I think if I’m ready to conclude anything after reflecting over the past couple days…[gets choked up]…is how much Erik believed and lived his life by the maxim that a small group of people can change the world. He believed so deeply in the power of neighbors, in the power of civic associations, in the power of small groups of people. And he believed that everyone in this community, every single one of us, should shape not only our own destiny, but that of Arlington County. And I am carrying that with me every day for the rest of my service and I hope the rest of my life. Erik will be missed tremendously and I appreciate this opportunity with my colleagues to recognize him.”
Christian Dorsey: “We all knew the man, but we knew him in uniquely different ways…At the start of this year, just a few months ago, we unanimously selected Erik to serve as our Vice Chair. And you probably, like me, then presumed that this year would take on a certain arc, where he would – as so often had been done before – he would develop his skills and refine his vision throughout the year, so that come next January, he would move one seat over to the right and become the chief elected official of Arlington. And here we are, and I can’t really fully absorb that in a little bit more than three months since that moment, we’ve gone from having Erik falling seriously ill to now being gone. As a board colleague, Erik was obviously an important member of our team. His content knowledge, his vision, his experience, his willingness to learn and grow, among other qualities, made him an exceptional board member. And while I was happy to have him as a colleague, have no doubt, I was also really proud that Erik was representing me and my family in this community. So losing Erik as a colleague is going to sting for quite a while. But as I reflect this morning and this moment, just a couple days after his death, what hurts more – and really achingly so for me – is the loss of a man who embodied so much about what could be about humanity. Monthly, Erik and I would meet for our check-ins, and I know he did that with everybody. And ours would take on the tone of taking a walk around the community, weather permitting…while we spent some time discussing the topical issues before the Board, we would also – as was Erik’s wont – comment on buildings and land use, and decisions that were made, and observing what worked and what didn’t, and really having a conversation about the recent history of Arlington and Arlington’s future within the context of its built environment. These were some fascinating conversations that I will always relish. But we also spent significant time discussing our families. And the two of us shared some commonalities despite our obvious differences. As men of about the same age, we shared a deep connection to our mothers growing up. And we also had similar circumstances, hopes, fears, difficulties and rewards being husbands and fathers to children born as daugthers. It was our bond as girl dads that gave me insight into Erik as a man, and quite frankly a deep and abiding admiration. He relished raising Ava, Marlena and Lindy – now known as Adum – to be good people; ethical, equitable and fulfilled. We didn’t obsess about their academic achievement or their extra-curricular activities. We talked about ways to enrich their experience so that they could be those good people who could lead the next generation in positive and important ways. And that’s something that we don’t see enough of in our community. People who are not so concerned about their role as CEO of a company or as an elected official, but really really lean in to their responsibilities as a husband and a father. And I will miss having a friend who I could share those joys and those challenges with and I will miss him being a part of our community who can show others that very important side of human fulfillment. This is going to hurt us for quite a long time. But what hurts most of all is that Renee and Ava, Marlena and Adum have lost their dad. And we need to do everything that we can to support them in the way in which Erik so lovingly and clearly provided a model and example for.”
Libby Garvey: “So clearly, Erik was a friend to us all; that’s what happens when you’ve got a small team of five people. We all came to Erik a different way. He and I had a rough start, as my colleagues know. We didn’t really know each other when he decided he was going to run against me in the Democratic primary in 2016. And it was not the nicest of campaigns. I had some indications then, though, that the tone of his campaign was really not so much about Erik, but more about some people who were advising him. And of course I won that race, so it was not too, I didn’t really bear a grudge when Erik joined the Board in 2017. I think I’d say we were cautiously friendly at first…We both knew we needed to make this work. And I think we were both kind of surprised when we realized how much we agreed on things…And of course, as we all knew, Erik had a rather infectious sense of humor and he never took himself too seriously. And, in fact, he was downright charming. I found myself, to my surprise, gradually getting to actually *like* Erik, and I like to think that he got to like me as well…We had some pretty serious conversations about life and death and raising teenage daughters…and I watched, as we all did, Erik grow into a really strong board member. We had, of course, that baptism by fire, really, which was the bringing of Amazon’s HQ2 here. And I think we all bonded a lot that way. And it became very clear to me that Erik was one of these elected officials who just loved local government and he loved Arlington. And yes, he would get into the details. He was my go-to guy. When I wanted to figure out how permitting really was working and how it really played out, I would talk to Erik, and he was becoming such a partner. I was really happy when he became my Vice Chair this year as I think we all were – excited about what we were going to be able to do together…he would be a really great board chair in the next year. So, for whatever reason, god had other plans…Arlington has lost a great public servant, we have lost a friend and colleague, and his family have lost a wonderful husband and father. So, here we are. In the coming days, we will all be consulting about how best to remember Erik’s life and honor his life. We’ll be consulting with Renee to do that. I know many people in the community want to share their thoughts about Erik and our staff as well. This whole organization is grieving.”