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Al Alborn

I had planned to interview Amber McMahon, a close family friend, for a long time. My wife and I often shared a cup of coffee with her. At 93, Amber was showing the usual signs of age, but her mind was sharp as a tack.  

As the wife of a U.S. Marine, Amber moved around a lot and saw quite a bit. We had long conversations about politics, social issues, wars past and present and history. Amber passed away Feb. 15 on her own terms after enjoying lunch with friends the day before. We shall miss her deeply.

What went with Amber’s passing is history. She talked about Prince William County and the changes she has observed since moving to Quantico in 1971 and to her last home in Lake Ridge in 1975. That’s over 50 years of priceless knowledge about our community.  

Amber was born in 1928. As a service spouse, she lived in several places and experienced things others may only imagine. A lot of valuable experience about how other places do things was lost with Amber’s passing.

George Bernard Shaw once wrote that, “Youth is the most precious thing in life; it is too bad it has to be wasted on young folks.” Perhaps the knowledge possessed by old folks is a more precious commodity.  

It occurred to me that the government, particularly local government, should take advantage of the knowledge that the seniors among us have to inform decisions regarding the Comprehensive Plan, the strategic plan, budgets and policy. It is no surprise that many of the issues faced by those who govern us are just the latest versions of problems that have occurred many times over the past 50 years.  

Perhaps seniors should always be given a place at the table where these plans and public policy are discussed. While I appreciate youth and talent, with time these evolve into age and wisdom. The best solutions result from a mix of both youth and experience. Seniors can tell us what was gained from past decisions – and what was lost.

This isn’t a suggestion that gets better with age. Every time a senior passes the things they saw, the lessons they learned, the advice they might offer passes with them. We could prevent history from repeating itself if we listen to those who lived it.  

Ironically, today’s youth will be tomorrow’s seniors. When that time comes, we can use what they learned. If they pay attention to those who have lived it, their knowledge will have more depth and value.

Government doesn’t have to start from scratch every time a policy challenge presents itself. Perhaps capturing the knowledge of those who lived history in Prince William would help us avoid past mistakes. 

Amber was laid to rest with her husband, Major Bernard (Mac) McMcMahon, USMC (retired), at Quantico National Cemetery. She was surrounded by family and friends. While there, I actually “shopped” the cemetery for some personal real estate. I like the idea of my wife and I being among old friends and in Amber and Mac’s company when taps finally sounds for us.  

Maybe I’ll get my chance to finally interview Amber and other old friends in whatever comes after this life. I hope whatever comes next has a newspaper.

Al Alborn is an award-winning columnist and member of the Virginia Press Association. His column appears every other week. You can learn more about Al on LinkedIn.

(3) comments

Lynne June

“Perhaps the knowledge possessed by old folks is a more precious commodity.” It’s the life experiences that are invaluable and contribute to knowledge, and if we learn from this knowledge, we develop wisdom. Yes, you are right. There should be a place at the table for those with experience and wisdom. There are plenty of fools who are educated but there are even fewer of the educated who are wise.

Fix Prince William

Thanks for this article. Prince William County and NOVA are rich with history. I love listening to all the people who grew up here decades ago, listening to all the changes and how things were. This would make an interesting running story or even a podcast.

Lynne, June. What a weird comment at the end of your post.

Lynne June

Fix, just think about the last sentence and it will make sense. I work with people who have graduate degrees but many of them aren’t wise. Now, I think I’ll go clutch my pearls.

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