Take a DNA sample of Arlington leaders, and as many times as not, you’ll trace their civic roots back to a time they were [hacked] off by something to do with sidewalks, street-calming or stop signs.
For Jim Pebley, is was the third on the list.
Pebley recalls, years back, writing to the County Board asking for help in adding four-way traffic stops to his neighborhood. The pro-forma response from the then-board chairman, he said, was “so nasty and insulting” that it spurred him to get involved.
Quite the résumé resulted: In addition to service as president or chairman of the Arlington County Civic Federation, Committee of 100 and Waycroft-Woodlawn Civic Association and membership in the Planning Commission, Fiscal Affairs Advisory Commission and Emergency Preparedness Advisory Commission, Pebley joined with former county treasurer Frank O’Leary to head local efforts in connection with commissioning of the U.S. Navy’s USS Arlington. (Pebley is a retired U.S. Navy aviator; O’Leary served as a U.S. Army officer.)
It was his love of the underdog that led Pebley to get involved with the Arlington County Republican Committee, which on April 26 honored his service with a resolution of thanks. Pebley and his wife, Cecile Rogers, will be headed to retirement in North Carolina over the summer.
“It is safe to say Jim Pebley is one of the most active citizens in Arlington, and has been for decades,” said Republican Committee policy director Eric Brescia. “If you have an issue in Arlington, you come to Jim. [He is] extremely well-respected across the political spectrum.”
“When Jim speaks, people listen,” said Scott McGeary, a former Republican chairman whose own civic bona-fides go back decades. “Anything in which he’s become involved, he’s become a leader.”
Pebley never ran for office – although many tried to convince him to – but served as a consigliere to those who did.
“Jim was always there with an answer for me and all the help he could give me,” said Michael McMenamin, who made three runs for County Board under the Republican banner.
In McMenamin’s first attempt at office, when he had limited experience with the ins and outs of major issues, Pebley proved “a great help to me in making me not look like a fool,” McMenamin said with a chuckle.
Pebley has managed to get on well with the Democrats who dominate local politics. As to the honesty of local governance, he recalls some years back being asked by a Washington Post Arlington reporter-du-jour to point out the crooks in local elected office. He set the reporter straight.
“You’ve got Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, and they’re all wonks,” Pebley said.
How can Republicans claw their way back to a position of relevance in Arlington politics? Pebley repeated the mantra of many a GOP leader: “You all need a farm team,” he said.
People need to get involved in their civic associations, community groups and county-government advisory panels, Pebley said.
“‘Arlington’ is really the Latin translation for ‘many meetings,’” he said.
As he prepares to depart the community after 29 years, it has been awards season for Pebley. Recently, he was inducted into the Civic Federation’s Order of Distinguished Meritorious Service, becoming just the 25th community leader to be so honored since the award was instituted in 1936 and the first since 2013.
Pebley’s final verdict on civic activism? It’s the best show in town.
“Why would you stay home and watch reality TV when you have Arlington?” he asked.