Dorothy Grotos dies at 88

A campaign flyer from one of the campaigns of Arlington County Board member Dorothy Grotos. (Dignity Memorial)

Dorothy Grotos, a Republican who served eight years on the Arlington County Board before losing an extraordinarily close race for county treasurer, died April 25 at the age of 88.

The team of Republicans Grotos and Walter Frankland Jr. in 1975 came out victorious in a six-candidate field to win election to the County Board, and each won 1979 re-election victories over Democrats Mary Margaret Whipple and Charles Rinker.

Grotos chaired the board in 1979, the last time Republicans (Stephen Detwiler, Frankland and herself) held a majority on the five-member panel.

If she was remembered for her service, Grotos said in a 2007 oral-history interview, she hoped it would be for being responsive to the views of the public she served.

“Citizens work very hard and and they should be listened to,” Grotos said in the interview, conducted by Sara Collins for the county library system. “They often have a lot of points that the staff won’t bring out.”

(Grotos tussled with a host of government staff during her tenure, being part of the group that forced out County Manager Vernon Ford in 1981. “The staff had a hard time with me, and I had a hard time with them,” Grotos acknowledged.)

In 1983, Frankland (who died in 2016 at age 91) opted against seeking re-election, and Grotos ran for treasurer to succeed Republican Bennie Fletcher Jr., who was retiring.

That 1983 race proved one of the closest in Arlington political history, with Grotos on the losing end of a 16,857-to-16,768 total to Democrat Frank O’Leary. O’Leary would go on to serve three decades in office before retiring in 2014.

O’Leary – who gave himself the self-deprecating nickname “Landslide” after eking out the 1983 victory – recalled Grotos as “a fine lady and an Arlington institution, who devoted a large part of her life to improving our community.”

Grotos took one more plunge for office, running for County Board in 1987 but finishing third to Democrats Al Eisenberg and William Newman Jr. Previously, in 1974, she had unsuccessfully run for County Board against Democrat Joseph Wholey.

After her win in 1975, Grotos and Wholey would occupy the board dais together, and Grotos remembered him as the Democratic colleague she most respected. Wholey was “intelligent, forthright, trustworthy,” Grotos said.

During her tenure on the Arlington board, Grotos served on the board of directors of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority during a period when transit lines were being built through Arlington. Other issues faced by the County Board in the late 1970s and early 1980s ranged from the impact of a declining student population to the effect of apartment housing being converted to condominiums.

A growing drug problem in the South Arlington community of Green Valley also was a major issue. Grotos also supported efforts, unsuccessful at that time,to win General Assembly approval so Arlington could elect its School Board members.

Before coming to the board, Grotos had served as president of the Washington-Lee High School PTA and was active with the League of Women Voters, Organized Women Voters of Arlington and the regional Girl Scout Council. She was an advocate for the Arlington Outdoor Education Association, which runs the Arlington Outdoor Lab in rural Fauquier County.

Grotos had a lifelong passion for nature and environment, having earned a master’s degree in nature studies at Cornell University, and at the age of 9 held her first job – at a greenhouse adjacent to the family home.

“The first week, everything I touched was dead on arrival,” she noted ruefully, as she had been gripping the plants too tightly.

After picking up pointers, Grotos never lost a plant on the job, and her unofficial motto became “one is nearer God’s heart in a garden than anyplace else on Earth.”

After leaving Arlington, Grotos lived in retirement in Delaplane, and at the end of her life was a resident of Great Falls. A case of Lyme disease that, like many, initially went undiagnosed caused various health ailments in the 2000s.

Grotos could be seen as a hard-nosed conservative, but her political partisanship had its limits.

At a 2018 service honoring the life of Arlington Democratic powerhouse Lucy Denney, Denney’s son – Charlie Denney – remembered when he was playing on the soccer team at Washington-Lee High School decades ago. One of his teammates was the son of Grotos.

In the stands were the two mothers, “putting politics aside, sitting together for the entire game, cheering on their sons,” Charlie Denney recalled.

At the end of the day, Grotos wasn’t one to second-guess her political decisions. “I do something and I put it out of my mind – it’s done,” she said.

Not that there weren’t occasional sleepless moments, as Grotos playfully recounted in her 2007 oral history.

One night, the phone rang in the middle of the night. She picked it up, and the caller asked to speak with her husband, Gunnar.

Dorothy Grotos handed the phone to her husband, and the caller told him he wanted to discuss some county-government issue.

“Why do you want to speak with me?” her husband asked.

“I didn’t want to wake your wife,” the caller said.

“Well, who do you think I’m sleeping with?” Gunnar Grotos responded.

In addition to her husband of 63 years, Dorothy Grotos is survived by four children (Sigrid, Karl, Erik and Leif); their spouses; 18 grandchildren; nine great-grandchildren; a sister, Florence; and countless nieces and nephews. A funeral service will be held on Saturday, May 4 at 2 p.m. at Clarendon United Methodist Church. Memorial bequests can be made to Girl Scouts of America.

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