Warren G. Stambaugh

Del. Warren G. Stambaugh was the driving force behind establishment of the Virginians with Disabilities Act in 1985. (Photo courtesy Frank O’Leary)

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A Jan. 13 online gathering not only celebrated the life (and mourned the untimely death) of an Arlington legislator, but also urged that his legacy be burnished through support of efforts to modernize the Arlington Historical Museum.

The forum celebrated the life of Del. Warren G. Stambaugh (1944-90) and his efforts to shepherd what became the Virginians with Disabilities Act into law in 1985.

That measure set the stage for enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act five years later, and was designed not just to provide protections, but to change the attitudes of the public about those with disabilities.

Stambaugh “was an inspiring lawmaker who persevered with determination, commitment and resourcefulness,” said Karen Darner, who succeeded to Stambaugh’s seat in the legislature after his death from a heart attack.

Stambaugh had represented Arlington in the House of Delegates for 16 years, and his death “was a terrible loss both for Arlington and the commonwealth,” Darner said.

Stambaugh consistently (and vocally) provided “a strong commitment to representing the needs of those least able to advocate for themselves,” said former Del. James Almand, who served with him in Richmond and later became a Circuit Court judge.

The Virginians with Disabilities Act, introduced in 1984 at the behest of the Robb administration, incorporated a host of protections in employment, housing, education, voting, transportation and access to public accommodations. The goal was enable all Virginians to “participate fully in the social and economic life of the commonwealth,” Almand said.

(Today, the measure provides protections for nearly one in eight Virginians, totaling nearly a million people – many of whom may not even be aware of its impact on their lives.)

The measure was introduced in the 1984 legislation session and sailed through the House of Delegates, 96-1, but was stopped by a combination of business interests and conservative members of the state Senate. A year later, however, it passed, and was signed into law by Gov. Charles Robb.

Rosemary Ciotti, a civic leader and disability advocate, said the measure put Virginia – not often thought of as a leader in such things – in the vanguard of supporting those with disabilities.

And the best way to celebrate his legacy, she said, is to spur on others.

“The work continues to build on Warren’s vision and hard-fought legislative win,” she said.

The Warren G. Stambaugh Memorial Foundation sponsored the fund-raising evening in collaboration with the Arlington Historical Society, with funds being used to support an architectural study of the 1891 Hume School (the Arlington Historical Museum). The focus will be on finding ways to expand the museum while not infringing on its historic provenance, as well as to upgrade accessibility.

In the early 1960s, the Arlington School Board deeded the building to the historical society. After seven decades as a school and six more as a museum, the accumulated wear and tear is evident.

“An 1891 building requires upkeep,” acknowledged society president Cathy Bonneville Hix. “Our goal is to ensure we have a first-class museum to be appreciated and enjoyed by all Arlington residents and visitors.”

(There is a direct connection between Stambaugh and the Hume School; in the 1980s, the delegate was able to secure a modest state-government stipend to support its maintenance.)

The red-brick building, which overlooks Pentagon City from a perch on Arlington Ridge Road, is incorporated into its own local historic district, which puts some limits on exterior renovations or an expansion. But there are ways to bring the facility up to 21st-century standards, said Patrick Hope, a state delegate and member of the historical society’s board of directors.

“Our goal is to create a world-class museum, a source of pride for every Arlingtonian” – something that is “sorely lacking” in the county at the moment – Hope said.

 Hope said the effort would need buy-in from the public, civic bodies, business groups and local and state governments. And he said efforts shouldn’t be unnecessarily delayed because of the current health and economic situation.

“If we do not start now, then when?” Hope asked.

Major sponsors of the Jan. 13 event included Altria Client Services, Dominion Energy and Prudential Financial.

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