By RCA President Colin Mills

When RCA revived the Citizen of the Year award in 2008, we
intended to spotlight the terrific work done by community volunteers who too
often go unrecognized.  This year’s
selection, Kathy
, definitely falls in that tradition. 
I was pleasantly surprised by the number of people who complimented me
on our choice.  I told them that Kathy deserves
the credit; she’s the one who’s been working for the community for
decades.  But nonetheless, I was glad to give
Kathy some well-deserved accolades at our ceremony Monday night.

Kathy reminds me of our 2011 Citizen of the Year, Nick
Brown.  Both are modest folks who prefer
to work behind the scenes, avoiding the spotlight.  I was glad we turned the spotlight on Nick
then, just as I’m glad we gave Kathy recognition this time around.

In my opening remarks, I noted that Kathy shows what individual
citizens can accomplish through hard work and a dedication to the community’s
best interests.  If it hadn’t been for
her love of libraries and her willingness to pore through long and complicated
government documents, we might never have heard of the Beta
, the book culling, or the budget cuts to our County library system.  It’s easy to believe that individuals are
powerless against big institutions; Kathy showed that it’s not true.
RCA’s Terry Maynard, who nominated Kathy for the award, began
with an excerpt from a letter Kathy wrote last summer, discussing a book of poetry
she found at the library and expressing her fear that it would be thrown away,
like thousands of other County library books in recent years.  For Kathy, the fate of our libraries isn’t an
abstract concern; it’s personal.
Terry then walked the audience through all that Kathy did,
from reading thousands of pages about the County’s library plans, to writing
letters to County officials opposing the library cuts, to reaching out to
librarians and library friends groups, to meeting with County supervisors, to
gathering over 2,000 signatures on an online petition calling for the library
system to re-evaluate its Strategic Plan. 
Clearly, it took a lot of people coming together to convince
the Library Board and the Board of Supervisors to stop the Beta Plan and the
destruction of books.  But as Terry’s
speech made clear, there may be no single person who did more than Kathy
Kathy’s library efforts were the focus of the ceremony, but
she has contributed much more to Reston than that.  The next two speakers celebrated some of
Kathy’s other good works in the community.

ARCH President Jerry Volloy gave a very emotional speech
about Kathy’s contribution to the 9/11 memorial at Brown’s Chapel Park.  He described how, as RA CEO, he led an effort
to create a memorial to that awful day (2 Restonians lost their lives in the
attacks).  He explained that they created
a row of trees and bushes to create a memorial garden, and how the bronze
plaques sculpted by Kathy provided the perfect complement to the natural beauty
on display.  He noted that one of the
plaques included an image of a caterpillar and a butterfly, to symbolize the
renewal of life.  Kathy is an artist as
well as an activist, and Jerry’s tribute was a fitting celebration of that side
of her.

After Jerry spoke, up stepped Connie Hartke, who is on the
boards of both RCA and Rescue Reston, the group fighting to save the Reston
National Golf Course.  Connie described
how nervous she was when she first became active with Rescue Reston a year ago,
because she wasn’t up to speed on community issues.  Kathy helped her get informed, and provided
invaluable research and information to Rescue Reston.  Connie noted that two of the community’s most
valuable assets are the Freedom of Information Act and Kathy, who knows how to
use it.

RCA’s Tammi Petrine spoke next; she noted that not only does
Kathy read those long and boring documents most of us can’t be bothered with –
she understands them!  A valuable skill
indeed.  Tammi updated the audience on
the ongoing threats to the library system, including a resumption of the book
culling and further budget cuts.  She
urged everyone to stay involved and continue to support our libraries and our

When Kathy spoke, she emphasized the importance of libraries
in her life.  She grew up in a town where
the nearest library was 10 miles away, and she walked there if she had to in
order to get her fill of books.  (She
described “The Summer of L. Frank Baum,” when she read all the Oz books.  When she moved to Reston in 1983, she
treasured our library; even though it was tiny, she took home a giant stack of
books every time she went.

Kathy noted that the real heroes of last year are the
librarians, some of whom were in attendance to celebrate her award.  She praised them for having the courage to
stand up and comment at meetings, and to write letters in their own names, even
at the risk of retribution.  She herself,
she said, just “caused as much trouble as possible.”

Those of us who know Kathy know how good she is at causing
trouble.  And thank goodness for that; a
healthy community needs citizens who aren’t afraid to make noise.  We need the Kathy Kaplans of the world, people
who are willing to slog through official records and speak out when they see
something wrong.  Engaged citizens like
Kathy keep our officials honest, and make sure that our institutions keep the
best interests of the people at heart.

Thanks to Terry for a thoughtful nomination.  Thanks as
always to Leila Gordon and RCC for hosting the event and displaying the award
plaque.  And a special thanks to the Harris Teeter over at the Spectrum
and Wegman’s in Fairfax for their contributions to the food for our reception.  And congratulations to Kathy Kaplan, a quiet
woman who knows how to make noise, and who might just have saved our library

2013 RCA Citizen of the Year Kathy Kaplan with RCA Board members (from left)
Terry Maynard, Yavuz Inanli, George Kain, Colin Mills, Tammi Petrine, and Connie Hartke