When my wife and I moved to Reston in 2006, we knew very little about the founder of this community: the man, the myth, the legend named Robert Simon, Jr. We simply wanted to get out of the traffic and the hustle and bustle of Arlington. We liked Reston. We liked the trees and the outdoor activities that it offered. It was also a good time in our lives, having just gotten married, to buy a home together in a community where we could start a family. We soon fell in love with Reston. We loved the Reston culture and the people that live here. You see, I’ve found that Reston people march to the beat of a different drum. We are much more laidback, work-life balance focused, and dare I say, liberal.
We heard all sorts of rumors and crazy myths about why the name of the community is “Reston”. A friend even told me, “It’s called Reston because you can ‘rest’ ‘on’ here'”. It wasn’t until a few years later that I would find out the real reason. “Reston” is derived from the name of the man who founded it: Robert E. Simon, Jr. The initials R.E.S. (for Robert E. Simon) then the word “town” are how you get RES + TON. RESTOWN would have been too weird, I suppose.
Later, in 2008, I started a small IT and Internet Marketing company called ‘Reston Tech Wiz’. This was a great step for me because it allowed me to have work-life balance years later when we had a couple of kids. Having a home office, I was able to spend a lot of time with them. Working from home just seems like a very Reston thing to do. That and long walks around the lakes and paths during the day to take a break from working. Mr. Simon envisioned this work-life balance that was playing out in my life and I didn’t even realize that he had me, hook, line, and sinker, following his vision for the community.
Eventually, I was introduced to Mr. Simon by one of the first community leaders I met in Reston, Jon Querolo, who, incidentally, has office space on Lake Anne where Mr. Simon also lives. Jon is a consummate good guy, family man, and also quite a ham, whom I enjoy joking with often. Jon called me and said, “Jeff, I know you are great with computers. Can you do a special favor and go help Bob Simon?” At this point, I honestly didn’t know that much about the history of the community nor did I realize how important this man truly was in the way my life was unfolding and how it would continue to evolve up to the present day and into the future. Nevertheless, I said, “No problem, I’d love to help.” I pretended I knew how important he was, then immediately went to Wikipedia to read all about him. Wow! Shocking doesn’t even describe it. This man is a living legend; truly one of a kind. Let me highlight a few of the things noted on the Wikipedia page about his life:
- Mr. Simon inherited Carnegie Hall in NYC and used the proceeds to purchase the land in Reston, VA for $1600/square acre in 1961. Incredibly, the last square acre of land sold last year in the Reston Town Center for $3 million. Talk about building a community with some value.
- Mr. Simon’s new town concept emphasized quality of life for the individual and provided a community where people could live, work, and play without driving long distances.
- Mr. Simon wasn’t as interested in profit (what most developers tend to concentrate on) but rather wanted to build a community with a master plan that would be sustainable long term and that would provide a fantastic place to live, work, and play.
- He shaped the Reston Town Center and Lake Anne Plaza from his travels in Europe and his favorite aspects of their communities, namely their gathering areas and plazas versus non-intimate, profit-seeking strip malls that we see all over Northern VA and the rest of the United States. St. Petersburg square, for instance, was one of his inspirations for the plazas we have in Reston.
Talk about a selfless developer: this type of planned community was unheard of at the time and was truly the first of its kind. Something like this would seemingly require pages and pages of words written by expensive lawyers to be sure all the profits were protected and maximized. However, it couldn’t be more the opposite. Mr. Simon, now famously, composed his Goals of Reston in 7 simple statements. He told me about them in person when I worked with him on his computer. Their simplicity and effectiveness is truly genius, not to mention selfless.
For those who aren’t aware, here are the 7 Goals that Mr. Simon set out for Reston in 1962 . . . and they stuck with the community and the master plan. How cool is that?
- That the widest choice of opportunities be made available for the full use of leisure time. This means that the New Town should provide a wide range of cultural and recreational facilities as well as an environment for privacy.
That it be possible for anyone to remain in a single neighborhood throughout his life, uprooting being neither inevitable nor always desirable. By providing the fullest range of housing styles and prices—from high-rise efficiencies to 6-bedroom townhouses and detached houses—housing needs can be met at a variety of income levels and at different stages of family life. This kind of mixture permits residents to remain rooted in the community if they so choose—as their particular housing needs change. As a by-product, this also results in the heterogeneity that spells a lively and varied community.
- That the importance and dignity of each individual be the focal point for all planning, and take precedence over large-scale concepts.
- That the people be able to live and work in the same community.
- That commercial, cultural, and recreational facilities be made available to the residents from the outset of the development—not years later.
- That beauty—structural and natural—is a necessity of the good life and should be fostered.
- Since Reston is being developed from private enterprise, in order to be completed as conceived it must also, of course, be a financial success.
So back to the computer part of the story because, after all, this is a technology blog with SEO, Internet marketing, and computer tips articles.
So up to the 13th floor of the Heron House I went to meet Mr. Simon and see how I could help him with his computer. The first time I met him and his wonderful wife Cheryl, he had a big, wide grin and a very lively handshake that came in enthusiastically from the side. This man truly did not give off an uppity or better-than-you type of impression; couldn’t be more the opposite. And into his office we went . . . .
Now this time in particular, I believe we just needed to reset his email password. Those darn passwords can get rather annoying. After his password got reset and his emails were flying into his iMac, again that big smile came across his face. Compliments were flying my way, and truly most high school kids could have fixed the problem, but nonetheless, he was grateful. I installed a program on his machine so he could call me whenever he needed some help and I could login remotely and take care of his problems. He asked how much he owed me.
I honestly couldn’t fathom charging the founder of our community. I mean it’s the least I could do to thank him for, oh I don’t know, founding Reston, where my kids will grow up and my family will thrive! So that day he sent me home with a signed book entitled, “The Nature of Reston”, and was very grateful for my help. Thus began my journey into learning about this man as well as my profound admiration of his incredible demeanor and love for life.
Mr. Simon would go on to call me every so often for help with small help problems: can’t get this working, can’t get that working; small things, but at no time was he frustrated or angry. Most of the time he would joke about how the computer was outsmarting him and how much he appreciated my help. Where was the stress and anger that most people feel when they can’t get things to work on the computer? Not to mention the fact that he is 98+ years old and computers aren’t exactly second nature to his generation. But never an evil word or comment; everything stayed positive and upbeat. Certainly a role model for all of us.
Eventually Apple decided it was time to stop supporting Mac OS 10.6, so it was time to upgrade Mr. Simon’s hard drive and his operating system. FYI, switching out the hard drive on an iMac is fairly tricky but I’ve done so many of them, it was no sweat. You have to take suction cups and put them on the screen and pull the screen off, then unscrew about 10 screws to lift up the LCD screen and get to the hard drive. After the old hard drive was switched out with a super fast solid-state drive that had his old hard drive cloned onto it, everything was coming around. I also updated his system to the latest Mac OS 10.9 software that he later commented was “nifty”.
I also went ahead and fixed up Mrs. Simon’s MacBook Pro, giving it a solid-state drive, Office 2013, and Mac OS 10.9. Her computer was flying after the upgrades and she was very happy. Cheryl Simon is an extremely sweet person and, dare I say, dangerously fast at responding to email and text for her age! It’s amazing how quickly she will respond and how quickly she picked up the computer concepts that I was helping her with. Kudos to you, Cheryl!
After I helped the Simons with all of their computer needs, confident that I did a great job of giving back to the founder of our community in the best way I could, they graciously invited me to lunch. “How’s Tuesday at Vinefera?” asked Mr. Simon. “And be sure to bring Jenny,” said Mrs. Simon. So pinch me—we were going to get to have a private lunch with the founder of Reston! How cool is that?
At lunch we sat around and talked about all sorts of subjects like values for our youth, how Bob used to love to play tennis, their recent trip to Indonesia and India, our favorite aspects of Reston, and our sheer gratitude for the LANK school that our daughter Ellie goes to 3 days a week. Founded in 1965, Lake Anne Nursery Kindergarten was Reston’s first preschool under the “New Town Plan” created by Robert Simon. LANK quickly became a cornerstone of the Lake Anne Village Center and the larger Reston community. During this time, the idea of sending children to preschool was on the cutting edge, as most children did not attend school prior to kindergarden.
Let me tell you from first-hand experience, our little Ellie is thriving at LANK and going to school prior to kindergarden has been incredible for her. She has made incredible relationships with other kids, built incredible fine-motor skills by doing endless arts and crafts, and most of all, has had a great time doing so. Special thanks to everyone at LANK. We are so grateful!
In closing, had our lives not taken the course that led us to Reston, I cannot fathom what they would be like. In particular, crossing paths with Mr. and Mrs. Simon and getting to know them during our time here is a gift I could not have imagined. It could not be cooler that the founder of Reston lives in his own town, at the top of one of the oldest buildings in Reston, on one of the plazas he designed—just one of the settings he designed to support a thriving community. You serve as an incredible role model, Mr. Simon. I can only hope my contributions to the wonderful community you have built here in Reston can measure up to your example. I hope my company can positively impact the other businesses in the community and contribute to their success and growth. We owe it all to your incredible master plan and your vision for a community with wonderful open spaces and core values built on a sustainable work-life balance. Happy 100th birthday!