The Right Note is a weekly opinion column published on Thursdays. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.
When the Arlington County Board convenes this Saturday, one person will be conspicuous in his absence. By all accounts, Robert Atkins has been at every County Board meeting, save one, since 1995.
By my rough, back of the envelope estimate, Atkins made over 1,000 speeches before the Board. That is far and away more speaking time during County Board meetings over that span than anyone else who was not elected to serve on the Board.
The tradition began, so the story goes, after a disagreement Atkins had over an issue in his neighborhood. Upon getting an unsatisfactory answer from new Board Member Chris Zimmerman, Atkins pledged to be at every County Board meeting in the future — and he was.
While Atkins did not live long enough to see Zimmerman’s farewell speech, he did get to see Zimmerman announce he was stepping down. The pair’s nearly two-decades-long journey of monthly meetups in the County Board hearing room was drawing to a close; though I suspect Bob had no plans to stop attending in Zimmerman’s absence.
If you ever heard Atkins speak during the public comment period or on agenda items, it was almost always the most unique speech of the day. Atkins made Board Members smile, cringe, scowl, and sometimes get up and leave the room altogether.
As the “board watcher-in-chief” for Arlington County for the past two decades, there was virtually no issue for which Bob did not know the history. If you needed background information, Bob knew it because he had read the staff report as well as listened to, and participated in, the debate. And, he would probably be able to recite for you the zinger from the speech he gave that day, usually with a wry smile.
One saying goes, in life, half the battle is showing up. While many Arlingtonians long ago gave up on influencing County Board decisions, Bob did not. He showed up every month to do his part to hold the Board accountable to Arlingtonians.
Atkins did not just show up at County Board meetings. Bob was active in the Arlington Civic Federation. He worked as a volunteer for many years at the county fair to increase voter registration in Arlington. He was a regular attendee or member of various political organizations, like the Arlington GOP, Log Cabin Republicans, the Arlington Gay and Lesbian Alliance and even attended Green Party events from time to time.
While Bob did not always agree with the GOP or its candidates on every issue, he was loyal to the party. Bob served as treasurer for the Arlington GOP for 12 years, including both times I served as Chairman. He donated to Republican candidates generously from his own personal funds. He also went out and knocked on doors on behalf of Republican candidates. And, every Election Day, you could find him at his polling place distributing Republican sample ballots.
In all of his civic and political activism, Bob Atkins certainly was one of a kind. He will be missed.
Mark Kelly is a former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.