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Progressive Voice: Charlie Rinker’s Legacy

Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect the views of

Karen DarnerArlington lost a pillar of progressive strength on Jan. 8 when Charles Washington Rinker Jr. passed away.

Fortunately, before his passing, Charlie and his wife Lora (co-founder and longtime Executive Director of the Arlington Street People’s Assistance Network or A-SPAN) were honored at a reception hosted by AHC “for their leadership and devotion to the Arlington community and their contributions to affordable housing and community development.”

At the reception, state Sen. Barbara Favola presented resolutions from the Virginia General Assembly honoring the life’s work of Charlie and Lora.

Charlie’s legacy was captured in the following remarks delivered by Karen Darner, former Virginia House of Delegates, at the Celebration of the Life of Charlie Rinker held at Rock Spring Congregational UCC on Jan. 18.

Remembering Charlie

Fifty years ago Charlie and I attended a quadrennial conference of the Methodist Student Movement in Lincoln, Nebraska. I only realized that when I re-read my notes from the conference 20 years later and told Charlie. Small world!

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., was the keynote speaker and Charlie was to introduce him. Another Movement officer wanted to have that honor, so Charlie deferred to her — sounds like him, doesn’t it?

So he may have deferred to another that day, but we all know that when it came to civil rights and social and economic justice here in Arlington, Charlie never gave up until the job was done. Advocacy was his middle name.

Charlie was involved in a number of activities in Arlington, and even ran for the County Board. I think Mary Margaret Whipple said it best — “We may have lost the election, but we won the campaign.” Yes, Arlington began to learn more about this gentle man who brought people together to find real life practical solutions to problems the county would face.

The immediate problem became housing.

Arlington’s “location, location, location” made it ripe for extraordinary redevelopment and our apartment stock quickly began disappearing from the rental category. The community that prided itself on living and working in Arlington was losing the “living” component because of rising rents and decreasing units. It happened to tenants everywhere and tenants were afforded very little respect. Charlie, by contrast, exuded respect for everyone. Moreover, the diversity Arlington championed as a treasure was slipping away. That was unacceptable.

The easiest way to summarize what Charlie and others instigated is to look at the organizations that have been requested as beneficiaries in lieu of flowers. If an organization has the word “housing” in it, Charlie’s fingerprints are all over it.

I like to think of all of them as the Home Team. Their names say it all…

The Arlington Housing Corporation — now AHC — produces, preserves, manages and finances affordable rental and owner-occupied housing. It offers educational services to strengthen residents’ economic and social stability. The latter helps to ensure people can continue to live in their new housing.

Arlington Home Ownership Made Easier — or A-Home — seeks to increase the number of low and moderate income and minority households that are able to purchase homes here.

Buyers and Renters Arlington Voice — or BRAVO — has a significant mission of empowering renters: giving them a voice, and often in several languages. 

And finally, Arlington New Directions Coalition — this one reflects Lora’s and Charlie’s desire for their home community, promoting a community that is diverse, just, caring, open, and responsive to all.

Pretty impressive Home Team, don’t you think? If you look around right now, you see people who share Charlie’s belief that everyone needs an affordable and stable home to call her or his own — and many of you have been on the Home Team. So many neighborhoods in Arlington are better because of Charlie Rinker.

But the job is not done — we cannot defer to anyone else. Each one needs to stand in for Charlie now and honor the passion of his legacy to help others just as we have received help in the past — pay it forward! Charlie was well aware that the job was not done. As Arlington grows, we must build using his blueprint.

Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote that “home is the nicest word there is.”  Charlie Rinker taught us “there’s no place like home.”

For that I am grateful.

Godspeed, Charlie Rinker! God be with you, Charlie.

Karen Darner served in the Virginia House of Delegates from 1991 to 2004. In 2009, she received the Arlington Community Foundation’s William T. Newman Jr. Spirit of Community Award in recognition of over 30 years as an active member of numerous community organizations.

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