Community Planner, Housing Advocate, Environmentalist, and Visionary
Early Professional Life
Carolyn W. Johnson (1941-2018), better known as Carrie, has an extensive legacy in the development of Arlington County for over 40 years. Carrie graduated cum laude in 1964 from Smith College in Massachusetts and then came to the Washington, DC, area to work for centrist Republican, MD Senator Charles Mathias, Jr. In 1971, she helped advance the bill that established the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park. In 1972, Carrie took a position at the Washington Post, writing speeches for owner Katherine Graham.
She moved to Arlington in 1979, and for the next 20 years, was the Data Director for the Arlington County Democratic Committee (ACDC). She compiled lists of actual voters and potential voters, keeping these lists up to date in a transient area. Her lists, and the information that could be culled from them for party work, earned her the nickname “The List Lady.” Even as technology changed and developed, Carrie stayed with her lists, and made that technology work for her. In 2009, she was honored with the Mary Marshall Outstanding Democrat Award from the ACDC.
Planning Commission Work
Beyond political work, Carrie Johnson’s most important contribution in Arlington was her tireless work for the Planning Commission; she was the longest serving member, from 1986 to 2005. During her time on the commission, she mentored many fellow members and other Arlington planners, worked to bring the Smart Growth model to fruition, and was instrumental in the establishment of Long Bridge Park, her most treasured achievement. She was equally influential in the redevelopment plans of the Fort Myer Heights, Virginia Square, and Four Mile Run areas.
Upon her retirement from the Planning Commission, the County Board credited Carrie specifically with achieving consensus among developers, county planners, and residents to create Pentagon Row. This was yet another example of Carrie’s success, due to her unique ability to bring together disparate parties, toward a common goal that would benefit the most people, promote Arlington’s inclusive vision, and improve its environment.
Building an Arlington for Everyone
In all her planning work, Carrie made sure that Arlington was developing a community that included everyone. Perhaps her interest in affordable housing grew over regular mid-street chats with her neighbor, Jean Falvey, who led the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing (APAH) from 1993-2000. Or, quite probably, it came from her deep awareness of her own privilege and a desire to share that opportunity with others. Whatever the spark, Carrie brought her commitment to affordable housing and inclusion to every discussion and decision.
Carrie both championed and pushed APAH. In private meetings and public hearings alike, she spoke out thoughtfully and effectively on the importance of building more housing to meet the needs of Arlingtonians now and into the future. Always a fierce advocate for the environment and protection of the tree canopy, Carrie encouraged APAH (successfully) on one occasion, to modify a new building plan to preserve a large tree and then checked in on the tree’s health each time she would visit the property.
Retirement, of a Sort…
After her retirement from the Planning Commission, Carrie did not slow down, but, rather, focused, once again, on her lifelong passion for research and history.
After several research trips to the area, Carrie fell in love with Butte, Montana, where she purchased a small home. During many visits there, she worked with and supported the Historical Society of Butte (HSB). She did research on the history of copper mining in Butte, and eventually donated those historical papers, as well as her home there, to the HSB.
At the same time, she was also a supporter of Arlington’s Center for Local History (CLH) and the Arlington Public Library and worked on her local papers in order to donate them to the CLH.
Carrie Johnson worked tirelessly to improve Arlington, and to make it a better place, even testifying before the County Board just months before her death. Among her final wishes, Carrie made a generous bequest to APAH to support the organization’s work. She is first among the charter members of APAH’s Legacy Society.
Among many of Carrie’s contributions, she was intimately involved in the planning process known as WRAPS – Western Rosslyn Area Planning Study, which resulted in the redevelopment of APAH’s Queens Court Apartments, transforming it from 39 aging units into a new building hosting 249 affordable apartments. To celebrate her love of both community and the environment, a copper and porcelain artwork–Concurrence by Elizabeth Kendall–was created and installed at Queens Court Apartments, just outside the Carrie Johnson Community Room, named in her honor. As Carrie would have appreciated, the whole community, including Carrie’s friends, Queens Court residents, and APAH staff and board members, contributed to the art.
Special thanks to the Center for Local History at Arlington Public Library and to Peg and Alice Hogan for sharing Carrie Johnson’s story.