by Henry Lane Hull
Often we think of the history of the Northern Neck as being strictly a matter of the past, without realizing that tomorrow’s past is being made today. That thought came to me when I learned of the passing last week of Louis Packett, one who contributed mightily to the enhancement of the Northern Neck in our time.
Louis was born and lived his entire life of almost 92 years in Richmond County, in the environs of Warsaw, except for his time in the United States Army during World War II. He considered himself to be a farmer and a lumberman, in both of which areas he succeeded, presiding over beautifully planted fields of crops and forests maintained for sustainability and conservation.
Those areas of his personal life were complemented by his decades of public service, not merely to Richmond County, but more broadly to the Northern Neck as a whole. Louis served for 36 years on the Richmond County Board of Supervisors, during eight of which he was the chairman. In that capacity he was a most important voice in promoting Rappahannock Community College and in attracting business development in Warsaw.
Louis was gifted with a mind for figures. He could look at a public budget and immediately recognize the difference between the worthy projects and the fluff. He would allow proponents of a plan to present their ideas, after which he would ask the penetrating questions that laid the case open on its merits. He was a modern Cincinnatus, one who accepted his responsibility to serve, but without ever seeking to advance himself. His faithful attendance at hundreds of meetings over the long course of his career was a hallmark of his dedication to public service.
As his senior years advanced and he stepped aside from public life, he remained acutely aware of what was happening and was ever ready to offer his comments when asked to express his views. He kept abreast of the progress of people and businesses in the Northern Neck as if he still held public office. I last saw him in the grocery store a couple of months ago, after not having been in contact for over a year. He began at once to ask me about my activities, for he never stopped following what his friends were doing. He said that he could not be as active as he formerly was, but that he liked both to reminisce and to look to the future.
Whenever Louis and I met, one topic we always covered was his late brother-in-law, Ethelbert Frey, a Washington lawyer who was married to LaVice Mullin, an elder sister of Louis’s wife, Jane. Ethelbert was one of the most flamboyant individuals any of us ever knew. His appearance was striking with a spiked mustache, a red carnation in his lapel and felt spats on his shoes. He drove a black Plymouth hardtop convertible and in summer wore a straw hat.
I knew I could get a chuckle from Louis by mentioning any of Ethelbert’s antics, perhaps the most famous of which was his barging into the Oval Office to confront President William Howard Taft with a petition on behalf of a client, that the President agreed to sign, but which resulted in the Secret Service arresting Ethelbert as he stepped out of The White House.
The Freys owned one of the first cottage rental operations in the Northern Neck, on Bancroft Avenue in Colonial Beach, which Louis would mention, sometimes humorously, as we looked back on what life was like with Ethelbert as a family member. As with Louis, Ethelbert was one of the most genuinely good-hearted people I have known.
Louis, in his own distinctive manner, worked to raise the quality of life we might take for granted here in the Northern Neck. He was a man of profound modesty and humility, never promoting himself, but consistently looking for the greater good that we could accomplish collaboratively. In any such collaboration, Louis was of profound significance.
Louis George Packett, Jr., March 23 1927 – March 7, 2019. R.I.P.
Tomorrow is the 35th anniversary of the first “Excerpts.” I do not number the columns, but, if I did, this one would be No. 1785. Thanks to the publishers, editors and readers for the many comments, calls and letters over the years. On to next week and No. 1786.