Tuesday, February 27, 2024
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by Henry Lane Hull

In 1974 Jim Heston retired, at the age of 53, after a highly decorated career in the Department of Defense, and with his wife, Marie, moved to a home in Westmoreland County on the banks of the Yeocomico River. His was not to be a typical retirement. As he was moving to the Northern Neck, the counties of Virginia were moving into a new form of county government, the result of which was Jim becoming the first county administrator of Westmoreland County.

In that capacity for five years he guided and directed the county into its current form of government, using his engineering background and long experience in federal service. In 1979 Jim retired again, this time upon leaving his position with the county, he entered the world of volunteerism. In that arena he flowered.

I used to tell Jim that with every organization in the Northern Neck his relationship could be described in one of two ways, either as chairman or non-member. He was such a stellar individual that every group sought his leadership, and he willingly gave abundantly of his time and talent. I should need far more than this column merely to list his various contributions, but to me two were particularly notable.

The first was the Northern Neck Planning District Commission. As county administrator of Westmoreland County he was present for the commission’s formative years and after his second retirement served for many more years as one of the county’s two citizen members.

Jim was gifted with a keen deliberative ability and he expressed his thoughts in reasoned discourse, to the enlightenment of all present. In truth he was the godfather of the commission and from his work there he went forward to serve on the State Commission on Local Government, which he chaired for several years and which, due to the regulatory process, necessitated his departure from the Planning District Commission.

On the Local Government Commission Jim traveled all across the Commonwealth, advising localities, chairing public hearings and helping to bring about new initiatives. His energy level was profound and it matched his enthusiasm. Jim genuinely enjoyed the mechanics of government at the local level.

Another of his noteworthy contributions was in leading the Northern Neck Christian Men’s Group, which met each month at Carmel Church in Westmoreland County. I need not say that his role again was chairman, in which position he brought in speakers to feast on a great home-cooked meal and to address the group on topics of community, regional and national interest.

At the end of each legislative session Sen. John Chichester would come to apprise the members of the new laws that had passed, as well as those that had not. Knowing that John is a great devotee of greens cooked in the Northern Neck manner, Jim made certain that the menu included them.

Jim was born in Philadelphia, shortly after the end of the First World War. He served in the Army Air Corps throughout the Second World War, and then with the Department of the Air Force for most of his federal career. He was an engineering graduate of Temple University and reflected the engineer’s “can-do” approach to every undertaking. He thrived on the nitty-gritty of a complex problem, working out the details and seeing it resolved.

Jim remained active well into his mid 90s and earlier this month he died at the age of 96. The Elder B.E. and I visited him four days before he died. He was unable to speak, but he extended his hand to shake hands, thereby confirming that he was pleased we had come to see him. He was ever the gracious host, whether presiding at a public hearing or greeting a visitor in his room in the nursing home. Jim was a mighty contributor to the progress made in the Northern Neck over the last third of the 20th century, but, more importantly, this Yankee from Philadelphia who came to our midst became in the minds of all who met him a true example of the Virginia Gentleman.

James Joseph Heston, Jr., January 29, 1921 – October 2, 2017. R.I.P.


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