If ever anyone in our time deserved to be called a Northern Neck Original, that person would be Alec Fleet. For well over half-a-century, he played a prominent role in the wide variety of arenas in which he was involved.
Basically, he would have termed himself an educator, one who devoted his energies towards building a better system of instruction for the youth of the area, giving them good instruction, new facilities, and, most of all, instilling in their developing minds a love of learning.
As superintendent of education, first for Lancaster and Northumberland counties, and then solely for Lancaster, Alec “thought big.” He wanted the best the system could get, and he labored tirelessly towards that end. He enjoyed learning himself and, throughout his long life, all of his conversations included remarks about what he was reading, what he had learned from others, and what his opinions were on the passing scene—all reasoned and well-expressed.
For almost six decades Alec was married to Suzanne, who was the ideal foil for his personality. They were happy together because they complemented each other in everything they did. Alec was an ebullient individual, whereas Suzanne was more reserved, but quite willing to speak her mind. Suzanne bordered on being taciturn in her reactions and responses to Alec’s “being out there.”
Once, when they were at an estate sale, Alec called over to her, “Hey, Suzanne. Here is a book about me.” She innocently replied, “What is it?” He answered, “A biography of Alexander the Great.” Suzanne shrugged her shoulders, and said, “I could have expected it.”
Alec spent almost all of his adult life in one form or another of public service. After his many years in education, he ran for office, first for the town council of Irvington, and then for mayor, serving in that position for 14 years. In that capacity he was the town’s chief cheerleader and booster. He thrived on being the public face of what was happening, highlighted each year by his riding the Fourth of July Parade, waving to the crowds on the sidelines, and smiling to everyone. As part of the weekend’s festivities, he also introduced the band for the annual patriotic concert. He later served on the county school board, another role in which he demonstrated his personal interest in the students, always asking for many of them by name, and proudly participating in their graduation ceremonies, always knowing that he had done his best for them.
Alec found a niche for himself in the political realm, as he had in that of education. On one occasion, when he was almost 80, he left a message on my telephone that he was considering running for another office, and he wanted to know what I thought of the idea. When I called back, Suzanne answered the phone. I told her that I understood that “His Honor” was considering another run for public office, and I wanted to wish him well.
The phone was silent, and I said, “Suzanne, are you there? Have I lost you?” After a short pause, she sighed and replied, “His Honor is running for nothing. I told him, ‘You’re old. You can’t see well. You can’t hear well, and you’ve got no money.’ No, His Honor is running for nothing.” And so it was. When I would repeat that exchange to others, no one would laugh more uproariously than Alec. Shortly thereafter, when Alec turned 80, I mentioned the occasion to Suzanne. That time, in her usual manner, she replied, “Yes, he had three parties.”
Last week, a few days short of turning 93, Alec died. His was truly a full life, one of service, dedication, and for him and all who knew him, one of great fun.
Alexander MacDonald Fleet, September 23, 1928–September 10, 2021. R.I.P.