Albert Camus wrote, “Don’t walk behind me; I may not lead. Don’t walk in front of me; I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend.”
Barbara Fassett, a retired managing planner for Chesterfield County, was a friend of mine and a friend to her colleagues and her County for many years before retiring last year.
It is hard to describe what a friend is; as she worked tirelessly for the planning Department. In charge of the comprehensive plan, she met many people as she worked with them to identify and improve their community. That’s just what she did for the Chester community. For the 25 years that Barbara worked for the County there were 25 individual communities, which were part of the comprehensive plan.
Barbara loved the small community where she lived with her daughter Elizabeth. But then Barbara loved all the communities of Chesterfield and found that each could find its sense of place. As she worked with the communities in Chesterfield she became friends with anyone she worked with to improve the place in which they lived. She was not just some worker from the County who had come out to tell folks how their community should be; she had a genuine interest in making things better for everyone.
I had never, in the 12 years that I knew her, ever heard anyone say one negative word about her. She could always be depended on to offer a smile and a nice word.
In 2004, her work brought her to Chester along with Sara Carter to help make Chester a more livable and cohesive place where neighbors and all of the community could share in the responsibility of making our home the best.
A few years after meeting her, I had written a disparaging article about how our community was described on the County’s website. It was only a couple of days later when Ms. Carter called me to set up a meeting with her and Barbara to discuss how they might help change the image of Chester. They got to work and almost 300 people packed the cafeteria in the former Chester Middle School building. The group had hundreds of ideas and ways to improve the Chester community.
Later she told me, smiling with her full welcoming smile, that you all sure have a lot on your plate, maybe you should pick just a few things that you could really change. She encouraged us to form a group that could help accomplish the goals of the community. She said she would be there to help.
Now, I don’t know much about her private life except that she loved her daughter Elizabeth. I have no doubt about that. If she loved Elizabeth anymore than she loved her County, Elizabeth had to be one of the most loved people around.
Barbara spent the final years of her job in the Chesterfield County Planning Department working on what was known as the Countywide Comprehensive Plan that took over three years to complete. I watched as she planned meeting after meeting to make sure that everyone had a voice in this most important document. It surely had to be a whirlwind for her, but during the process, as during the rest of her life, she had to have added hundreds to the list of her friends.
Chesterfield was not her home. She held from Northern Virginia and Maryland and her family continues to live there today. But she adopted Chesterfield and lived here for almost half of her life. When she retired from the planning department, she said it would give her more time to look after her daughter who had some challenges.
It was a week ago, Monday, when our friend fell victim to a senseless killing. Barbara Fassett and her daughter Elizabeth died by gunshot at the hands of Herbert Bland Jr. Bland also killed his father. Reports say Bland was mentally unstable.
This is not a comment on gun violence or any political rant on gun ownership. Barbara was a friend to me just as she probably found friendship with whomever she encountered, and I’m sure she’d treated Herbert Bland Jr., with respect and friendship until he became a problem. When I found out about Barbara and her daughter, I was knocked back on my heels. These things don’t happen to good people you know and have enormous respect for.
After Barbara and her daughter Elizabeth were murdered, there was no special memorial service. Her ashes were sent to Northern Virginia where her family would memorialize her in their own way. Hundreds of her friends memorialized her in a small way by signing an online guest book at J.T. Morriss Funeral Home.
I’m certain whoever reads this column will remember Barbara in their own way. This has been my own selfish way of memorializing her for myself. There are too many good things to say about her and I have missed most of them. I can say one thing for sure; for those who knew her, all you have to do is think of her, close your eyes tightly and you will see her smiling face, her bright eyes and hear her voice saying nothing but nice things.