Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Mitchell Van Yahres 1926 - 2008

From the Charlottesville, Virgina Daily Progress come this obituary:
Mitchell Van Yahres, a former member of the Virginia House of Delegates, who died Friday, February 8, 2008, in Charlottesville, aged 81, tended trees for a living and people for a lifetime. His abiding interest in the welfare of his community led him, successfully, to seek election in 1968 as a member of Charlottesville City Council and he so remained until 1976.

From 1970 to 1972, he was Mayor of Charlottesville. Subsequently, after receiving the Democratic Party nomination for election to the House of Delegates, he prevailed in a special election in early January 1981, and steadily rose in seniority, at one point serving as chairman of the Agriculture Committee. He retired from active political involvement in 2005.

In short, Van Yahres completed a notable political career, if only measured merely by electoral success. More distinguishing, his public life was informed by an impulse to stand up for the underdog and draw attention to social and economic injustice.

In the traditional course of Virginia politics, this tendency - always consistent, but never dogmatic - immediately set him apart and identified him as a "liberal." That was okay by Van Yahres, whose reliable constituency provided him enduring political security.

Although aspects of Van Yahres political career sometimes veered toward the legislatively undoable, his disposition, diligence and native intelligence convinced others of his sincerity, a characteristic in public office-holders not always encountered by citizenry. A proud left-leaning Democrat, Van Yahres counted Republican moderates (no, not right-wingers, he didn't go that far) among his close friends. You might disagree with Van Yahres, but it was next-near-to-impossible to dislike him.

Seldom in public life does an individual so completely meld with a community. Van Yahres loved Charlottesville and the residents of the city, in the main, requited. There were some tricky moments. His commitment to open housing, a stance taken early in his political career, conflicted with less than openminded thinking on racial arrangements. Perhaps more problematic, at least within the Democratic Party, Van Yahres' Catholic affiliation joined his broad-minded attitudes toward abortion rights in a opaque blur that even his closest associates were challenged to explain. Van Yahres could be politically adroit if he had to be.

Van Yahres also loved things that grew, literally. A certified arborist, his longtime tree surgery business established when he moved to Charlottesville in 1949 endures under the ownership of his son, Mike Van Yahres.

It didn't take much to inspire Mitch to commentary on the proper techniques of tree preservation. His public career involved numerous unheralded but seriously animated encounters with state and public utility officials over what trees should be cut, when and how. Dispossessed greenery had a champion in Van Yahres, too.

Mitchell Van Yahres was born on October 21, 1926, to George and Marcelle of Westbury on Long Island, New York. His father, a highly successful tree specialist himself, had first been drawn to Virginia by the Garden Club of Virginia in order to tend to the trees at Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson.

After service in the United States Army Air Force, Mitch Van Yahres enrolled at Cornell University and had the monumental good fortune of encountering a graduate student there named Elizabeth Franklin of McKeesport, PA. Betty and Mitch married in 1948, and raised five children, all of whom have exhibited the Van Yahres tendency toward cheery iconoclastic behavior.

Van Yahres is survived by his wife, Betty; his three sons, Mike, Mark, and Keith; two daughters, Beth Nave and Laura, and their spouses, Peggy, Elizabeth and Bryan Nave; as well as 11 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

His friends, who nearly included everyone who met him, are asked, in lieu of expenditures on flowers and the like, to make a healthy and significant contribution to the presidential campaign of Barack Obama or, if they insist, the charity of their choice.

A Mass and celebration of his life will be at 2 p.m. on Friday, February 15, 2008, at The Church of the Incarnation.

Friends may sign the guest book at www.hillandwood.com.

1 comment:

Jason said...

Were you friends with this man, Jim?