Council fixture Garber, 84, dies

Posted: December 27, 2013

The Winchester Star

George Garber
George Garber (center) is pictured at a City Council meeting in the 1960s.

WINCHESTER — As Nora Garber recalls it, her 33-year-old husband, George, didn’t think he had much of a chance to win a seat on City Council when he announced his write-in candidacy 13 days before Election Day in 1962.

The voters, however, proved him wrong.

Though his name wasn’t on the ballot on June 12, 1962, the city businessman finished second out of four candidates to capture one of three seats up for election in the old First Ward on Winchester’s governing body. The two people he topped were sitting councilors seeking re-election.

Voters embraced Garber four more times, as he served on the council until opting not to seek re-election in 1982.

“He thoroughly enjoyed being on City Council,” Nora Garber said Thursday of her husband, who died Tuesday at their Ramseur Lane home at age 84. “He was at that age in his life when he was interested in the city government.”

To former City Manager Wendell Seldon, Garber was more than just a member of the council that hired him. He was a lifelong friend.

They graduated from Handley High School in 1947, playing basketball and appearing in the senior play together. They’d later officiate high school basketball and football games, and Garber would play Santa Claus for Seldon’s children and others in the neighborhood every Christmas Eve.

They also enlisted in the local Army National Guard, with Garber serving 21 years in the 29th Division, 116th Infantry, and retiring as a captain.

While known for his sense of humor, Garber was serious when it came to city business.

“George was always conservative like I was as far as spending city funds,” Seldon, who was elevated from assistant city manager to city manager during Garber’s council tenure, said Thursday from his Richmond home. “As city manager, when I presented the budget, George would pick out the things we really wanted to take a better look at and keep that tax rate down.”

Nora Garber said fiscal conservatism was a relic of his childhood and extended into their household.

“He was brought up in the era of the depression, so he was pretty frugal with money with the city as well as at home,” she said in a phone interview, prompting laughter from daughter S. Chris Garber of Bunker Hill, W.Va.

Seldon said Garber “kept him in line,” and he wasn’t beyond using humor to do it.

Pat Ashby, clerk of the council from 1978 to 1992, recalls hearing that Garber once observed city utility workers outside his former home on Jefferson Street. One was down a manhole, while two or three others stood in the street.

“He took a picture of them,” she remembered, “and invited Wendell over and showed him the picture of the guys standing around the manhole and asked, ‘Is that how you use my tax money?’

“Everyone loved George. He had such a great sense of humor.”

Seldon said Garber was part of a group of rambunctious councilors who enjoyed attending annual Virginia Municipal League meetings. He recalled once hearing a commotion about someone dancing in a fountain outside the Virginia Beach hotel in which they were staying.

“Lo and behold of all things,” Seldon said, “when I went out, there was George Garber dancing in the fountain. All these people from the state of Virginia were coming by and seeing George dancing in the fountain.”

Garber took office on Sept. 1, 1962, and served until June 30, 1982 (the city changed its election dates during his time in office). His name is one of 18 on a plaque in the council chambers at Rouss City Hall who served as a councilor for 20 or more years since the Civil War.

William Shendow, whose eight years on City Council overlapped the end of Garber’s tenure, recalled him as a detail-oriented legislator who voted for what he thought was best for Winchester.

“He wasn’t hesitant to ask questions when he didn’t understand an issue,” Shendow said, “and I think many councilmen benefited from George asking those questions.”

Mayor Elizabeth Minor was one of those councilors. The first 19 months of the 33 years she’s been on the panel were the end of Garber’s tenure.

“He was a true gentleman, just a wonderful person,” she said. “I wish I could have served with him longer because I could have learned a lot from him, and I did during our short time on council together.”

Nora Garber said her husband lived his whole life in Winchester.

He also played football at Handley and threw the javelin in track, she said, and was good enough on the gridiron to earn a scholarship to the University of Richmond.

But after injuring his knee his freshman year, he returned to Winchester and went to work for Western Maryland Supply Corp., a wholesale plumbing and heating supply company on North Kent Street. He spent 45 years with the company, starting in the warehouse and working his way up to manager.

“When they put computers in,” Nora Garber recalled, “he said, ‘I’m out.’”

But he continued public service as a member of the Winchester Host Lions Club, Winchester Elks Lodge #867 and Winchester Hiram (Masonic) Lodge No. 21. His wife said Garber was a big supporter of the Lions Club’s sight programs and helped entrants line up for Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival parades.

Former Mayor Charles Zuckerman — who served with Garber on the council and in the National Guard and was a fellow Lions Club member — said his friend will be missed.

“He was a heck of a guy,” Zuckerman said. “He was a good man, and a great father, grandfather and friend.”

In addition to his wife and daughter, Garber is survived by a son, George H. “Chip” Garber Jr. of Wylie, Texas. Daughters Elizabeth Miller Garber and Pamela Garber Hedges preceded him in death.

Funeral services will be held at noon Saturday at Christ Episcopal Church, where he was a member for 65 years. Private interment will be in Mount Hebron Cemetery.

— Contact Vic Bradshaw at vbradshaw@winchesterstar.com