A Life Too Short, But Full

A Life Too Short, But Full

Family, friends mourn Karen Hackney's death.

Karen Hackney left behind not only a husband and daughter but also a legacy of community involvement and many friends and acquaintances who are grateful that her life revolved around others.

After Hackney, a founding member of the Vienna Jaycees, gave birth to her daughter Charlotte, who will be 2 in January, she was diagnosed with congestive heart failure, said her friend and former co-worker, Carol Werner. However, said Werner, Hackney's condition seemed to have been improving in the time since. "She was doing all the right things and moving in the right direction," she said. Hackney's death on Sept. 16 came suddenly and unexpectedly. She would have been 40 in October.

Hackney is described by those who knew her as someone who was relentlessly engaged in the people and goings-on around her. Much of her community involvement was carried out through the Vienna chapter of the Jaycees, a national organization for adults under 40, which focuses on the development of business skills and on service to the public. She helped to found the local chapter in 2001, a few years after she moved into town from Arlington.

"There was a group of people that got the chapter going, but she took leadership," said her husband, Burt Hackney.

A chapter had been active in Vienna in the 1970s, but it had long since folded. "Somehow, she found out about the Jaycees and decided that Vienna needed a chapter again," said Werner. Hackney was the chapter's first president, and she continued to sit on its executive board.

THIS YEAR, under Hackney's initiative, the Jaycees began running food drives at local supermarkets to stock the pantries of Vienna's Committee for Helping Others (CHO), said Werner, who also became active in the group. In 2004, she coordinated a partnership between the chapter and the local branch of Hearts and Hammers, an organization that refurbishes homes for the needy, to rebuild a house in Vienna. She also organized a beer-tasting event to raise money for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. Hackney lost a brother to cystic fibrosis.

Jaycee leaders took turns heading the chapter's partnership with CHO for the annual holiday Adopt-a-Family project, for which the Jaycees bought, wrapped and delivered presents. Whether she was in charge or not, said Werner, Hackney was always along for the ride. "Karen loved shopping for the kids," she said. "And she was always on deliveries taking pictures."

An avid photographer, Hackney was responsible for much of the chapter's photography and was also a member of the Vienna Photographic Society.

She also managed the Jaycees' public relations with the town and was the representative to the Vienna-Tysons Regional Chamber of Commerce.

"She loved putting herself out there, and she loved being active and involved and making a difference," said Werner. "She had to be involved in everything."

ONE OF HACKNEY'S most visible roles was that of this year's market manager at the Vienna Farmer's Market. Jaycees took turns heading the market. Under her leadership, new vendors joined this year, including the market's first meat and diary vendors. She also helped to get the market moved from the parking lot behind Town Hall to its current, more visible location in the "Caboose Parking Lot" on Church Street.

Hackney was at the market the morning of the day she died.

"Karen was instrumental in the success of this market," said vendor Kathy Reid of Reid's Orchards. "She believed the market was something the community needed." Reid said she and the other vendors are working with the Jaycees to establish a college scholarship fund in Hackney's name. They hope to help a college-bound young man and woman from Vienna each year on the basis of their community involvement or love of photography, she said.

If not for Hackney, said Lois Allensworth of Lois's Produce, "we wouldn't have the market we've got today." She said sales have at least doubled since the move to the new location. "We're certainly going to miss Karen's smile and face and — bubbliness," she said.

"She was here every morning, full of sunshine," said Abby Brusco of South Mountain Creamery, one of the market's latest vendors.

"She made us feel very welcome here," said her colleague, Jim Harrison, adding that Hackney treated them "like we were her friends, even though we only knew her for five or six months."

Reid, Allensworth, Brusco and Harrison were all in attendance at Hackney's memorial service. They traveled from far out of town to be there. "But that's not important," said Reid. "What's important is that we lost someone special."

"She took this market and really whipped it up," said Gabi Pena, current president of the Jaycees chapter.

Pena had contacted the chapter in 2003 to volunteer on the coming Hearts and Hammers project. "Karen was the first person I met," said Pena. "She got straight to the point: 'How old are you?'" Finding that Pena was within the age range, Hackney induced her to join. But she did not stop there. "She basically pushed me to be president. She believed more in me than I did," said Pena.

"I think the only reason [the chapter] still exists is because of her charisma," said Tina D'Souza, another Jaycee. "It was like, 'Gosh, she's doing so much and we're doing so little.'" D'Souza said it also helped that Hackney was "fun to be around."

However, she also possessed a leader's calm. D'Souza recalled a bad storm during a fund-raiser the Jaycees staged, where they were selling composting bins. It was raining and the wind was "trying to blow the tent away," she said. Unfazed, Hackney held down the tent and went about business. "She could sell those compost bins to anybody," D'Souza added.

Pena said the Jaycees are having trouble filling the void left in Hackney's absence. In order to compensate, "I think we're all taking on her attitude a little bit," she said.

Hackney's husband said her choice of lifestyle dictated her choice of where to live it. "She told me she was looking for a place where she could really be a part of the community," he said, noting that, in Vienna, "she felt like she'd found a place where she could put down roots." He said the town's small size made her feel she could make a difference.

Bert Hackney met his wife in 2001 at a Potomac Cannons baseball game. "We both liked baseball. So we had something to talk about right away," he said.

Karen Hackney was enthusiastic about sports, and baseball in particular, said Werner.

In the summer of 2003, Burt and Karen Hackney were married. When their daughter was born, Karen took on motherhood with characteristic zeal. She joined two local mothers' groups and became a stay-at-home mom. "It was very clear," said her husband. "She said, 'This is the greatest job I've ever had.'"

"THE BIGGEST THING about Karen is that she came from nothing, and she made herself something," said Libby West, who has known Hackney since they went to college together at the University of Denver and now resides in New Jersey.

Hackney came from a family with six children, living in New Hampshire, "off the beaten path" and often without enough food to go around, said West. In spite of that humble beginning, Hackney attained a college education and worked her way into upper management at MCI.

In college, she was no less involved than she was in Vienna. She mentored new students and gave tours of the campus, said West. She was a little sister in a fraternity program. "I always thought that was amazing, because she wasn't raised to do that. That was something she brought herself," West said of Hackney's level of engagement.

She also noted that Hackney was a rabid fan of the school's sports teams — which included hockey, but not football — and that she never missed a friend's party. "She was really into having a good time," she said. "Any event that we had, she was there to enjoy it."

Hackney was also largely responsible for the well being of her brother with cystic fibrosis, West said. "She needed to be needed, on some level, and to take care of people," she said.

A speaker at Hackney's funeral, she recalled, had said Hackney hated paperwork, red tape and the word "can't." "I think that just drove her to say, 'Yes, I can, and I'm going to show you," she said.

She noted that Hackney met with "great successes" in her career. "And she didn't step on people to get there. She worked hard to get there, and she worked hard at anything she did."