When Realtor and farmer, Verlin W. Smith, told other farmers in the rural Oakton area that, someday, land in Oakton would be worth $200 an acre, they were incredulous at the absurdity of such an idea.
Today, land in Oakton sells for $200,000 an acre or more.
Realtor, farmer, land-assembler, visionary, historian and gentleman — Smith was all of these.
"When I interviewed for a job at Farms and Acreage in February, 1985, what sold me on the job was a statement made by Verlin’s administrative assistant," said 22-year employee, Pat Schuster. "She said that Verlin was known for his integrity. And he was. And he never deviated from that road of integrity."
"Verlin was honorable, a gentleman, kind and sharing. He was just a wonderful person," Schuster said. "He never introduced me as his secretary. He always identified me as an associate."
When Smith died at age 89 of lung cancer on July 25 at his long-time home in Oakton, he left behind a legacy of visible accomplishments and achievements.
Owner of Farms and Acreage, Inc. in Oakton since the late 1940s until illness forced him to sell the company to his colleague in 2004, Smith was instrumental in the packaging of property that was transformed into Tysons Corner, Fair Oaks Mall, Reston Hospital, and the mixed-use developments of Moorefield Station in Loudoun County, and Arrowbrook Centre near Dulles airport.
Arrowbrooke and Moorefield, said Smith’s daughter, Maryan, were the results of her father’s 40-year relationships with people.
"Daddy didn’t do all of these things alone; he wasn’t Superman," said Smith’s daughter. "But he was a force in the development of Fairfax County lands.
"To my father, real estate was, most of all, a helping profession. He loved what he did; he was the quintessential helping professional. His reputation was more valuable to him than any one deal was."
SMITH WAS BORN in Clay County, N.C., what he referred to as the "poorest county in North Carolina," to a farming family. His roots served him well throughout his life.
Putting himself through college at the University of Maryland in the late 1930s, Smith ran the university’s dairy farm. He served his country honorably during World War II, surviving Iwo Jima and garnering a Bronze Star for heroic action.
After the drowning death of a fellow Marine, Smith visited the deceased man’s wife, giving to her Smith’s own medal, Smith’s widow remembers.
"Verlin did not tell the wife it was his own medal," said Smith’s wife, also Maryan. "Verlin was like that."
Oakton was nothing but farmland when Verlin Smith moved his family there in 1946. There was a big garden on the Smith’s land that he tilled by hand, depending on the service of his old drafthorse, May, daughter Maryan recalls.
"When I was small, Daddy would put me behind May’s harness," said Maryan Smith. "He was a true woodsman, too. He would fell a tree exactly where he wanted it to fall."
The young Smith family moved to Oakton because they wanted to live in the country, Verlin’s widow recalls.
"The first time we came down the road, it was just a rutted dirt road, a single lane," said Smith. "We were visiting people who lived here, having dinner with them, when we saw this plot of land and the frame house for sale. So, we bought it. Two weeks after we moved in, it burned to the ground."
The family lived in a "shack" while saving up for rebuilding, and the house they built is one that stands today, and continues to be the home for Verlin’s wife.
"DADDY WAS A VISIONARY," said his daughter. "He went to every county development meeting; he promoted the construction of Rt. 66 as a three-lane highway because he knew two lanes would soon become obsolete. He recognized the importance of soil in construction before anyone else did."
Smith was such an advocate of soil testing, he founded one of the area’s first soil-testing companies, which remains in business.
Records kept by Smith detailing the county’s growth since the late 1940s, the Verlin W. Smith Business Collection, have been donated to the Reynolds Center for Virginia Business History, a museum of the Virginia Historical Society in Richmond.
"My father was practical," said daughter Maryan. "When he discovered that construction trade students in Fairfax County were learning the trade by building a wall and tearing it down, he thought, why not have them build a real house and sell it? That was a ‘FAXVO’ program, and it worked."
Maryan Smith points to Moorefield and Arrowbrook as more recent examples of her father’s community dedication.
Moorefield Station is a project of the Claude Moore Charitable Foundation, a trust that supports educational programs in Virginia. The mixed-use project, when fully operational, is estimated to return $40,000,000 in revenues to Loudoun County, daughter Maryan said.
Smith co-founded the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce and the Committee for Dulles. In tune with the historical nature of property, Smith, along with neighbors, worked to preserve Oakton’s 19th century Vale School.
Smith helped to assemble land in Markham, Va., for a wildlife management area and the Verlin W. Smith Trail there is named for him.
As a trustee of the Claude Moore Charitable Foundation, Smith helped to assemble land for a camp for the Boy Scouts of America, a Foundation project.
"Daddy chose to work with the Boy Scouts because he believed deeply in giving back to the community.
Smith’s greatest accomplishment? The FAXVO program, his wife said, because it was "not about money," but rather, because it helped to change the attributes of the construction trades program offered in Fairfax County schools, giving the students real-life, hands-on instruction. Mrs. Smith also credits her husband with the pursuit of soil-testing programs in Fairfax County.
"MY FATHER WAS an avid, voracious reader about the county, real estate, and soil," said Smith’s daughter. "And he freely, generously, shared his expertise and advice. He became a central source of information and knowledge. A lot of times, people would pop into his office to ask him what he ‘thinks of this.’"
Verlin Smith survived Iwo Jima and pneumonia, but a lifetime of smoking finally caught up with him.
After his memorial service in July, friends, colleagues and family met at the preserved schoolhouse in Vale for fellowship. Daughter Maryan remembers a colleague of her father commenting how fitting it was that they should be recalling Smith’s life in a place that was once a central place in Smith’s life ... the place where, Smith says, her father astonished others with his vision of a burgeoning Oakton.
"He loved real estate and making the community a better place. He used to say about real estate, ‘you can carry around millions of dollars of inventory in a briefcase.’
"My father chose to work on projects that benefited the community. That’s what made my dad different from lots of other people."