Mr. John T. Hazel

It takes a visionary to see that a deep ravine can be transformed into what is now, over forty years later, a soccer/lacrosse field for an Alexandria private school. It takes the same type of visionary to see that the vacant building of a defunct department store in Arlington County will be a perfect home for a new law school. This type of visionary not only sees the potential in such things, he or she sees it in people. So far in front of the rest of us, this type of visionary often appears small; but don’t be fooled by that appearance. Such people are not small, and they get larger when we catch up to them as they patiently wait for us. Mr. John Tilghman “Til” Hazel, Jr., who died this week, was such a person.

Mr. Hazel saw where we were, but more importantly he saw where we could be. He led us to achieve what we never imagined was possible, and to places we did not know existed. He always was thinking and seeing and doing and going. Most of all he believed in us. One of the many, many people Mr. Hazel believed in was me, and while he and I went separate paths in the late 1980’s I never forgot his lessons and generosity. I still benefit from both.

In reading the tributes flooding in about Mr. Hazel, I read him described as “a developer,” a force in the expansion of Northern Virginia. That side of Mr. Hazel I only knew of or read about. But the Mr. Hazel I remember is the one that helped so many of us by leading and aiding our schools—everything from small, independent ones to a large, state university. So, yes, Mr. Hazel was a developer of real estate, but he was also an educator who helped develop teachers, coaches, and administrators by sharing with everyone- from presidents of an expanding college to youth wrestling coaches- his wisdom and his time and his other resources.

In the fall of 1976 I encountered Mr. Hazel when I began teaching and coaching in an independent school in Alexandria, Virginia. I stayed one year and made a poor decision to leave to  try my hand in business in North Carolina. Fortunately, the school re-hired me, and my wife, two daughters, and just-born son returned in December to begin again. When we arrived at our home, we discovered a well-stocked kitchen. The cabinets bulged with food as did the refrigerator. Later I found out that Mrs. “Jinx” Hazel and two other mothers at the school had given my family that gift.  But, as I was to discover across the years at the school, Mr. Hazel’s hands were certainly part of that kindness, and more.

Many words are used to try and describe Mr. Hazel, and I am sure most are sincerely correct. However, when I think of Mr. Hazel I am reminded of the settlers of our frontier. Each party of settlers asked one of its members to go out alone, into the unchartered territory, and blaze a trail for them to follow. That is Mr. Hazel, the person who blazed trails for many of us, and for that I am grateful.

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