Stories from the NFCCA Newsletter, the “Northwood News”

Northwood News ♦ December 2005

Who are the People in the Neighborhood?

Portrait of NFCCA Board Member Charlie Pritchard

By Caitlin James

Every two months, a corps of volunteers treks through our neighborhood delivering this newsletter to your doorstep.  The longest route — 91 houses on Lombardy Road — is walked by Charlie Pritchard, 82, former president of the Northwood Four Corners Civic Association and current Board Member.

It’s not surprising that Charlie would take this on.  He’s clearly a man who appreciates the great outdoors; for decades he has dedicated himself to improving the quality of the local environment.  In so doing, Charlie has made his mark in Northwood Park and in Montgomery County in numerous ways.

Alongside State Rangers and Americorps volunteers, Charlie helped build the Seneca Greenway Trail in western Montgomery County.  He also had a big hand in the Rachel Carson Trail, which runs through our neighborhood in Northwest Branch Stream Valley Park, lobbying the County Planning Board to approve it and assisting in its physical construction.  He is a member of the local Sierra Club Chapter, the Audubon Naturalist Society, the Neighbors of Northwest Branch, and the Advisory Committees of the Legacy Open Space Program and the Anacostia Restoration Project.

The amazing Charlie Pritchard in the great outdoors he loves.

Charlie’s volunteer work goes beyond the environment.  He also tutored a Chinese couple in English for several years for the Literacy Council of Montgomery County English for Speakers of Other Languages Program.

What motivates Charlie to dedicate so many of his waking hours to the community?  Part of his motivation is political.

“Montgomery County likes to tout itself as a very advanced and progressive county, but we have a lot of conflicts [between leaders], and have had a lot of conflicts [as a neighborhood] with the [Maryland National] Park and Planning Commission,” he said.  “A lot of people here want to keep this area from becoming a concrete jungle and the Parks and Planning doesn’t recognize this.”

Another part of his motivation is personal.  “I spent my career indoors in an office, and the idea you could go out and do something physical and then look back and say we built 100 feet of trail today — that was very rewarding,” he said.

Charlie has a long history of commitment to public service that includes his career.  It all began with the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941.  The attack prompted Charlie’s father, who had previously denied his 18-year-old son permission to enlist in the Army, to have a change of heart.  Charlie enlisted with his father’s support.  He was assigned to the U.S. 8th Army Air Force and sent to England where he was trained in bomb disposal at a British Royal Air Force school.  There, he learned to deactivate German fuses and bombs.  As part of a U.S. bomb disposal squad, he participated in the Normandy Invasion, three campaigns in France and Germany, and in the Occupation of Germany.

Charlie hoped to use the G.I. Bill to attend college when he returned to the U.S.  However, there was one catch:  he had never finished high school.  Growing up in Denver, an unstable upbringing failed to provide him with the structure he needed to excel in school.  He dropped out, lived on his own, and found work.  The Army, Charlie said, “solved many of my personal problems.”

Charlie credits his father, who was dying of tuberculosis as the war came to a close, for convincing the Denver School Board to issue him a diploma, so that he could benefit from the G.I. Bill.  With this funding, he studied journalism at the University of Illinois and later transferred to the University of California at Berkeley, where he graduated with honors with a B.A. in Russian Language and Literature.  He signed up for the Reserves while pursuing his education and, as a result, was recalled when the Korean War began in 1950.

In Korea, Charlie was assigned to a public information section in corps headquarters.  He wrote stories about military units and soldiers for their hometown newspapers and escorted reporters to and from the front lines, where he came under fire occasionally.  He was awarded the Bronze Star for this work.  He also served briefly in an Explosive Ordnance Disposal squad before returning home.  His last rank when he was honorably discharged was Sergeant First Class.

Upon completion of his undergraduate degree — after returning from Korea — Charlie was recruited by the National Security Agency (NSA) in Arlington.  While working at the NSA, he earned an M.A. in Russian Studies from Georgetown University.  Upon retirement from the NSA, he was given the organization’s Meritorious Service Award for his 27 year-career with them.

It was while studying at U.C. Berkeley that Charlie met Nancy Jean Moss, who at the time was doing graduate work in education, and who was to become his wife.  They moved to the Silver Spring area in 1956, when Charlie was working at the NSA and Nancy was working as an editor for the Operations Research Office of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.  In 1957, they bought the house in Northwood Park where Charlie still lives.  Nancy passed away in 1984.

“We were greatly attracted to the rolling hills, the woods, North Four Corners Park, and the nearby Northwest Branch Stream Valley Park, whose natural state reminded my wife of her native North Carolina,” Charlie said.

With his decades of involvement in the community and the county, Charlie has unique insights into the pressing environmental and energy issues facing us.  He cites traffic congestion as one of his strongest concerns.

“There is not enough public transit,” he said.  “Building and widening roads will not solve this problem and the public needs to be educated on our transportation problems.”  He believes one solution is to produce electrical power from nuclear power plants.

“We might consider elevated mono-rail or mono-beam transit,” he said.

Charlie is also concerned about the MNPPC’s current efforts to add another soccer field to the North Four Corners Park as part of its proposed park improvement plan.

“The Commission often ignores problems in our neighborhoods,” he said.  “There may be too much planning and too much development that ignores quality of life rather than enhancing it.”

He worries that the NFCCA does not have “enough voices to counter bad plans and projects.”  He sees the solution as getting the communities that surround the area to combine and present an united front to the County Executive, the Planning Board, and the Council.

Charlie is proud of the leadership this community has seen.  “We have been fortunate over the years to have had a number of effective, articulate, and responsive civic association leaders,” he said.  This is a tradition he hopes to see continue.

If you come to one of the bimonthly NFCCA meetings, you are likely to see Charlie Pritchard at work, adding his voice to the proceedings, ever-ready to advocate for what he sees as the common good.   ■

   © 2005 NFCCA  [Source:]