History

Benjamin Smith
Benjamin M. Smith

The Washington Forrest Foundation was established in 1968 by Benjamin M. Smith (1884-1975) with a donation of real estate, including property at the intersection of N. Beauregard Street and W. Braddock Road, formerly known as Washington Forrest. This land today is the location of NOVA Community College’s Alexandria Campus.

Through his work as an Arlington realtor and developer, his strong faith also instilled in him a desire to serve his community. He was chairman of both Arlington County Board and Arlington County School Board, and served on the Board of Arlington Hospital. His particular interests were youth, the elderly, and the United Methodist Church, but he gave his time and financial resources to a wide variety of community activities, reflecting his belief in a comprehensive approach to local needs.

The Founding Family

B.M. Smith – Founder

B.M. Smith Founder of Washington Forrest Foundation
B.M. Smith was born in a home on Columbia Pike. He founded his real estate business in 1908 which stands as the longest still operating business in Arlington. He was always interested in his church and his community. He was an early chairman of the Arlington County Board, served on the Arlington Public Schools’ Board and long served on the board of the Arlington United Methodist Church. He served as President of the Northern Virginia Builders Association, on the Board and Executive Committee of Arlington Hospital at its inception, and on the Arlington YMCA Board.

Known for his “fair dealing” in business and generosity with his wealth, he was known for using his money to benefit others. His philanthropy was designed to help others help themselves. This is evidenced by how he established the Washington Forrest Foundation and his thoughtfulness to his giving. “Many institutions, both church and secular, owe their beginnings to his belief in helping others help themselves. Among these are United Methodist and Episcopal facilities such as Hermitage House in Richmond and Northern Virginia, Goodwin House, Washington House, United Methodist District offices, Northern Virginia Community College, St. James Church, Randolph Macon Academy expansion and Shenandoah College and Conservatory of Music” Arlington Uniter newsletter, April 4, 1975

B. M. Smith Founder of Washington Forrest FoundationAccording to staff and family, the early days of the Foundation were really driven by B.M. Smith himself. Although his two sons, Edward and Ben, served on the Board with him by-in-large, he made the grant decisions. His work with the Foundation at times crossed lines of business, usually to the benefit of the community. B.M. Smith worked with local African-American builders, George Eliot, James Gaskill, Clarence Hammond, to loan them funds to build homes in the local community. Smith built a lot of the houses in Arlington Heights, between what is now the Penrose Square apartments and Route 50, as well as supported building in what is now (and then) called Green Valley.

There is also told, that during the depression he would allow people to pay interest only until they got through hard times. Staff recall when a family got so behind in rent that he almost had to evict them, but fortunately, they found a payment and he was happily able to keep them in their home. It was said he could read a tenant well and was always willing to work with someone to keep them in their home. He disliked when he started having to run credit on tenants as he felt he was a better judge of their ability to pay or not. He had a love for family and community and his legacy lives on today through the Washington Forrest Foundation.

Edward M. Smith

Edward M. SmithEdward M. Smith, son of the founder, B.M. Smith, approached his father about establishing a foundation. Ed Smith served on the Foundation Board of Trustees from 1968 to 1985.

His service on the board was marked by leadership, compassion, vision and knowledge of community needs and issues. He recommended the employment of the Foundation’s first Executive Director, who increased its professionalism. His contacts with members of the community and county government resulted in strong grants, such as the Foundation’s work with African- American churches in South Arlington. He initiated the Foundation’s support of the large and effective project to underground utilities and repave sidewalks along Columbia Pike.

Some proposals held special interest for Edward M. Smith. He was devoted to his alma mater, Christchurch School, and support for other Virginia Diocesan schools. His giving was not confined to grantmaking through the Foundation. He gave substantial gifts of time and personal money to individuals and organizations. He had a deep faith and concern for his fellow man. Today, Edward’s daughter Leslie S. Ariail, and granddaughter, Allison A. Erdle, serve on the Board.

“Of special note and importance are the contributions he made through the Washington Forrest Foundation and the revitalization of Columbia Pike. His concern for low-income citizens and his personal interest in the Arlington Community Action Program will always be remembered. As I travel on Columbia Pike, I am reminded of the contrast between the areas where the undergrounding and streetscape improvements have occurred and where we still have work to do…The citizens of the County will always be grateful for his contributions to the community.”

— LETTER FROM ELLEN M. BOZMAN, CHAIRMAN, ARLINGTON COUNTY BOARD TO LESLIE S. ARIAIL IN REFERENCE TO EDWARD M. SMITH’S COMMUNITY CONTRIBUTIONS, APRIL 10, 1992

Margaret S. Peete

Margaret S. PeeteMargaret S. Peete, daughter of B.M. Smith, joined the Board in 1974 and served on the Board of Trustees for 31 years, 22 of which she served as Board Chair. She was dedicated to the Foundation,
and had a keen interest in the nonprofits it supported. Through her leadership, support for many new, Arlington-based nonprofits were funded. She was truly focused upon and honored to serve the Arlington community throughout her life. She was particularly focused on serving those in poverty, the health care community, the arts and children with disabilities.
Personally, she had a quick wit and warmth, which she was able to share at Board meetings, as she was genuinely interested in those around her. She was also detailed and her keen sense of numbers helped the Foundation make smart funding decisions throughout her years on the Board. Today, Margaret’s son David D. Peete, Jr. serves as Vice Chair of the Board of Trustees.

“The Foundation’s continued support of programs that enhance the quality of life for Arlingtonians, especially your support for educational efforts, health services and meeting human service needs, is greatly appreciated. The Washington Forrest Foundation has truly touched the lives of many of our residents who, as you know, often lack access to much needed services and to cultural opportunities. I take this opportunity to wish you continued success and to salute the Foundation for its generous support of the people of Arlington.”

— LETTER FROM STATE SENATOR MARY MARGARET WHIPPLE TO MARGARET S. PEETE, AUGUST 12, 2002

Lindsey D. Peete

Lindsey D. PeeteLindsey Peete, Executive Director from 1985–1996 was taken from this world early, but her mark on the Washington Forrest Foundation was profound.

In 1993, in a request to the Board, she assessed the mission and vision of the Foundation. She stated “the pool of Northern Virginia human problems may be roughly the same today as they were five to ten years ago..but we should spend more time discussing and determining which are the most important needs at this time.” She said “We also should be identifying emerging needs and problems and to address them as quickly as possible. Emerging needs are similar to a disease. If you attack it early enough, you might be able to stop it before it spreads and becomes incurable.” In our 50th year, the Foundation is still focused on sup- porting organizations as they identify new and emerging needs for which a creative and thoughtful way is needed to address them.

Lindsey was devoted to her family, friends and professional associates, the Foundation and the people of Arlington County. She constantly presented research and reports on the Foundation’s work to its Board, her family, encouraging them to gain knowledge and under- standing of the issues the County and the Foundation’s grantees were tackling at the time. She served on the boards and committees of various Arlington and regional organizations such as the Junior League, the Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers, the Arlington Community Foundation and volunteered for many other causes in our community. She gave personally to the many organizations she loved, particularly in the arts, to her church and to the Foundation’s grantees.

Lindsey also recommended ways the Foundation could be more of a leader in grantmaking and in the community through initiating new programs, supporting major renovations and expansions, and actively seeking proposals. Today, the Foundation supports new programs, provides consistent general operating support, actively seeks new proposals and manages the proposal process to the benefit of our partners. We seek to provide responsive funding that anchors our South Arlington community, and bolsters our partners for the future as they address needs, expand into new buildings and plan for their future.

“Though our relationship was not of great length, it was critically important to the success—indeed the very establishment—of the Arlington Free Clinic…I communicated with Lindsey on several occasions to discuss the Arlington Free Clinic, to convey the urgency of the need of Arlington County residents for such a service…Lindsey immediately placed her enthusiastic support behind the project.”

— LETTER TO THE BOARD OF THE WASHINGTON FORREST FOUNDATION FROM NANCY PALLESON, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, ARLINGTON FREE CLINIC, MAY 11, 1996

Benjamin C. Gravett

Benjamin C. GravettBen Gravett served on the Board from 1996 until his passing in 2014. Ben served as President and a financial leader to the Board. He was dedicated to giving back and helping those in need throughout his life, especially to programs for those needing job skills and training or those who had lost everything and were in need of support services.

He was a formidable leader, and brought the Board together through his charisma, humor, and straight- forward way of looking at life and its decisions. His financial acumen and involvement helped grow the Foundation and steward its resources so that later generations of the Smith Family will continue to witness its generosity toward the Arlington community and beyond.

Today, Ben’s daughter Rachel G. Mrad and son Benjamin M. Gravett, Jr. serve on the Board of Trustees.

The foundation assets have been augmented by contributions by several additional family members.

Charlotte S. Gravett (1932-1973)

Charlotte S. Gravett A large portion of the estate of Charlotte S. Gravett, daughter of B.M. Smith, was contributed to the Foundation in 1975, allowing increases in grants to take place. Today, Charlotte’s granddaughter, Rachel G. Mrad, serves as Treasurer for the Foundation, and grandson, Benjamin C. Gravett, Jr. is on the Board. Charlotte’s daughter, Deborah G. Lucckese, served on the Board of Trustees from 1989-2013 and as Executive Director from 1996 through 2012, and as Board Chair from 2007–2013. Debbie took on the task of making sure the Board was educated around our responsibilities and ensuring the Board’s particular interests in issues such as seniors, after-school programs, etc were being informed. Debbie actively organized site visits for Board members to our grantees. She was also responsible, along with Margaret Peete and Ben Smith Jr., for facilitating the Foundation’s transition from real estate assets to investment assets and making decisions that grew the Foundation to the size it is today. Today, Debbie’s son Daniel J. Lucckese serves on the Board.

Virginia “Betsy” N. Smith

Virginia “Betsy” N. Smith, wife of the founder’s son, Edward M. Smith, contributed part of her estate to the Foundation upon her death in 1990. Betsy Smith had a zest for life and strong love for family and friends.