The story below has been updated to include more background about the name change and describes local opposition to the LFCC College Board's decision to rename the college.
Five names are being considered as Lord Fairfax Community College’s naming task force continues the work of choosing a new name for the college, according to a press release last week.
The top five names selected by the task force are: Valley & Vista, Red Oak, Laurel Ridge, Valley & Ridge and Newbridge. The proposed names would follow a common naming pattern for community colleges in Virginia; many have links to their local geography, including Blue Ridge Community College, Mountain Empire Community College, Tidewater Community College and Piedmont Community College.
“Overwhelmingly, the community input centered around the breathtaking beauty of the natural surroundings for which the LFCC service region is known,” said Kelly O’Keefe, CEO of Brand Federation, which is working with the college during this transition period. “They sought names that were both anchored to geographic features of the Shenandoah Valley region and reflective of the values that unite the college, its students and its community.”
The community college’s main campus is in Middletown, with a satellite campus in Warrenton and smaller facilities in Luray and Vint Hill. The college serves about 7,600 students annually in accredited programs along with more than 10,000 people enrolled in industry and business development classes,
The college, like the other 22 in the Virginia Community College System, had been directed last summer by the Virginia State Board for Community Colleges to review its name, as well as those of all its named facilities. In February, LFCC’s College Board voted 9 to 3 to rename the college, which was founded in 1970.
Renard Carlos, representing Fauquier County on the board, voted in favor of changing the name; the other Fauquier representative, Mary Barton, was not present for the meeting.
Following the LFCC College Board’s decision, students, staff, alumni and members of the community were encouraged to submit possible names for consideration; more than 100 did so, the last week’s press release said.
The name change is expected to cost between $115,000 and $298,000, according to a 2020 report, mostly due to branding expenditures like new signs, website redesign and other marketing materials.
No public or tax money will be used for the changes, LFCC President Kimberly Blosser told the Winchester Star last month. “Money to change the name would come from LFCC’s auxiliary fund, Blosser said, which includes revenue the college earns from its campus bookstore, vending machines and renting out campus spaces for events. Student tuition will not go toward renaming costs,” the Star reported.
The college is named for Thomas, the 6th Lord Fairfax, a British nobleman whose family was granted approximately 5.5 million acres of land in Virginia by the British crown during the 18th century. Fairfax eventually managed his vast holdings from an estate in Clarke County.
According to the LFCC committee, the college’s board chose the name in 1969 to coincide with the Lord Fairfax Planning District, (renamed the Northern Shenandoah Valley Regional Commission in 2001). Neither Fairfax himself nor his family had any direct connection with the college founded almost two centuries after his death.
In the 1740s, Fairfax hired the future President George Washington to survey his holdings, and Washington maintained a relationship with the Fairfax family during the ensuing decades. Although he remained in Virginia during the war for independence, Fairfax “maintained an air of indifference to the American Revolution,” according to the Dictionary of Virginia Biography, and refused to swear an oath of allegiance to Virginia after the colonies declared independence from the British crown.
Fairfax died shortly after the war ended, and most of his land was confiscated. Like most major landholders of the time, he enslaved people of African descent, owning 97 people at the time of his death. “Lord Fairfax – like many large landowners at the time – used enslaved workers to further enrich himself. There are historical records indicating he also engaged in the long-term sexual abuse of enslaved women,” says a statement from the college.
“The workgroup unanimously agreed, based on his history and lack of any notable legacy, that if the college were being named today, the group would not recommend it be named for Thomas, the 6th Lord Fairfax,” the statement says. A survey found around 90% of people familiar with the college did not know who Thomas, 6th Lord Fairfax was, according to the statement.
“The brand study and the workgroup findings show that people feel affinity for the college because of what the college has meant to them, and not because of Thomas, the 6th Lord Fairfax,” the statement continues.
The statement quotes retired Lt. Gen. Benjamin Freakley, who represents Shenandoah County on the LFCC board. “Often, we just move forward day by day without thinking about our name, so this gives us a great opportunity to look at ourselves and determine who we are in relation to our values, our mission, where we are today as an institution and where we want to go tomorrow. Lord Fairfax doesn’t represent anything we are about.”
The name change has prompted fierce opposition from local Republican officials. A March 19 letter opposing the move was signed by Va. Sen. Jill Vogel, R-Upperville, Del. Michael Webert, R-Marshall, Del. Mark Cole, R-Spotsylvania, Del. David LaRock, R-Hamilton, Va. Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg and House of Delegates Minority Leader Todd Gilbert, R-Woodstock.
A resolution passed by the Fauquier County Republican Committee last week called the name change part of a “reactionary” effort to “obliterate history” and argues the funds could better be used elsewhere. “While we need to be aware of and learn from negative aspects of our history, we must focus primarily on the positive. No relationship or organization can survive with relentless focus on the negative,” the resolution states.
In Frederick County, supervisors – all of whom are Republicans -- passed a resolution last month opposing the change, with at least two supervisors suggesting that the county withhold funds from the college if it changed its name.
Frederick County contributes about $81,000 per year to the college, and Fauquier contributes around $78,000. The vast majority of the college’s $32 million annual budget comes from tuition fees and direct funding from the state government.