Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Viola Hovsepian, city’s first woman mayor, dies at 84

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Viola DeWolf Hovsepian, Rockville’s first woman mayor and an instigating force behind the city’s transition into the post-World War II era, died May 2 at the Estelle Hospice House in Marion County, Fla. She was 84.

Former political rivals and successors alike remember her as a good person who did good work.

‘‘I ran against her and defeated her,” said Steven VanGrack, former Rockville mayor (1985-1987) and practicing attorney. ‘‘Nobody who knew her could say a bad word about her. My campaign was all about issues. I never could have said a critical thing about her personally.”

Hovsepian served from 1984 to 1985, three decades after her husband, Dickran Y. Hovsepian, spent four years in the office, from 1954 to 1958.

Hovsepian was chosen by the City Council to fill the remainder of Mayor John Freeland’s term when he resigned, so she was not the first elected woman mayor. That distinction is held by Rose Krasnow, who served from 1995 to 2001.

The city’s current mayor and the third woman to hold the office, Susan Hoffman, was disappointed to hear about Hovsepian’s passing.

‘‘On behalf of the City of Rockville, I am sad to hear about her passing,” Hoffmann said. ‘‘She was the first woman mayor. She and her husband made a great personal contribution to the city of Rockville.”

Hovespian and her husband moved to Twinbrook in 1950 and soon recognized that Rockville was entering a period of rapid population growth and development. Over the next four decades the pair played leadership roles in shaping Rockville’s modern character.

In her two terms on City Council (1982-1984) and her term as mayor, Hovsepian’s foremost interests were affordable housing, creating a sense of community, solving traffic problems and community planning. In that vein, she helped establish the Council for Good Government, along with her husband. She later served as chair of the Alliance of Rockville Citizens, another citizen-oriented organization, and on the board of the Metropolitan Area Council of Governments.

In 1996, the pair received a key to the city before they moved to Florida, where they continued their community and volunteer work.

Dickran Hovsepian died in 2003 in Florida.

‘‘She talked a lot about her time in Rockville,” Hovsepian’s sister, Grace Trice, said. ‘‘She regretted that she had to leave, but was proud of what she did here.”

Trice said she believes her sister’s legacy can still be felt in Rockville today.

‘‘She dedicated a lot of her civic life to creating affordable housing, which had and still has a major impact on the people living in Rockville,” she said.

After Hovsepian graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1944 from Florida State College for Women (now Florida State University), she moved with her husband to Winter Haven, Fla., to teach high school mathematics.

She joined her husband, a sergeant, in Germany following World War II. They returned to the United States, moving to Philadelphia, where Hovsepian became one of the first computer programmers for the federal government, working on an early computer called Univac.

They finally settled in Rockville, where they lived for the next 50 years.

Hovsepian soon became active in her church and in civic affairs. She taught adult Sunday School at Rockville United Methodist Church, worked with Campfire Girls and Girl Scouts, became a charter member of Rockville Citizens for Good Government and the Alliance of Rockville Citizens, regional chair of Rockville Community Chest and March of Dimes; represented Rockville in the National League of Cities; and worked tirelessly to combat racism and anti-Semitism.

Survivors include a daughter, Rebecca G. Wilson; a son, Daniel D. Hovsepian and his wife Tia; two sisters, Grace D. Trice and Mary Louise DeWolf and her husband Bob Campbell; four grandchildren and three great-grandchildren; seven nieces and nephews; and one grand-niece.