Stanley Caulkins, a dean of Loudoun’s business community, a World War II airman, and longtime civic leader, died this morning at his home in Leesburg. He was 92.
Caulkins closed his business, Caulkins Jewelers, last summer after 61 years of operation following the death of his brother, Roger, and in recognition of his own health challenges. In the months that followed, he crossed items off his bucket list at a pace few nonagenarians would contemplate—hitting the firing range, touring the Loudoun countryside in a motorcycle sidecar, and taking flights over the county, among others—and hosted a constant stream of daily visitors and well-wishers at his home. Those visits continued until his final hours and one of the final thank yous for his service was delivered by Leesburg Mayor Kelly Burk during Tuesday’s Town Council meeting knowing that he would be watching the session at home.
After serving as a radio operator aboard a B-17 during World War II, the GI bill helped Caulkins learn the watchmaking trade. He returned to Leesburg and went to work in a gift shop in the back of the Plasters clothing store at the corner of King and Market streets. When the former Flippo’s grocery store space came up for lease, he moved his shop a few doors down King Street, where he paid $250 a month in rent. Caulkins Jewelers operated in that space for decades, until a 2015 fire forced a move to the Virginia Village shopping center.
His civic activities included service on the Town Council and a life-long dedication to the town’s airport. He was a founding member of the Leesburg Airport Commission in 1962 and helped lead the push to build Leesburg Airport in east Leesburg with the help of radio and television personality Arthur Godfrey, who lived west of Leesburg on his Beacon Hill estate. Later Caulkins helped establish the larger airport along Sycolin Road, where the terminal building today bears his name.
In an interview last June, he recalled some of those early efforts.
“[Godfrey] wanted to have an airport in town, so he could get back to New York City on Sunday nights in time for his morning show,” Caulkins said. But, as the town grew, the need for a larger site became evident. Godfrey allowed the town to sell the site, and the commissioners got a matching grant from the newly created Federal Aviation Agency to buy a larger tract along Sycolin Road.
“We built it—with blood, sweat and tears,” Caulkins recalled of that, at the time, divisive effort.
“I saw it as an economic tool for the town, the county and the region,” he said. “I was just a dumb watchmaker—but we built it.”
Services will be held Saturday, Jan. 20 at Leesburg Community Church, 835 Lee Ave SW, starting at 11 a.m.
[Additional information and recollections will be added in this space as friends and community leaders reflect on Caulkins’ impact and legacy.]
I knew Stanley Caulkins my entire life. He was a dear friend of our family. He and my father graduated from Leesburg High School, now the Senior Center on North Street, and played together on two undefeated football teams coached by John Diedrich. Until his last days, Stanley would recall those days; he and my father reverently called their old coach Number 1, Number 1. Those were the last words Stanley said to me during his final days.
Every engagement or wedding ring bought by the Greene family since Stanley opened was bought at Caulkins. My left hand will always remind me of him and his friendship and love.
I also owe Stanley for who I am. Upon my return from college in 1976, I started working in my hometown, Downtown Leesburg. He told me then that working in the community was not enough you have to get involved. I was home no more than a week when he volunteered me for The Bicentennial Committee. From that start and through his mentorship I became active in Downtown and charities, and because of him I am a better man. He was a man who believed in faith, family, friends and community. He served bravely and proudly his country and his town. We are all, every one of us, better for the time Stanley spent on this earthly plane. I take comfort that he is now fixing God’s clocks and watches.
I came to Loudoun way back in the early eighties for a newspaper job and Stanley Caulkins was one of the first people I had the pleasure of meeting in downtown Leesburg. We had crossed paths when I had my dad’s Army Air Corps wings fixed in his jewelry and watch repair shop and he asked about my Dad and his service in WWII. We talked about the aircraft he flew on and I found out that Stanley had been a radio operator aboard a B-17 during World War II and from there we became good friends. Later he would fly me in his small 172 for assignments that needed an aerial view for the paper and also just to get out and see Loudoun from the air. One windy March day we had gone up to get shots of the Feds as they staged at the Loudoun County Fairgrounds just before they raided the LaRouche organization in downtown Leesburg. After I had my shots we were on finial into Leesburg airport in super heavy cross winds, the plane was completely sideways and we were being tossed around like a toy, Stanley looked over very matter of fact and asked if I’d like to land the plane? I said, “hell no” and he replied again then get your feet off the pedals! I had stiffened up so much (aka scared shitless) that I was pushing on the pedals and affecting his landing. We touched down rather roughly he laughed and off I went film in hand. We won the highest award offered that year from VPA (Sweepstakes & W.S. Copeland Award) for community journalism and he sure played a huge role in that. Stanley was not only a great news source, often tipping reporters and I off to big news events but also was an advocate and fan of my work as a news photographer. He wrote the best reference for a job in DC that I ever got and the editor doing the interview told me he had taken the meeting because of that letter. Stanley passed away this morning and I’m deeply saddened by his death, I will miss him a great deal but the county is richer for the blessing of his having been among us.
Leesburg Airport Commission Chairman Dennis Boykin:
I first saw Stanley almost 20 years ago, chairing an airport commission meeting. There was no doubt he knew what he was doing, and even after political winds shifted and he wasn’t on the Commission any more, he bore no ill will to anyone. He was also a lifetime member of VFW Post 1177, providing great support to our efforts.
Over the years, stopping into the store became a ritual for me, getting his wise counsel regarding the airport, and being endlessly entertained with the stories of how he and the other airport committee members built the field, and lost re-election because of it. But, he knew it was the right thing to do. Many of the details are lost to history now, but he and the others on the committee took great risks to get the job done.
He recounted the story to me one day at lunch as to how, in 1963, they had finally obtained the monies from the real estate sale of the old airport, and the matching federal funds. The state’s portion was ‘in the mail’. The contractor was ready to start, and the closing papers for the property on Sycolin Road had already been signed. He took both checks to Town Hall (on Loudoun Street at the time) and the Town Manager told him “you just give me that money – we don’t need an airport – I’ve got roads to pave”. Stanley thought about it, put the checks back in his suit pocket, and told him “Let me get back to you on that”. He went by George Hammerle’s insurance office and they went to First Virginia Bank, opened up a checking account in the name of the Airport Committee (of the Town Council), told Mayor Frank Raflo what they were doing, and closed the airport deal. The Town Council signed the construction contract at the next meeting, the last before the new members were sworn in, and the new members immediately tried to cancel the contract. However, they couldn’t, and the airport got built.
He was a little bit embarrassed when we named the terminal building after him – saying that others had just as much to do with the beginnings of the airport, especially George Hammerly. He recounted great stories of the politics of Leesburg “back in the day”, especially how Ken Rollins championed the improvements in the Town’s water supply (which is why the facility is named after him) and how influential Bob Sevila was in his terms as Mayor. I began to notice a trend – during our long talks about things, he never focused on his own accomplishments (and there were many) but he always talked about others, and how they had contributed. Even when recounting his WWII experiences, he focused on the good parts, like flying soldiers to R&R destinations after V-E Day, rather than the rigors of combat. He did, however, admit to logging ‘a dozen or so’ hours in the pilot’s seat, and his ride in the B-17 in 2000 at Leesburg Airport absolutely had him on Cloud Nine for weeks afterwards.
He had great affection for Arthur Godfrey, although he wasn’t shy about telling me how challenging it could be to deal with him. Considering Godfrey’s stature at the time, it’s pretty impressive that he and George and Dr. White and Maurice Lowenbach would traipse up to Beacon Hill to meet with the man who was the most popular entertainer in the entire country, and negotiate terms to move the airport from Edwards Ferry Road to it’s current location.
I think Stanley Caulkins was the epitome of cool. Everything I’ve done in support of the airport has been with the question in my mind “What would Stanley do?” We’re a better Town because of him.?
Dog trainer Nancy Dryden operated Doggie Dog Right in downtown Leesburg for 14 years. Caulkins Jewelers was a regular stop as she took her four-legged students around town on training walks.
“He always loved the visits and playing the dogs and giving them loads of treats. He would always say, “take him off leash and let him run around.” I never did as this would be a disaster, but this always made me laugh as he tried it every time. He was such a dog lover and always welcomed us in the shop. That’s probably my fondest memory, that he wanted them to be able to run loose.
“Also, when I would introduce the dogs to most people, I would give them instructions to make sure the dog didn’t get attention if they were misbehaving, but Stanley would never listen to my instructions. I soon realized he would do what he wanted and I couldn’t stop him so he is the only person that got a pass from me on how he interacted with the dogs. He loved to give them loads of treats, usually too many and many times holding onto the treat trying to get the dogs to bite it in half, even if it meant he got nibbled on a little.”