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Hollin Hills Environmentalist, Ed Risley, Dies at 87

Friends remember his wit and passion for the environment

Edward Risley, 87, a longtime Hollin Hills resident and co-founder of the Friends of Dyke Marsh, died on Dec. 24 at the Inova Alexandria Hospital due to illness.  Autopsy results are still pending.

Born in Randolph, Vt. on August 19, 1923, Risley graduated from Classical High School. At the outbreak of World War II, Risley enlisted in the U.S. Army. He earned a bachelor's degree from Clark University in Worcester, Mass. He later pursued graduate studies in geography at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies.

In January 1949, he married Cynthia Coghlin, and the newlyweds lived near Dupont Circle before moving in 1953 to Hollin Hills. They relocated to Goodwin House, a retirement community in Alexandria, several years ago.

From 1949 to 1962 Risley worked in the Department of Defense as a geographer and technical advisor on staff at the U.S. Air Force, Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Defense Intelligence Agency. Some of his Pentagon career highlights included watching an above-ground atomic blast test in Nevada and supervising a young Navy ensign who later in life became Texas Congressman Charlie Wilson.

Risley left the Pentagon in 1962 to join the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency as a Foreign Affairs Officer, with assignments in Geneva, Switzerland and with the National Academy of Sciences. In 1971, Risley moved to the Department of the Interior, where he served multiple roles. 

Longtime colleague and friend Henry Myers remembered his impact as noteworthy in the national security field.

"Edward was a strong advocate of using satellites for remote sensing," says Myers, referring to a process for collecting information about a region. The correctness of Edward's position, he adds, "is manifest in his views having long ago become the conventional wisdom."

In 1976, Risley co-founded, with Jeb Byrne, the Friends of Dyke Marsh. Current Board secretary, Dorthy McManus said, "Ed Risley was a role model environmentalist and a witty sophisticated friend."

After retiring from the federal government in the early 1980s, Risley became a full-time environmental activist and served on the Fairfax County Environmental Quality Advisory Council, Fairfax County Wetlands Board, the Commonwealth of Virginia Marine Resources Committee, the Committee to Preserve Assateague, and the Audubon Naturalist Society.

He loved birding, contemporary art and architecture and Dixieland jazz. He is survived by Cynthia; sons John, of Portland, Ore.; Paul, of Bangkok, Thailand; and Chris, of Peterborough, Ontario, and daughter-in-law Erica Nol; and grandchildren Carla, Suzanne, and Brynna.

A memorial service will be held on Wednesday, December 29 at 2:30 p.m. at Goodwin House of Alexandria, 4800 Fillmore Ave., Alexandria, VA 22311.

Laurie Hirschfeld Zeller December 29, 2010 at 10:20 PM
Thanks, Liz, for this lovely tribute. I remember Ed as the funniest man of our parents' generation whom I had ever met. That legacy certainly lives on in Paul. Wish I could join you all for the service

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