When Cedell Brooks Jr. first campaigned for the King George Board of Supervisors in 1991, he promised constituents he would get rid of the dump in their district and put a park in its place.
As he nears the end of his 26-year tenure—the longest of any continuously serving official in the county—the park he initially campaigned for will bear his name.
“Shiloh Park shall be renamed Cedell Brooks Park to preserve the posterity of Mr. Brooks’ service to our county and its citizens,” Supervisor Chairwoman Ruby Brabo read in a resolution.
Brooks grinned; his wife, Carolyn, nodded excitedly and his daughter, Cayla, gasped. They all knew he was being recognized Oct. 3, but none knew about the park name change.
Brooks thanked fellow members and residents, adding that “26 years is a long time to be a public servant.” He said he looks forward to staying in touch with residents, even after he retires from the board in December.
“You all come visit me in my park now,” he said, still smiling. “I’ll be there every Saturday, waving at you.”
The ceremony renaming the park in Brooks’ honor is at 3 p.m. Saturday. The park is off State Route 205, past the county convenience center.
‘EVERYBODY KNOWS YOU’
Brooks was 28 when he was became a King George supervisor, the youngest African–American elected to a county board in Virginia. Residents were trying to get someone to run against the incumbent, Chairman Sidney Peterson.
“They said, ‘Brooks, everybody knows you, and you got some political background. Why don’t you go ahead and try for it?’ ” he recalled.
Born and raised in the county, Brooks got into politics at King George High School. He initially went out for the football team, and some of the big players called him up to the front line. Right after the ball was snapped, Brooks was flattened.
“I said, ‘This ain’t for me. I gotta find something else to do,’ ”Brooks recalled.
He became president of his class and the student council. After graduating from John Tyler Community College in Chester, he went to work as a mortician in Bowling Green—and opened his own funeral home in Port Royal in 1998. He also became active with the King George chapter of the NAACP.
When Brooks ran against Peterson, an eight-year veteran of the board, the results would be closer than any race Brooks would be part of over the next three decades.
The young challenger defeated the incumbent by nine votes.
‘TIME FOR A CHANGE’
In the early 1990s, the old landfill, off State Route 205, was getting close to capacity, and new state and federal regulations mandated expensive changes to the 20-year-old facility. Officials eventually decided to build a new one, the King George Regional Landfill, off State Route 3.
During his campaign and for years after, Brooks pushed for a park there.
“One of my goals was to get the old landfill dug up and moved and put a park in that place for the people of Shiloh because we’d dealt with that landfill for years, and I thought it was time for a change,” Brooks said.
The old landfill didn’t have a liner, which meant chemicals could leach into the ground as the trash disintegrated. For seven years, state departments tested the water, long after the last scoop of garbage had been removed.
Shiloh Park opened in 2014, with soccer and baseball fields in the bowl-shaped area left behind. A walking and bike trail winds around the fields, and there’s a playground and free library, where residents can borrow or deposit books.
Supervisor Jim Howard recently suggested the park should be renamed in Brooks’ honor. He said it’s great to have facilities named in memoriam, “but isn’t it nicer to have it when they’re there to appreciate it?”
Tim Smith, director of the county’s Parks and Recreation Department, said the honor “seems apropos.”
“Mr. Brooks’ big as life personality, wit, faith and belief in community have kept him grounded and fighting for what he felt was always best for the community at large,” Smith said.
‘A MAN OF HIS WORD’
When County Administrator Neiman Young went over with Brooks what accomplishments he wanted noted in the resolution that recognizes him, the supervisor took the most pride in being known as “an advocate for the county’s most vulnerable residents.”
“That spoke volumes to me,” Young said, adding Brooks wasn’t worried about being credited with a laundry list of achievements, but for helping those who felt they were under-represented. “I’d have to say that he met that objective.”
Brooks said he always tried to look out for the little man—the trailer park resident whose water service had been disconnected or the elderly resident who couldn’t afford housing. When supervisors this summer considered condemning a farmer’s land so the county could build a firehouse, Brooks said he would never support such an action.
The supervisor has served on the board of the King George Department of Social Services for more than 22 years and has seen the county at the best and worst of times, said Director David Coman.
“I rely on him to be an advocate for the disadvantaged, and he has lived up to that 100 percent,” Coman said. “He is definitely a man of his word.”
‘A PRESENCE ABOUT HIM’
Brooks also is a man who has brought some levity to the county boardroom.
“Cedell has a presence about him,” fellow supervisor Howard said. “He’s a quick wit, he’ll interject something at the right moment.”
When supervisors were invited to civic functions, Brooks routinely asked about the refreshments, if breakfast was being served or just punch and cookies.
During a March 2010 work session on the budget, residents complained that King George had one of the lowest levels of school funding in the state. Brooks said the county had been frugal long enough, and that it was time to spend a little.
“There’s no reason we got to eat hot dogs when we got steak money,” he said.
When Brooks recently thanked those who supported him, he acknowledged county staff who set up his iPad every meeting because he doesn’t know how. He held up his cellphone—the old flip style kind—and joked that he was not a “real techy person. I’m country, I’m down to earth.”
‘GOD GIVE ME STRENGTH’
Brooks doesn’t like dissension. In the first newspaper story about seeking office, he said the supervisors should work more harmoniously with School Board members.
He said he often seeks guidance before speaking.
“I’ll be praying, ‘God, give me strength to say the right thing’ because sometimes people push you to the limit,” he said.
In November 2010, Brooks had a stroke, from which he fully recovered. At a county luncheon two years later, he acknowledged how quickly life can change and encouraged others to settle their differences before it was too late.
“If you got a problem with your brother or if you can’t get along with your brother,” Brooks said, “you need to get it right because you don’t know what tomorrow may bring.”