South Wales Living

By Posted on Nov 02 2015 | By

Note: After six years of writing for a wide variety of regional publications,  I finally got a chance to interview myself. The editor of our community magazine asked me to profile our family; which of course I embraced.

FullSizeRenderHidden from view while embracing the good life

Tucked away in a tucked away part of the world might aptly described the Hagarty home at the end of a cul-de-sac on Tattershall Way. The old chestnut “you can run but you can’t hide” might be true. But why would anyone consider hiding if the Piedmont region is beckoning with endless beauty and activity.



So it was in July 2001, John and Jean Hagarty pulled up 23-year-old roots in Reston and headed out to one of the prettiest little communities in the Old Dominion.

John had just retired from the U.S. Postal Service as an executive in its Government Relations Department in Washington, D.C. Jean would soon retire from Giant Food as a pricing analyst monitoring the firm’s competition over a four-state area.

What they left behind physically—but took with them emotionally—were four adult children; three sons and a daughter. Little more than a decade later, all four were married, nurturing 10 grandchildren and living within an hour’s drive of South Wales.

Second careers
So did the peace and charm of South Wales lure the retirees into rocking chairs? Hardly.

“When I first retired I would pinch myself in the mornings to make sure the golden years had actually arrived. But within three months I was antsy to do something,” John recalls.

That “something” was an eclectic group of fun jobs, including golf course marshal, pro shop employee, and milking cows at a local farm. “Jean wasn’t too happy with that job. Phew, did my clothes stink at the end of a shift,” remembers John.

Then lighting struck. Chrysalis Vineyards in Middleburg was seeking a cellar assistant and John applied and got the job. “Within two weeks of being hired, I learned the real title was ‘cellar rat’. I loved it,” John said.

Running a fork lift, pumping wine from one stainless steel tank or barrel to another, cleaning equipment and working endless hours at harvest time left John with a love of wine and winemaking.

A year later, he left the Middleburg winery for a shorter commute to Rappahannock Cellars in Huntly, located seven miles south of Front Royal. He worked the tasting room there and then assumed the position of manager, special events, a part-time job he holds today.

Jean's favorite

Jean’s favorite

He also became a home winemaker, producing over 40 cases of wine a year in his basement “cellar”. Three years ago, he expanded his social libation activities by becoming a home brewer.

Meanwhile, Jean was casting about for her second career. One day while joining John on a wine delivery, the owner of the Inn at Poplar Springs in Casanova offered her a position as office manager. “It was a beautiful and historic property. I enjoyed working there,” Jean said.

But after five years, she resigned to enjoy some time off.

Her availability soon became known to the couple’s pastor at St. Peter’s church in Little Washington who was seeking an office manager. She accepted the job on a three-day-a-week basis. Today, her management skills coordinate a broad range of activities at the little country church.

And it’s true, small is beautiful. The Catholic church in Warrenton has over 1,200 families; by comparison, St. Peter’s has 130.

“I love working there. It’s contributing to the community. You never know what you’ll be working on; a baptism, a marriage, a person in emotional or financial need, or a funeral. Church work spans the most emotional parts of a person’s life. I’ve made many wonderful friends there,” Jean said.

So does winery and church work embody all of the good life? Not quite. Jean is an ardent cat lover and tends to four house cats and four ferals. Even a trip to the mailbox will find Jean bending over to rescue a struggling worm seeking refuge in the moist lawn. “I call her St. Jean of Assisi, John said. “If it’s living, Jean seeks to comfort it.”

She also has devoted herself to “feathering the nest”. Visitors to the Hagarty’s residence often remark on the furnishings and color coordination.

John, on the other hand, seeks fulfillment of a different nature. He golfs twice a week, hikes and backpacks with a local club called Boots ‘n Beer (a drinking club with a hiking problem) and is active in the Knights of Columbus.

Hiking with Boots'nBeer

Hiking with Boots’nBeer

He also channeled his love of wine into founding of the South Wales Wine Society. The group has met over 45 times in the last seven years. “Getting to know your neighbors over a glass of wine is the heart of community living,” John said.

Six years ago the editor of Culpeper Times asked John to pen a monthly column on wine. The job led to writing for a number of regional newspapers and magazines. All of his work is posted on his web site Hagarty on Wine.

And mutually, John & Jean maintain two Adopt-a-Highway sections. The primary section is a three-mile stretch on Colvin Road, part of which borders South Wales. The second two-mile section is on Hume Road running past Rappahannock Cellars.

With respect to their highway cleanup activity, John reminiscences that almost 40 years ago he attended a conference where The Happy Warrior, Senator Hubert Humphrey from Minnesota, was speaking.

“I suspect it was one of his standard stump speeches. But it was a forceful declaration of how each citizen can make a difference in the quality of life in America. One line in the speech spoke about starting small, such as picking up a piece of trash beyond the confines of your own property.

“That thought resonated with me, and I have tried to employ the philosophy in my life. Small actions can, indeed, lead to meaningful change,” John said.

John and Jean Hagarty celebrated 50 years of marriage this past spring and show no signs of slowing down. Could some South Wales magic be in play here?

Fifty years and counting.

Fifty years and counting.

Published in the November 2015 edition of Life at the Trails.

Categories : HAGARTY TALES