Obituary of Stephen Reid Ledford
Stephen Reid Ledford, age 69, of Annandale, VA and Ganesville, FL died unexpectedly on February 21, 2023 at VA Hospital Center after contracting a bacterial infection which developed into septic shock. Present with Stephen were Reverend Kris Alexander, Celebration Center for Spiritual Living, Carol Lutz, his partner and wife, and family and friends from the U.S. and other countries who joined virtually to offer their loving support. He will be missed by many.
Born May 8th, 1953 in Washington, D.C., Stephen was the elder son of the late Davis Reid Ledford, Jr. and Bernice Stephens Ledford who both originally hailed from Mount Sterling, KY. Stephen grew up on Pinecastle Road in Falls Church,VA, now inside the beltway, but then considered “the country” by his parents. Stephen excelled academically, musically, and at sports, especially baseball and golf, despite having had a serious bone infection as a young boy which required surgery and debridement of tissue and bone from his left leg. Stephen was the first in his family to attend college, graduating with a degree in economics in 1975, and he was a proud and passionate alumnus of the University of VA. While a student there, Stephen’s sense of humor, at times playful and silly and at others smart and satirical, was showcased as a drum major/conductor for UVA’s irreverent “scramble" Pep band. Stephen could just as easily make himself the butt of a joke and laughed self-deprecatingly every time he told the joke “How many UVA alums does it take to change a light bulb? One, he just holds the lightbulb in its socket while the world revolves around him.”
Stephen began an accomplished 34 year career working for the U.S. Government soon after graduating from UVA. He served at Agriculture, HUD, the United States Information Agency, and the Department of State (DOS) and received the Secretary’s Career Achievement Award from then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for his achievements as a manager, negotiator and mentor. When General Colin Powell served as Secretary he wrote Stephen a letter praising him for preparing a “masterpiece” document in support of funding of DOS positions. Also in his letter to Stephen, General Powell quoted then DOS Director General Marc Grossman who had complimented Stephen’s vision and effort to the Secretary and had written in a separate letter to Stephen “We are prouder because of you. You are great!”
Upon retiring from the government in 2009, Stephen was appointed under former President Barack Obama as a member of the Foreign Service Labor Relations Board which hears and decides disputes between the foreign affairs agencies and the American Foreign Service Association and served three terms until 2018. Stephen also became active in the National Active Retired Federal Employees Association (NARFE) and served between 2010 and 2018 in various positions at the local chapter and state federation level including Annandale Chapter 1159 Legislation Chair, alternate Congressional District Leader for Congressman Gerry Connolly; Senatorial Leader for Senators Jim Webb, Mark Warner, and Tim Kaine; and VA Federation Narfe National Legislation Chair.
Stephen lived a happy and successful life in service to others. Stephen served in formal ways and person to person. Stephen served for a time as a volunteer arbitrator with the D.C. Bar Attorney Client Arbitration Board hearing and deciding attorney and client fee disputes. And for 15 years, Stephen served as a member of his townhome community’s Home Owners’ Association (HOA) Board in various positions, including as President for his final three years. Stephen helped several residents who speak English as a second language in the completion of forms and acted on their behalves in communication with the HOA, businesses, and government agencies. Stephen also helped a couple of residents in navigating the process to become U.S. citizens and registering to vote. On election days (and nights), in sun, rain, heat, and cold, Stephen volunteered for the Fairfax County Democrats outside the polls at Annandale Terrace Elementary School passing out sample ballots. Stephen also supported Narfe Annandale Chapter 1159’s annual Alzheimer fundraiser, Annandale Christian Community for Action food drive, adopt-a-road litter pick-ups and other activities. Stephen has donated time and money on behalf of homeless animals including transporting cats and kittens from kill shelters to foster homes in Northern Virginia and has rescued all manner of injured wildlife including birds, bunnies, squirrels, and even a poisoned rat which he had been misinformed was a baby o’possum. In recognition of Stephen’s service to Narfe, his community, and others, Stephen was awarded the 2018 Blue Cross Blue Shield Distinguished Annuitant Award.
Stephen’s passion for sports, music, and the arts was core to him. For over 20 years, he had season tickets to UVA football games and enjoyed attending Washington Nationals and Capitals games. He could talk game rules and stats like a sportscaster. And with his beautiful, distinctive baritone voice, people often assumed he was an announcer. (He did do voiceovers on some State Department projects.) Stephen played in an adult softball league for many years and, in retirement, joined the men’s golf league at Pinecrest Golf Course in Annandale for a time where for several years he also volunteered as a starter helping to check in golfers and ensuring timely play. He excelled in the sports he played but he played them for the sheer joy of it and for the friendships he formed doing so. A drummer off-and-on again since childhood, Stephen picked up the sticks again in 2015 after playing with Asheville, NC’s well known drum circle and enjoyed playing locally with the Celebration Center for Spiritual Living’s drum circle in Falls Church and hoped to form one in Gainesville, FL. Stephen was also learning the piano and had looked forward to studying and playing with his beloved six year old great niece, Sofija, in Gainesville as they each progressed in their lessons.
Pre-Covid, Stephen enjoyed being active, social, and traveling the U.S. and the world seeing North America, South America, Europe, and Africa. He was away in West Palm Beach, FL at the Washington Nationals spring training in 2020 when the nationwide Covid shutdown went into effect. Stephen was looking forward to travel again in the future but has embarked instead on a spiritual journey.
Stephen had a life long love of learning and was always open to new experiences. He and Carol took adult education classes together on topics of shared interests ranging from French cooking lessons, partly taught in French, to how to make pysanky, Ukranian Easter eggs. They practiced yoga and meditation, went to movies, plays, concerts, and lectures and also enjoyed being homebodies just watching TV or reading snuggled up with their cats. There is probably not a theater in the DMV where Stephen hasn’t attended a performance, even supporting school productions. His last show was Sofija’s first grade class’s Christmas carol concert and he loved every minute of it. Stephen also made it a point to actively support University Mall and Cinema Arts movie theaters in Fairfax, VA. He last saw “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” and presciently identified with the movie’s message not to fear death and to live life fully and authentically and to be open to the love of others.
Perhaps most of all, Stephen loved Halloween and illusion. Until recent years, Stephen and Carol transformed their Annandale townhouse into the neighborhood haunted house and families from all around came by to trick-or-treat and experience a scare from Stephen dressed up in one of his many costumes and make-up. And on the Saturday night before Halloween, Stephen would dress as a civil war ghost and read ghost stories to the children in the community at the tot lot as they sat together around a fire enjoying apple cider and treats. Stephen also represented Narfe Chapter 1159 as the Phantom of the Opera one year in the Annandale Chamber of Commerce Halloween Parade to great response from parade attendees along the route. Stephen also enjoyed doing card tricks and relished the “How did you do that?” reactions he got. He had even bought a new book of card tricks and had promised Carol he was going to do a new trick for her soon.
When he wasn’t scaring or amazing people, Stephen was making them laugh. Stephen was well known for his sense of humor and willingness to embrace silliness. At an HOA community gathering, Stephen agreed to take a cream pie in the face as the prize to a raffle. He also led residents in a game of “flickin” chicken,” a toss game played with rubber chickens. If laughter is the best medicine, the Minions were as good as therapy for Stephen. He kept stuffed Minions that he bought on a whim on his dresser and just seeing them there always made him smile and reminded him not to take things so seriously. With Sofija, Stephen was his freest, like a little kid himself. Anything her imagination could conjure up, he went along with. They played PJ Masks and pretended that Stephen’s beloved classic Firebird was Cat Boy’s race car and that they were chasing down villains. Stephen would have loved to have been able to teach her how to drive his Firebird for real in 10 years, but he’ll be in the passenger seat in memory if not in spirit. Stephen would probably get a kick being a Ghost Rider.
Stephen was a friend of many and, most importantly, of Bill W’s. Stephen was a member of AA and the fellowship he had made in VA and FL helped him advance his recovery and to live and die abstinent from alcohol. His recovery journey wasn’t easy, there were relapses, but he never gave up. And as he became more rooted in his recovery, Stephen extended help to others and did service work for his groups. He especially enjoyed presenting chips to members and helping mark members’ sobriety milestones. Sometimes he borrowed from the song “Seasons of Love” from Rent and multiplied a member’s sobriety time by 525,600 minutes in a year to dramatically highlight that member’s achievement. Stephen himself daily carried in his pants pocket a 24 hour chip he had received at Father Martin Ashley’s seven years ago as a reminder to take his sobriety and life one day at a time. So many members from Stephen’s groups have shared how he warmly gave them emotional support and encouragement and served as a resource as they worked the AA program for themselves. Some credited Stephen with literally saving their lives though he would have said that they saved themselves.
Stephen loved life. Even when facing death, he was positive, optimistic, and hopeful. Stephen will be remembered as a storyteller, a teacher and mentor, someone who knew a lot about a lot but wasn’t a know-it-all. Stephen was kind, thoughtful, caring, a truly good man, just like the man described in Grady Poulard’s poem, “The Measure of a Man.” Stephen was content with his life and what he had.
Please join Reverend Kris, Carol, family members sister-in-law, Susan Ray (Gibsonia, PA;) niece, Dr. Heather Ray, nephew-in-law, Dr. Ivan Furic, and great niece, Sofija Ray Furic (Gainesville, FL) and friends in-person for a celebration of Stephen’s life at 11:00 AM on Saturday, May 20, 2023 at the Celebration Center for Spiritual Living, Suite 220, 2840 Graham Road, Falls Church, VA 22042 or by Zoom or live stream. For those attending in-person, a luncheon reception will be held immediately afterwards at the Italian Cafe at 7161 Lee Highway, Falls Church, VA 22046. If attending in-person, please be current with flu and Covid vaccines and boosters. Click this link to connect to the live stream on May 20, or to view afterwards and the link to join by Zoom on the date of the service is available at celebrationcenter.org. Details of when a graveside service will be held at Prairie Creek Conservation Cemetery in Gainesville, FL will be announced later.
Those wishing to make memorial contributions in Stephen’s honor may do so at North Central FL Intergroup, (ATTN: Kanapaha Wednesday 7:30-8:30 PM Meeting & Haile Freedom, Monday 7:00-8:00 PM Meeting,) 2632 NW 43rd Street, Gainesville, FL 32606; Independence Club (ATTN: Early Birds 7:30-8:30 AM Springfield VA Celebration Center for Spiritual Living, Suite 220, 2840 Graham Road, Falls Church, VA 22042; Narfe-PAC, P.O. Box 98169, Washington, D.C 20090-8169; or the National Network of Abortion Funds, 9450 SW Gemini Dr., PMB 16009, Beaverton, OR 97008-7105.