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Parks and civic activist Judy Guse-Noritake dies at 68

Judy Guse-Noritake (right) with her husband Rae Noritake (left) and grandson Theo (photo courtesy Alana Noritake)

Judy Guse-Noritake was a presence in Alexandria civic activism for decades; a lung cancer diagnosis in 2018 did little to slow that down until her death at 68 on Wednesday.

Judy Guse-Noritake was a regular at many city commissions and hearings, where she advocated for better park space in Alexandria and better amenities for mixed-income communities. Judy Guse-Noritake was particularly impactful in shaping civic discourse in the Braddock and Old Town North neighborhoods, helping to found the Braddock Metro Citizens’ Coalition.

“She was still like ‘here’s the next hearing, here’s the next committee meeting’ and she was vocal about people getting out to vote,” said her daughter, Alana Noritake. “She never stopped.”

Alana said her mother had a long history of political activism dating back to her early 20s pushing environmentalism and preservationist causes in the Pacific Northwest, where she was from. She served on the Alexandria Park & Recreation Commission for nearly 20 years.

“She was always politically active,” Alana said. “When she got older and transitioned to more local politics, she took all of that experience that she had and focused on making this city a better place. Some people are just born to be activists.”

Alana said her mother was particularly focused on environmental issues and parks and open spaces, along with a focus on ensuring that residents at all income levels had access to the city’ green space.

“One really important thing for her was: Alexandria is mixed-income,” Alana said. “There are wealthier people in wealthier schools and lower-income communities. She advocated for everybody. It wasn’t about ‘let’s make the city beautiful with high-end restaurants and condos.’ She advocated for spaces and programs for everyone.”

Alana said her mother was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2018. Her health “roller coastered” but she enrolled in new drug trials that helped to keep her active and involved.

“She never stopped doing things with the community,” Alana said.

After her death, tributes came in from several local leaders.

“Today, all around our City, Judy leaves a rich legacy of what is possible when you work to bring people together around good ideas,” Mayor Justin Wilson wrote in a post on Facebook. “That legacy of parks, good design, diverse neighborhoods and sustainable communities is one that will benefit generations.”

“She has had an outsize impact on bringing together people with common interests to conspire in ways that bettered our city in many ways,” Planning Commission chair Nathan Macek wrote. “I will miss her thoughtful comments, dry wit, and wise counsel.”

A background on her life, written and saved specifically to be used in an obituary, was prepared by Judy and is presented below:

A native of the Bitterroot Valley of western Montana, Judy received her Bachelor of Architecture from the University of Idaho and practiced for twelve years in the West before moving to Northern Virginia, helping her husband Rae open his practice here 25 years ago.

A few years later she detoured back to the Forestry College at University of Idaho, receiving a Masters of Science in Wildland Recreation Management 1990. An avid backpacker, cross country skier and a sometimes mountaineer, her graduate studies focused on environmental policy – primarily of the western wild lands. She served an 8 month internship at the Congressional Research Service at the Library of Congress as a part of her graduate studies, followed by a two year stint as professional staff for the Environment and Energy Subcommittee of the House of Representatives Interior Committee in the early 1990s, staffing a broad array of recreation and environmental issues, as well as HABS & HAER, the Pennsylvania Development Corporation and some programs of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. She staffed the first Sustainable Communities congressional hearings and work on legislation that set up the Federal Highway Trust Fund’s ICTEA grant program as well as the National Trails Fund.

In 1992, she became the National Policy Director for a western conservation organization working on national forest policy, the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act as they related to native salmon and trout in the West. During this time she was a member of the American Fisheries Society, the “AIA” of professional fisheries biologists.

In 2001 she began worked with The Wilderness Society on their Potomac Watershed project – working to preserve wild places in the 150,000 square mile Potomac watershed and link them to the urban core. In late 2005 Judy returned to the practice of architecture as Managing Principal of Noritake Associates. She holds professional licenses in several states along with an NCARB Certificate, is a member of AIA, and a LEED Accredited Professional. She has served as a panelist at both AIA and APA national conventions, as well as at a student ASLA Convention.

She has served on the Alexandria Park & Recreation Commission for close to 20 years, serving many of those as its Chair. There she has been a driving force behind policy for parks, recreation, open space and trails in virtually every aspect of planning in the City. She was the inspiration and driving force behind the city’s Open Space Master Plan, Dog Park Master Plan, Athletic Field Master Plan, Recreational Needs Assessment, and the Open Space Fund. She is now undertaking a community garden policy. Over the years she has Co-chaired the Open Space Task Force, the Four Mile Run Re-design Master Plan and Design Guidelines. She has been a contributor to the on-going pro bono work of Architects Anonymous in Arlington and Alexandria. She recently served two four year terms as a gubernatorial appointee to the Virginia State Board of Forestry where she championed issues of urban forestry and LEED certified forest products produced in Virginia . She served two terms on the board of the Potomac National Heritage Scenic Trail, a congressionally authorized trail that will eventually reach nearly 400 miles from the headwaters of the river to its confluence with the Chesapeake Bay.

Judy says that her long environmental work at the national level and her local community work has always cross-walked with and been informed by her architectural training and experience. She believes shaping the environment we all live, work and play in should be a seamless continuum between the built and the natural – that they should be intimately related. She believes that good design and responsible development can and must be a part of enhancing and paying for open space, recreational, and community resources and the preservation of the natural environment. It is this vision that informs and drives her outside of the office.

She and Rae are proud parents of Alana, graduate of TC Williams and the College of William and Mary, now [Lieutenant Commander in the U.S. Navy and a general surgeon].

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