Remembering Fluvanna Review Founder Len Gardner (1921-2020)

By Heather Michon

When Len Gardner moved to Lake Monticello in 1978, he was looking forward to a life of well-earned retirement.

“I thought this was a great spot to build a house,” he told reporter Greg McQuade of WTVR Richmond earlier this year. “…that all there is to do is to relax.”

Instead, Gardner became one of Fluvanna County’s most prolific public figures, serving on the Board of Supervisors and multiple county committees including the Lake Monticello Finance Committee and Long Range Planning Committee, the Piedmont Virginia Community College Board, the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission, the Heritage Trail Foundation Board,  the Fluvanna Housing Development Board and the Fluvanna County Republican Committee.

And, somewhere along the way, he founded the Fluvanna Review.

Early life

Gardner, who died on Aug. 30 at the age of 98, was born in New York and grew up in Amherst, Massachusetts, where he went to work as a newsboy at the age of 12. He enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1940 and was stationed in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

On the morning of December 7, 1941, he was aboard the USS Reid when he saw the first wave of Japanese planes rise up over the mountain overlooking the harbor. Within moments, bombs began to fall. “That was my introduction to World War II,” he told Stanford Magazine last December. He spent three years aboard the Reid and other vessels, participating in the battles of Guadalcanal, New Guinea, Okinawa, Iejima, and other Pacific hotspots.

After the war, he received degrees from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Stanford University. He told Stanford Magazine that he had hoped to become a history professor, but with a young family to support, he instead joined the civil service, working in Washington for the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, the Navy’s Polaris Program, the Federal Aviation Administration, and the National Science Foundation, before retiring in 1977 and moving to Fluvanna County.

The Fluvanna Review

In July 1979, Gardner volunteered to take over the Lake’s monthly Residents’ Association News Bulletin. “There was a collective sigh of relief. No one else wanted the job,” he said in a 2014 interview. “And, as it turned out, no one else got a chance at the job for the next 18 years.”

He renamed the publication the Lake Monticello Review in 1985, joking that he chose the name because the monthly schedule allowed time to do little more than “review” the news. In 1988, he changed the name to the Lake Monticello and Fluvanna County Review to reflect the growing amount of county news he covered. It became the Fluvanna Reviewshortly after Gardner sold the paper to fellow Lake resident Eric Allen in 1995, though he still owned part of the company, Valley Publishing Corp. The paper was bought in 2010 by former Richmond Times-Dispatch reporters Carlos Santos and David Ress. Gardner still owned stock in the company.

“He would come to our weekly news meetings,” said Santos. “He reveled in it. His insights were always helpful. And I liked how hard he listened to you. Listening is hard work. He did it well.”

In 2019, he told then-editor Christina Dimeo that his 18 years running the Review were among the most satisfying in his life. “I learned on the job how to run a paper. I learned that sometimes it can be difficult and unpopular, but necessary. I learned how to stand up for ethical and accurate reporting, to edit out poorly thought-out commentary and unfounded accusations.”

Tricia Johnson, Executive Director of the Fluvanna County Historical Society and Fluvanna Review correspondent, said Gardner was “a patient and flawless mentor,” and she jumped at any chance to talk to him. “I always learned from him, and left our conversations feeling as if I had spent time with a person who exemplified commitment to his community. He was fiercely intelligent and engaging, above all else, always kind.”

Board of Supervisors

Gardner had served on the city council and as mayor of Morningside, Maryland before his retirement; in 1991, he jumped back into local politics, winning a seat on the Fluvanna Board of Supervisors. He was elected again in 1995 and 1999, serving as chair for three of those years. He retired in 2003, but once again, “retired” was a loose term. He remained active on county commissions and organizations until recent years.

“Mr. Gardner’s commitment to service is evident in the time he spent not only serving his country in the U.S. Navy, but the decades he contributed to Fluvanna County until [as] recently [as] 2017 on the Social Services Board,” said County Administrator Eric Dahl. “His service on boards and committees has touched on every function of Fluvanna County government over the years and he has positively shaped the community we live in today.”

There were seemingly few aspects in the development of the county he didn’t have a role in over the past four decades. “Len Gardner was one of two founders of Pleasant Grove,” said Supervisor Don Weaver (Cunningham). “He knew the county was growing, so he took a bold step to assure the people that they would always have a place to expand on. His leadership will always be remembered.”

“As a member of the Greatest Generation, Mr. Gardner fought to defend freedom against the biggest evil the world had ever known,” said Supervisor Mike Sheridan (Columbia). “He continued to serve his fellow man throughout his life including a stint on the Board of Supervisors. We were blessed to have him here in Fluvanna.”

“Rest easy, sir,” added Sheridan, “and thank you for a life well lived.”


Gardner is survived by Doris, his wife of 73 years, along with a son, three daughters, 10 grandchildren, and eight great-grandchildren.

According to the Sheridan Funeral Home, he will be interred at the Culpeper National Cemetery on Monday, Sept. 14. There will be an outdoor reception at the pavilion at Pleasant Grove from 4-6 pm; masks and social distancing will be appreciated.






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