‘The man who brought electricity to Prince William County’

Virginia lost one of its most remarkable native sons when John Manley Garber died at age 95 on Sept. 13, 2020. NOVEC’s longest-serving board director brought electric service, economic development, compassion, and joy to much of Northern Virginia.    

“Manley was unique,” says Stan C. Feuerberg, NOVEC’s president and CEO. “He possessed a heart of gold for those less fortunate, yet remained objective about what was best for NOVEC and its members. He was the voice of reason in the boardroom time-and-time again. He will be missed.”

Former Virginia Delegate Scott Lingamfelter called Garber “the man who brought electricity to Prince William County” because when the investor-owned electric utility refused to serve addresses off main roads in the 1940s, Garber worked to expand the new Prince William Electric Cooperative (PWEC) so all county residents would have power. PWEC members awarded Garber’s efforts by electing him to the co-op’s board of directors in 1950 when Garber was 25.

As board president, Garber oversaw PWEC’s consolidation with Tri-County Electric Cooperative to form Northern Virginia Electric Cooperative in 1983. Garber was resoundingly elected as NOVEC’s first board chairman — a role he retained until 2008 before retiring as director emeritus in 2018. Garber’s 68 years of dedicated service made him the longest-serving electric cooperative board director in U.S. history.

Garber’s 50 years on the Virginia, Maryland & Delaware Association of Electric Cooperatives’ board, including as chairman, earned him the prestigious Cooperative Leadership Award in 1996.

“It would be difficult, if not impossible, to overstate the importance of Manley Garber’s leadership of our three-state association, or the positive impact he had on all 15 of our member systems,” says Richard Johnstone, VMDAEC president and CEO.

Garber said in 2012, “Serving on these boards has been the most rewarding thing I’ve done in my life, helping people get quality electric service at reasonable rates.” 

In appreciation of his work, NOVEC nominated Garber for the Prince William Chamber of Commerce’s Charles J. Colgan Visionary Award in 2018. He won.                                                                                                                                

Farmer and Entrepreneur

Garber, born with his twin brother in the Shenandoah Valley in 1925, moved with his family to a Woodbridge farm in 1932 during the Great Depression. He said, “Life was very hard without electricity. We had to bring in firewood for the kitchen stove and heating stove. We used kerosene for our lamps and refrigerator. We washed our clothes by hand and hung them on the lines to dry. We raised almost everything we ate.”

Garber started raising hogs on the family farm in high school. He expanded commerce by starting a waste-management company and mobile home park. He sold camper-trailers and everything from boxes to bulldozers in his surplus business. While running his enterprises, the entrepreneur bought, sold, and leased thousands of acres of land and commercial property.

Legendary Civic Servant

In addition to helping the co-ops, Garber served on the boards of Prince William Hospital, First Manassas Bank, Commonwealth Savings and Loan, Bridgewater College, and Woodbridge’s Church of the Brethren. Garber’s son Dan said in 2018, “On Easter, Dad still gets up at 4:45 a.m. to make fresh sausage gravy for the entire church family.”

To help prevent birth defects and infant deaths, Garber raised more than $130,000 from 2002 to 2016 for the March of Dimes. His efforts helped NOVEC become one of the organization’s top fundraising companies.

When it snowed, the duty doer would rev up his tractor and plow his neighbors’ driveways and shopping center parking lots. Garber said with delight, “The cab has a heater and stereo to keep me happy.”

Garber liked this saying, “It’s nice to be important but it’s more important to be nice.”

When the rural Renaissance man reflected on his life, he said, “I was born when cars and airplanes were just arriving. The roads weren’t good. We had no electricity, no TVs, no computers. Life was hard, simple, but rewarding. After a lifetime of working, raising a family, and serving my community, I feel like I’m one of the most fortunate persons in the world.”

Garber’s wife of 52 years, Jeannette Minnick Garber, preceded him in death, as well as his sister and two brothers. Garber is survived by his wife, Kay Kim Garber, four children, 11 grandchildren, and more than two dozen great- and great-great grandchildren.