A role model for all of us

Source: Times Community Newspapers

Fairfax County

By Kali Schumitz

TUESDAY, JANUARY 4 2005 (updated June 4, 2007)

"I just sort of fell in love with it," she said.

Brunson, 63, began as a volunteer in 1976, then became one of the thrift store's few paid employees, the assistant manager. She has been the store manager since 1988 and is retiring this week, as The Closet closes for the holidays.

Those who have worked with Brunson over the years say she has been so dedicated to the store's mission that she probably would not be retiring if her doctor had not ordered her to stay off her feet. She has had knee surgery and is at risk of further injuring herself.

"She never takes a vacation," said Cha Cha Proctor, a Closet volunteer for about 15 years. She said she used to tease Brunson, saying "You're not married to The Closet, you got to go home."

Brunson said she typically is at the store by 7 a.m. at the latest and often doesn't leave until after 6 p.m. every day except Sunday.

"I realized that I need to take better care of myself," Brunson said. "I won't do it if I stay here. If I see something that needs to be done, I'll do it."

Others involved with The Closet said the organization would not be where it is today without Brunson's leadership.

She was key in the transition from the old space at the Herndon Lumber site to the store's current location on Station Street, said Laura Greenspan, president of the organization's board of directors.

"She created that out of nothing," Greenspan said. The building The Closet now owns used to be an auto repair shop. "It took a lot of work to turn that place into a retail operation. It's a regular little department store now."

Profits from the store are returned to the community in the form of scholarships and grants. The Closet's board of directors meets annually to disburse the funds.

Brunson also advocated offering health insurance for the store's employees, which started this year, and made sure the store's prices stayed low, Greenspan said.

Proctor said that Brunson makes sure the clothes in the store are of a good quality- no loose buttons or seams.

But Brunson has had her biggest impact on volunteers and staff.

"We'll miss her sense of humor and the way she makes everyone feel at home," Greenspan said. "She's a role model for all of us. She's just so amazing."

Both Greenspan and Proctor said Brunson treats all volunteers with the same respect, whether they are from a local church or are performing community service hours as part of a criminal sentence.

"She's a good friend of everybody," Proctor said.

The admiration is reciprocal. Brunson said the staff and volunteers at The Closet are what made her want to work there in the first place.

"I was drawn to the people that were here," she said. "It was a very warm atmosphere."

She also loves helping people and getting to know the customers, she said.

"I never really thought about this as a job. It was a passion," Brunson said.

The strangest thing about leaving, she said, will be not stopping by the store at night to check for donations dropped outside the back door.

"I never drive by this place without driving out back," she said. "That is what seems to be the strangest; not having access to this."

Though she is sad to be leaving The Closet, Brunson said she is looking forward to relaxing, listening to the CDs she does not have time to listen to, reading and enjoying her five grandchildren. Brunson and her husband, Ernest, who works at the U.S. Geological Survey in Reston, have two sons who both still live in the area.

Proctor said she will miss working with Brunson but hopes that, in retirement, her friend will finally have time to go out to lunch with her.

"I don't want anybody to ask me to do anything for the first three months," Brunson said. "Then, after that, who knows."