Alexandria business owner and philanthropist embodied generosity

Alexandria business owner and philanthropist embodied generosity

Those who knew him say John H. Ariail Jr.s impact on Alexandria is palpable seen in his beautification efforts, tasted in his restaurant mini-empire and generally understood by those he touched with his generosity.

Ariail died Thursday at age 68 of heart failure.

Whether it was the small business owner he saved by funding her surgery or the former employee he encouraged to branch out and start her own business, Ariail’s daughter Allison Erdle said his generosity was boundless.

“This is a man who knew no stranger,” Erdle said. “Dad loved being with people. He loved taking care of them, teaching them, learning from them and supporting them to be the best at whatever they wanted to do. He could make picking up trash in the streets seem like an adventure and going to the car wash like being at an amusement park.”

The Old Town attorney called the historic Lord Fairfax House home and had his hand in several projects around the city as co-owner of Restaurant Eve, The Majestic and Eamonns Dublin Chipper. A co-owner of the Alexandria Times, co-founder of Lortons Workhouse Arts Center and founder of Sport and Health Clubs, Ariail was a philanthropist of his time and money. He spearheaded Alexandria in Bloom, an organization focused on beautifying the streets of Alexandria with flora and fauna, and was quick to donate to charities and individuals by sending the children of acquaintances through college, for instance.

Hes indicative of what Alexandria really is a southern gentleman who was generous in nature, who represented the hospitality of the city, said Eve co-owner and head chef Cathal Armstrong.

Armstrong, who said Ariail was key to Eves international recognition, remembers him best as a lover of food and wine who often sat at the bars table 23, reading the newspaper with a cup of coffee, glasses slouching halfway down his nose.

We were very close, Armstrong said. He often considered me like a son and I often considered him like a father.

Old Town residents may have recognized Ariail regularly walking his beloved American water spaniels Snickers and Moon Pie around the city. Mayor Bill Euille recognized him for his dedication to the city.

Hes been engaged in promoting economic development [in Alexandria] and with nonprofit causes, but more so recently with the beautification of the King Street corridor and the city as a whole, Euille said. Hell be missed, but he certainly was a very committed and dedicated citizen.

Euille called Ariail a visionary who saw an opportunity in fitness clubs before anyone else decided having sports clubs was thing of the future. Thats the kind of guy he was.

But his keen business sense did not overpower his capacity to give, said Tina Leone, friend and co-founder of the Lorton Workhouse Arts Center.

He was remarkable and very humble about his charitable work, she said. He is a great example for other successful business people to follow.

“John Ariail will truly be missed, said City Manager Jim Hartmann, who knew Ariail personally and professionally. His recent dedication to the beautification of Old Town though Alexandria in Bloom exemplified his love for this city; his pride in the community was contagious and a motivator for a better Alexandria.

Ariail owes his success in part to his passion and a stubborn mindset, Armstrong said.

He was always really stubborn. When he put his mind to something it was going to get done, Armstrong said. But he embodied everything good about Alexandria.

A memorial service celebrating his life and friendships will be held on Thursday, January 27, at 2 p.m. at St. Pauls Episcopal Church, 228 South Pitt Street, Alexandria.  Private interment of his ashes will take place Wednesday, January 26 at Pohick Church Memorial Garden in Lorton.  In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in his memory at or or sent directly to Alexandria in Bloom, 110 S. Pitt Street, Suite 200, Alexandria, Va. 22314.