West End, Foggy Bottom neighborhood leader remembered for compassion, ‘poise’

A Foggy Bottom and West End Advisory Neighborhood commissioner will be remembered for “passionate” work in the community.

Rebecca Coder, one of two West End commissioners for the ANC, died May 1 after a 13-yearlong battle with cancer. Coder, 49, is most notably remembered by community leaders for her work revitalizing Francis Field, opening the new West End Library and naming Duke Ellington Park in nearly a decade on the ANC.

ANC Commissioner Patrick Kennedy said he met Coder at the first ANC meeting he attended in 2012 and was impressed with the professionalism Coder exhibited while chairing a tense, four-and-a-half-hour meeting in which community members discussed the construction of the 2100 Pennsylvania Avenue development.

“It was very controversial at that time, that it was just going to displace a lot of local businesses,” Kennedy said. “Rebecca just maintained a great poise and was supportive of her colleagues. It’s very easy to get very emotional and upset about things that happen in a community context, and Rebecca never did that.”

Kennedy said Coder was loyal to her community members when making decisions in the neighborhood, which garnered respect from attorneys and constituents, and made people feel comfortable and welcome as she could easily diffuse tense situations.

He added that Coder was always empathetic toward others, even when her viewpoint differed with theirs. Kennedy cited an intense meeting on a proposal to install a helipad atop GW Hospital, where a “last minute wrench” derailed an expected ANC vote on the matter.

“It was a tremendous low point for me because I had worked very hard to bring things to that point,” he said. “It was just devastating to me and I just remember Rebecca was sitting next to me and we tabled it, and she put her arm around me and she consoled me and was just so supportive.”

Kennedy added that Coder’s work looking at the impact of construction projects, approving liquor licenses and revitalizing local parks on uncompensated time shows that she was a strong advocate for improving community areas and kept the interest of her constituents in mind.

“The job that she did in the West End, it’ll live on far beyond probably my lifetime,” he said. “Just the amount that has taken place in the last 10 years that she had a direct role in making happen, it’s a legacy that the best of the ANC commissioners would love to have.”

Jack Evans, a D.C. Council member representing Ward 2, said Coder was “passionate” and committed to her projects. The West End Library, which opened in December, faced several hurdles during five years of planning and construction – like zoning issues, legal stalemates and affordability arguments among community groups – but Evans said Coder was an “agent of change” in the process.

“Rebecca was always able to get things done and do it in a way that people felt good about it,” Evans said. “She had an ability to bring people together I think that’s what her leadership has really shown.”

He added that Coder could make progress in the city without inciting anger or fighting along the way, and she will be “terribly missed.”

“Those issues that reflect everybody in the community, Rebecca was at the heart of all of it,” Evans said.

Eve Zhurbinskiy, an alumna and former ANC commissioner, said Coder was passionate about giving back to the D.C. community and spearheaded projects, like creating a rainwater storage system and adding new grass to Francis Field.

“She was so sick and she didn’t have to do anything, but she really went the extra mile,” Zhurbinskiy said. “That was really special.”

She said Coder tackled local issues like affordable housing during her tenure and worked to open new amenities in the community, like the West End Library and West End Fire Station apartments.

“If it wasn’t for her years of work, that was often thankless, none of this would have happened and the neighborhood wouldn’t be as desirable as it is today,” Zhurbinskiy said.

A memorial service will be held at Saint Stephen Martyr Catholic Church at 10 a.m. Thursday.

Brooke Migdon contributed reporting.

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