Jack Moore Horn, founder of Martin Horn, Inc., staunch Democrat, dogged UVA sports fan, and beloved patriarch of a large, close-knit family, died surrounded by loved ones at his home in Charlottesville, Virginia, on August 24, 2021.
Jack was born on April 24, 1936, in Bakerton, West Virginia, to Juanita Moore and William Mark Horn. He and his two brothers worked the family farm that overlooked the Potomac River near Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. Jack was the quarterback of his high school football team and is rumored to have moved out of his house when his parents insisted he pass more to his younger brother Bob. Eventually, Jack moved back home, Bob got plenty of touches, and the Harpers Ferry Tigers won the Jefferson County Championship. Jack also started on the basketball and baseball teams and played trombone in the band. In Harpers Ferry, Jack had his first taste of politics when his mother, the Democratic Party precinct chair, conscripted him to drive people to the polls.
Jack received an academic scholarship to the University of Virginia, where he played on the freshman football team, studied civil engineering, and joined the U.S. Air Force ROTC. Despite his studies and extracurriculars, Jack also managed to work at the Tavern Restaurant (RIP), as a taxi driver, and at R.E. Lee & Son, a local construction company. In 1954, he met his blind date, a UVA nursing student named Nancy Watkins, in front of McKim Hall. Jack and Nancy’s 5 kids and 11 grandchildren are grateful that, unlike most blind dates, this one worked out. Jack and Nancy were married on April 2, 1956, at the Central Methodist Church in Charleston, West Virginia. Under Nancy’s influence, Jack became an active member of the Methodist Church, even serving as a Trustee of Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church in Charlottesville.
After graduating from UVA in 1959, Jack accepted his commission and was stationed at the Kadena Air Force base on Okinawa. Nancy, with a toddler in tow and expecting their second son, joined him soon after. Jack, aged 23, was responsible for overseeing the construction of the base’s infrastructure, including housing and the hospital. He won the 313th Air Division Commander’s Trophy and was quickly promoted. Jack completed active duty service in 1962, and he was honorably discharged from the Air Force as a Captain in 1970.
After completing his deployment on Okinawa, Jack returned to Charlottesville, Virginia, and accepted a role with R.E. Lee & Son, despite having previously vowed that he would never return. He worked at R.E. Lee for 17 years as an estimator, project manager and, eventually, Vice President.
Jack started Martin Horn, a general contracting firm, with Warren Martin in 1979. Three of Jack’s sons joined the family business and, miraculously, all four were still speaking to each other when Jack passed. In 1995, Jack won the Small Businessman of the Year award from the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce. Every project that he worked on was special to him, but of the many buildings Martin Horn constructed over the past forty years, Jack was especially proud of Davenport Field, home of UVA’s baseball team, and the Jefferson Library at Monticello.
For Jack, the thousands of buildings he built and the awards he won weren’t as important as being able to walk down the Downtown Mall and look a person in the eye, even if they’d had a disagreement. In keeping with his enviable work ethic and sense of responsibility to Martin Horn employees, Jack continued to attend meetings and consult until he passed. He even zoomed into the company’s board meeting the week before his death.
Though busy with work and his growing family, Jack made time for politics, as he considered political involvement a civic duty. In 1970, he led a group of moderate Democrats to fill the void left by the disintegration of the old Byrd machine. He thought it was time to get rid of the politics of racism and classism, which had been the bread and butter of Southern politicos since the Civil War. He supported a progressive agenda (by Virginia standards), and he especially wanted women and Black Americans to become more involved in campaigns and serve in public office. At the urging of Democratic Party members, Jack assumed the chairmanship of the Charlottesville Democratic Committee and the Seventh Congressional District Democratic Committee. He served for about a decade in both positions.
Over the years, Jack managed some 35 political campaigns in Virginia, always as a volunteer. Among these, Jack served as campaign manager for Charles H. Barbour who, in 1974, became the first Black mayor of Charlottesville. There was nothing magic about his approach to politics. He believed in recruiting the best possible candidates, working the candidates hard by ringing doorbells and engaging voters, and getting every possible Democratic voter to go to the polls on election day. Jack’s attitude was that if you didn’t work hard, you shouldn’t be running for office.
Jack did not operate from, nor did he seek, personal aggrandizement or power. A seat on the Charlottesville City Planning Commission was the only public office he held. In recognition of the respect in which he was held in the community, the other members elected him Chairman. Because of his service to the Democratic Party, he was selected to be a Delegate to the Democratic Nominating Convention in 1980.
Jack may have been the last of the old-school political bosses in modern Virginia. He bemoaned the tendency in contemporary politics to have expensive pollsters and professional campaign managers in charge of political campaigns. He thought politicians should stay in such close contact with voters that they didn’t need pollsters to tell them what to think and say.
Though Jack worked tirelessly both at his jobs and for the Democratic Party, he found plenty of time to enjoy life. Jack was an avid UVA sports fan, donating to the Virginia Athletics Foundation continuously for over 50 years. He, Nancy, and their extended families attended games in sleet and heat waves, through the good seasons and the very bad seasons. After enjoying UVA’s College World Series win in 2015, Jack joked that he could die happy then and there. Thankfully he didn’t, as he would have hated to miss the UVA men’s basketball team win March Madness in 2019. He was also a NASCAR aficionado. Unsurprisingly for a man who valued family and loyalty, Jack, originally a Bill Elliot fan, began rooting for Bill’s son Chase when Bill retired. Jack also found joy in less competitive pastimes. He loved to travel with Nancy, whether they were caravanning with the family to a bowl game or sharing a tent with friends in the Serengeti. Jack and Nancy have been known to throw a great party whether in their home or on their boat.
Jack was a man of great integrity, even though he would have never used that word to describe himself. He strove to do the right thing, even when it was unpopular or inconvenient. He had high standards and an exemplary work ethic, which he used to make Charlottesville a better home for all. He may not have dressed like it, but Jack was a modern man, from fighting for civil rights in the 1960s to friending his grandkids on Facebook. He was always well informed and current, if not prescient. Jack might not always say it aloud, but if you were lucky enough to get a beautifully written personal note or letter, you realized that he didn’t miss much -- whether hard work, sorrow, struggle, or accomplishment. Jack was unflinchingly loyal to everyone and everything that was important to him, including his employees, his teams, the Democratic Party, his family, and, most of all, his wife Nancy.
Jack is survived by his wife Nancy, his brother Bob, his 5 children and their spouses: Doug and Jolee Horn; Jack and Hilary Horn; Joan Horn and Tom van der Voort; Ted Horn and Ann Klecan; Joe and Kim Horn; and 11 grandchildren: Emily and Callie Horn; Madison, Max and Abby Horn; Arrietta and Adelina van der Voort; Jeb and McKenzie Horn; Sam and Kate Horn.
The family would like to thank his physician, Dr. Ann Klecan, and hospice for the special care given to Dad. In lieu of flowers, the family welcomes contributions to The Building Goodness Foundation, 128 Carlton Road, Charlottesville, VA 22902 https://www.buildinggoodness.org or Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church 1901 Thomson Road, Charlottesville, VA 22903 https://www.wesleymumc.org.