By K. Levek
A lot can be said about a man and his legacy. Monitored in his element, Arrington Dixon is hard at work running his multi-million dollar IT professional services firm, ADA Inc. (Arrington Dixon and Associates, Inc.). His home-based business is run in Anacostia, on the same street, in the same community where he grew up. The company strives to engage, strengthen and invest in the community by bringing it to the forefront of emerging technologies. He decided to anchor the business in SE Washington because he understands the importance of being in and giving back to his community, which has been a key focus of his life and legacy.
Dixon is known for wearing many hats. He is a former, Chairman and Member of the Council of the District of Columbia and the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, retired reserve Army Colonel, corporate IT professional, college professor and an entrepreneur. Most notably, he is known for giving back to the very community he grew up in, Anacostia. As a child Dixon attended Birney Elementary School and Douglass Junior High School. He began to develop a keen interest in computer science and went on to McKinley Technical High School in Ward 5, where he graduated. While in school he was very active, selected as cadet Colonel Regimental Commander, and served as president and vice president of the student government. He was also involved in the Episcopal Youth Movement with his older brother James Walter Dixon, both serving as president of the Metropolitan Diocesan Regional Youth Council.
After high school Dixon enrolled in Howard University, where he majored in physics and math. He completed 3 years and then was competitively selected to attend the US Air Force Academy, as a cadet in the Class of 1967. After his brother, Air Force Lieutenant, James’ death in a Southeast Asia military airplane accident, he returned back to D.C. where he finished up at Howard with a degree in economics and statistics.
Fresh out of school from Howard, he began working in the computer tech industry. He worked for Radio Corporation of America (RCA) as a systems marketing engineer. He said, “I enjoyed those days. I was afforded the opportunity to travel all over the world.” As a member of a 10-man special operations team, Dixon was charged with helping set up and trouble shoot technical problems for the company in various locations and countries. There he also helped develop software and one of the first underwater trans-continental cables for global computer communications.
Along his journey Dixon decided he wanted to give back to his alma mater, Howard, where he served as a programmer system analyst in their computer center and graduate computer laboratory. At Howard he developed a uniform application form and system; most forms are still in use. From Howard he was hired as an Associate Professor at The Washington Technical Institute ( WTI now The University of the District of Columbia, UDC)to help set up and teach in the Computer Science department.
In 1968, at the tender age of 28, Dixon decided he wanted to run for the newly appointed school board. The U.S. Congress granted the District rights to set up its own governing school board and Dixon was the first person to file his petitions for the Ward 5 and At-large seats, finally running to represent Ward 5. Dixon did not win his school board election, but that didn’t stop his political ambitions. Still teaching and running his first Company MIS, he then decided to pursue a law degree and attempted to enroll at Howard, but George Washington University provided him with a full scholarship, so he went there. After graduating from law school he continued to teach computer science and began teaching court systems courses as well. For the next 10 years he taught college students as a tenured Associate Professor at WTI, and an Adjunct Professor at Trinity College.
In 1974 he ran to become one of the District’s first city council members, shortly after Congress granted Home Rule. His campaign chair and longtime friend, former U.S. Secretary of the Army and Veterans Affairs, Togo West, said, “I never considered him a natural politician. However, he always kept his finger on the pulse of the community and as time went on he developed into this political being.” He represented Ward 4 for the initial term the Ward 4 seat. He campaigned in a field of 19 people and won on the platform of education, technical training and economic development. Growing up in southeast D.C. he knew first hand of the importance education played in creating opportunities and how desperately the southeast community needed economic development.
In 1976 Dixon was reelected to a full 4-year term. In 1978, then council chairman Sterling Tucker decided he would run for mayor instead of seeking reelection as the council chairman. Dixon decided to run for his seat and won, serving the full four-year term. Before officially taking on the council chairman seat, he reached back to help upcoming politician, Charlene Drew Jarvis secure his Ward 4 seat. Jarvis said, “If it were not for Arrington, I would not have been the councilmember for Ward 4. In a field of 15 candidates, he was willing to support me as he became chairman. I am forever grateful and we have continued a long friendship.” In 1982 he sought reelection to the chairman’s seat, but was defeated by David A. Clarke.
After his defeat he became a Guest Scholar in telecommunications at the Brookings Institution. Then he entered the corporate world as Vice President of the Computer System Group of the Planning Research Corporation (PRC) in McLean, VA. He worked there for 3 years and had under his Group, telecommunications and the Cape Kennedy launch facility for the US space shuttle. His group also helped support development and marketing of CAD–GPS battle field and domestic system mapping. Leaving PRC he began his company, ADA, Inc., a professional IT consulting business. He says he began his business with his $50,000 and 3 people. He operated his company out of a hotel restaurant and then rented space. ADA Inc., with certification in fiber optics, designed the specifications for the fiber optic system and maintained the computer programs which scheduled trains for our city’s Metro system.
In 1991, he moved his company back to his home in Anacostia and began running it out of his home office, hiring others who worked on client sites. In 1989, he put his company on hold when Mayor Barry asks him to set up and chair the new Taxi Commission. When it was time to decide where the Commission should be headquartered, Dixon chose Anacostia, again looking to bring opportunity to the community and shine a positive light on the area. With Mayor Barry’s support, it was setup in Anacostia. Dixon’s former wife and former first-woman (and only woman) mayor of D.C. Sharon Pratt, said that she has always enjoyed Dixon’s passion for Anacostia. “No matter what he did in his life he never forgot about Anacostia. He loves his city and he has always made certain that elected officials remember east of the river. His love and devotion to Anacostia is unmatched,” she said.
He did make a brief stint back onto the DC political scene in August 1997 when the D.C. Democratic State Committee chose him to replace Linda Cropp, who became the council chairwoman. His appointment did not last long as he was voted out by then-Republican David Catania in a special election that December.
The special election defeat didn’t deter Dixon from continuing his involvement. After he initially left the council in 1982, a non-profit, The Anacostia Coordinating Council (ACC), was formed and focused on getting the Anacostia Metro Station built east of the river. Dixon has served as it’s Chairman for over 17 years, and provides full overhead support through his company, ADA, Inc. He expanded ACC to include organizing community support and coordination for issues east of the river. Longtime friend, Philip Pannell as ADA Inc. Director of Community Affairs serves as Executive Director of ACC, said, “Arrington is the exemplary businessman. He has always made his home office available to help ACC. If we had more businessmen like Arrington, we would be further along as a community.”
Dixon is a former member of Virginia Governor’s Commission on Efficiency in Government, a current Board Member of The National Capital Planning Commission, former DC’s Democratic National Committeeman, former Member of the Executive Committee of the National Democratic Party, Member of the COSMOS Club, and a Member of The Committee of 100 on the Federal City. His commitment to serve continued when former mayor and now Ward 8 Councilmember Marion S. Barry asked him to serve as Co-Chairperson of DC’s Mayor’s 1994 Transition Committee.
Other distinguishable notes about Mr. Dixon include he served as a Colonel in the Army National Guard and Reserve; he is a former Commander of the DC Selective Service Detachment and served as Special Assistant to the Secretary of the Army. He is also a graduate of the U. S. Army Command and General Staff College. He retired from the military with over 20 years of serve as a Colonel holding a Top Secret Clearance.