|H.R. Ross, who was born with
one hand, was a wallpaper
hanger for 11 years.
By Joe Holley Washington Post Staff Writer Wednesday, January 9, 2008
Henry Roger Ross
H.R. Ross, 75, a Northern Virginia commercial real
estate developer who died Dec. 26, was born without
a right hand. He called himself Knobby. "He wanted
to put people at ease," said his wife and business
partner, Carol Ann Ross. She said the nickname
originated during a boyhood basketball game when
an opponent he was guarding said with a snarl, "You
touch me with that knob again, and I'll kill you." The
young Mr. Ross redeemed the cruel epithet. From
that day forward, he was no longer Henry Roger; he
Mr. Ross, a Falls Church resident, died of coronary
artery disease at Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington
County.He was born in the District but was orphaned
at a young age, and he grew up in a foster home in
Georgetown. When his foster mother died, he
dropped out of Western High School (1950) and
wangled a job with Winslow Paint Co.
A trade union rejected him because of his "handicap," so he taught himself to be a
wallpaper hanger -- a one-handed wallpaper hanger who proudly noted the many hotels in
Northern Virginia and homes and commercial buildings in the Washington area that bore
evidence of his expertise.
During his 11 years in the paper-hanging business, he developed his own way of doing
things -- using a single-edged razor instead of scissors, for example. "It was his way of
saying, 'I'll show you," his wife said.
Growing up around Georgetown's historic architecture and getting to know a number of
builders through his business, he decided in the early 1960s that he wanted to go into
commercial real estate. He joined Shaw Realty in Alexandria and moved to Long &
Foster when the company began venturing into commercial real estate. In 1984, he and
Sandy Petersen founded Petersen & Ross Real Estate. "The man lived the business for
43 years," his wife said. 'He loved it.'
He and Petersen also co-wrote a manual on commercial real estate for residential agents
wanting to make the switch. They called it "Cares," for "Commercial Agents Real Estate
His company's most ambitious development was Nomini Bay Farms, a 379-acre
waterfront community in the Northern Neck of Virginia, on Nomini Creek just off the
Potomac River in Westmoreland County. It took Mr. Ross a dozen years to complete the
He also went back to school over a two-year period and received his diploma from Falls
Church High School at 63.
He was the first to be designated a lifetime member of the Commercial Million Dollar
Sales Club, presented by the Northern Virginia Association of Realtors.
He served for many years as the 4-H livestock leader in Virginia and volunteered his time
building barns at the Montgomery County Fairgrounds, where he received a lifetime
member award. He was also a member the American Art Pottery Association and an
Alexandria cultural organization called the Alexander Forum. He served for three years as
president of the Pine Spring Civic Association.
His marriage to Shirley Ross ended in divorce.
Survivors include his wife of 22 years, of Falls Church; three children from his first
marriage, Brenda Nicholson of Berryville, Va., Jeffrey Ross of Falls Church and Donna
Forte of Cincinnati, and two stepsons from his second marriage, Douglas Irvin of
Annapolis and Bruce Irvin of Davidsonville; and eight grandchildren.