While he was leading the Virginia Retail Merchants Association from 1957 to 1991, Sumpter Turner Priddy Jr. more often than not ranked among the most effective lobbyists at the state Capitol.
In the early 1970s, he had a hand in writing legislation that established a Virginia consumer affairs office, Mr. Priddy recalled in a 1982 interview with the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Deliberations hashed out in an old Hotel Richmond room decided that the best agency in which to house the new office was the Virginia Department of Agriculture. Subsequent legislation birthed the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
He lobbied successfully in 1982 for legislation that lifted the interest ceilings for bank credit cards and retail revolving-charge accounts.
“Lobbying is like a chess game,” Mr. Priddy opined in the interview. “You play a little, and then you wonder how much of a gamble your next move will be.” Part of the game was “never losing your credibility,” he said.
The much-honored retail executive and civic leader, who had done public affairs work for the Massey Cancer Center, MCV Physicians and other groups for a time in retirement, died at home on Thursday.
The 92-year-old Ashland resident, who suffered from multiple health issues, had been in declining health since fall 2015.
A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. today, Monday, at First Baptist Church, 800 Thompson St. in Ashland. A private burial will be in Woodland Cemetery in Ashland.
“He was a good analyst of issues and what was going on behind the scenes as well,” said Dougald “Doug” Blue, a freelance writer who formerly worked under Mr. Priddy at the VRMA.
Mr. Priddy could find disparities in what politicians said in public and their “hidden agenda,” Blue added.
Sometimes controversy enveloped Mr. Priddy, as when legislators raised questions of how a man representing 4,800 retailers could fail to have conflicts of interest when he was appointed to the State Board of Community Colleges in 1973. He served eight years nevertheless.
Mr. Priddy, a former president of the National Council of State Retail Association Executives, garnered the highest awards in his field, including the Unsung Award for his contributions to the retail industry and his support of free enterprise, as well as the National Retail Federation’s Silver Plaque for outstanding contributions to the nation’s retail industry.
An Ashland native and only child, he delivered newspapers and showed horses in his youth.
His father taught him one of his greatest skills: how to always remember a person’s name. “He said that you would look a person in the eye, shake his hand and say the name several times until you’d know it. You couldn’t comprehend how many people he knew (and could call by name),” said his wife of 38 years, Robin Frantz Priddy.
Mr. Priddy attended Randolph-Macon College and Hampden-Sydney College but returned home to help his mother when his father died. He spent about a year in the Army before his discharge due to a bad eye.
His career began in the men’s department of a Thalhimers department store, moved to a Waverly car dealership, and then to the National Automobile Dealers Association in Washington, where he coordinated NADA activities with those of hundreds of state and local new-car dealer groups across the nation.
His performance drew the attention of local Richmond retailers, who brought him to the Richmond area as managing director — later president — of the VRMA.
Under his leadership, “the association grew tremendously,” Blue said, “and he was highly effective in bringing new retailers into the fold and at the same time working with members of the General Assembly.”
“Virginia business changed a lot during the 1970s and 1980s,” Blue added. “The environment was made more inviting and business-friendly. Sumpter was one who made that possible.
“He loved what he did and loved all people involved with it. The fact that it could get contentious, he could get past that. (He could be) formidable if you ever crossed swords with him, which you didn’t want to do.”
Blue said Mr. Priddy’s talent “was his ability to stand astride issues and leave people on both sides of an issue happy. People who didn’t like (an issue) or him could be won over by his personality. He was very kind in dealing with people, and that had a lot to do with the success of VMRA.”
A tireless worker in his community, Mr. Priddy was a member of the Ashland Jaycees, a former president of the Virginia Jaycees and a former vice president of the U.S. Jaycees, which inducted him into its Hall of Leadership.
His service ranged from elder at King’s Chapel Presbyterian Church in Doswell and longtime member of the Ashland Volunteer Rescue Squad to leadership in the Red Cross and the CROP hunger-fighting group.
He loved Hanover County and had a prodigious memory for history. Mr. Priddy was the catalyst behind the organization in 2004 of the nonprofit Heritage and History of Hanover County Inc. He chaired the group, which raised the money to produce a county history published in 2009.
“He so badly had wanted to start a museum for the county,” his wife said.
Mr. Priddy, who lived on HarkWood farm in Hanover for many years, was a horse lover who announced the Camptown Races for many years.
He was a farm and animal lover who wanted his wife, who was raised in the city, to have farm experience.
“We had a lamb we raised in our house on a bottle,” his wife recalled. “We had ducks, geese and swans on an island in the pond. We raised guineas in the garage with a heat lamp. We had two donkeys.”
The challenge of his life began on Jan. 1, 1980, when he complained of back pain after walking his dog. He wound up in a hospital with numbness in his legs and severe muscular pain.
The diagnosis was Guillian-Barré syndrome, a malady of unknown origin, with no cure, that attacks the nervous system.
“He became paralyzed from his feet up,” his wife said. “Even his eyes were paralyzed open. He was told he would never walk and feed himself again.”
One day, he moved a finger, and things got better as therapists worked with him. He eventually wore braces on his legs and did walk again.
“He always saw the glass as half-full,” his wife said, “even when years later he had a leg amputated because of poor circulation. They put in an artificial artery that saved his right leg. He’d get his prosthesis and drive off. He still was in a wheelchair. He was just a positive person.
“He said, ‘I’ve been so lucky. I’ve had a wonderful life.’”
In addition to his wife, survivors include two daughters, Cornelia Rives Priddy of Richmond and Catherine Bruce Spiller of Ashland; three sons, Sumpter T. Priddy III of Alexandria, Dr. John Priddy of Roanoke and Timothy Priddy of Richmond; and nine grandchildren and two great-grandsons.