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Schapiro: Remembering those who always remembered Virginia

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Jeff Schapiro

Notable deaths this year in Virginia politics that may have gone unnoticed:

Donald “Spec” Campen, 101

  • : Doorkeeper and sergeant-at-arms in the House of Delegates and former congressional aide, he was a Henrico County Democrat of the old school, sticking with his party as it swung right to left, to the center, and left again. An Army Air Corps veteran of World War II, Campen was an enthusiastic promoter of Virginia as a venue for television and film production, once showing up at the General Assembly as the Cowardly Lion from “The Wizard of Oz.” He also appeared in more than 60 movies and TV shows.

Kenny Klinge, 83

  • : A tart-tongued Republican operative credited with saving Democrat-turned-Republican Mills Godwin’s candidacy for governor in 1973, using polling and telephone banks — technology that had not been widely used in Virginia at the time and by contemporary standards seems quaint. Klinge was executive director of the Republican Party of Virginia during its early salad days in the 1970s. In later years an advocate for transportation improvements in his native Northern Virginia, Klinge served on the Commonwealth Transportation Board. He was also a lobbyist for the info-tech industry.

Wayne O’Bryan, 79

  • : A lawyer-legislator and among the last Democrats to represent heavily Republican Hanover County in the General Assembly. During the 1981 redistricting, O’Bryan attempted a filibuster of a career-ending map for the House of Delegates. The filibuster collapsed when O’Bryan consented to a question from then-Del. Mary Sue Terry, D-Patrick — a future attorney general and, in 1985, the first woman elected statewide in Virginia — who would call for a vote on the plan. That motion, under legislative rules, could not be debated, triggering the roll call O’Bryan tried to delay.

Warren French, 98

  • : A Shenandoah County farmer and engineer, French made a fortune building a tiny local telephone company into a regional communications dynamo. He also helped build the Republican Party of Virginia as chairman from 1970 until 1972 — the early days of two-party competition. In 1969, Linwood Holton was elected governor, the first Republican to win the office in the 20th century. A Mountain Valley moderate who died at 98 four days before a very different Republican, Glenn Youngkin, won for governor, Holton installed French as his partner in positioning the GOP as a centrist alternative to the old segregationist Democrats. They would later align with Republicans, wresting the party from Holton.

Flora Crittenden, 97

  • : A Newport News Democrat who served in the House of Delegates from 1993 to 2004, the quiet Crittenden — the chamber often fell silent when she spoke — was an educator who started her career in 1945, during segregation, at the city’s all-Black George Washington Carver High School. A former City Council member who ran at the urging of her students, she was a proponent of public transportation vital to her urban, working-class, heavily minority constituency, and protections for the Chesapeake Bay, an economic and recreational engine for her district.

Frank Hargrove, 94

  • : A Republican member of the House of Delegates, representing Hanover from 1982 to 2010, Hargrove had rigidly held views though he wasn’t afraid to change his mind. He supported the death penalty but began pressing in 2001 for its repeal, saying life in prison was sufficient to protect the public. His death came seven months after Virginia, over the objections of his fellow Republicans, became the first Southern state to abolish capital punishment. He had a vice-like handshake; was into bicycles, motorcycles and airplanes; and caused a ruckus with provocative remarks about Black slavery and Jews.

Shirley “Little Dove” Custalow McGowan, 78

  • : A Mattaponi Indian, McGowan was born on the tribe’s King William County reservation, the daughter and granddaughter of chiefs. Appointed in 1997 by Gov. George Allen, she was the first descendant of Native Americans on the board of the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation, a state agency created to showcase Virginia’s Colonial past — a story long told from an almost entirely white perspective. McGowan also was a consultant to The Walt Disney Co. on the 1995 animated feature “Pocahontas” — a production she would criticize as inaccurate.

Woodrow “Buddy” Dowdy III, 60

  • : The smiling face of the Virginia Capitol Police who died of COVID-19 — it also claimed Sen. Ben Chafin, R-Russell — Dowdy was often the first officer visitors saw on entering Capitol Square, a leafy, 13-acre, monument-dotted patch of politics and policy. Dowdy spent more than three decades with the department, which traces its origins to the 1600s and the guards who protected early overseers of Colonial Virginia. Dowdy was usually posted to a guard box at the square’s west entrance, where rain or shine, he cheerfully greeted tourists, legislators and reporters.

Henry I. Willett Jr., 90

  • : The son of a Richmond school superintendent, Willett was president of now-Longwood University from 1967 until 1981, guiding it through desegregation and to co-education. Longwood had been restricted to women, training them to become teachers. Willett was a teacher and administrator before pivoting to higher education. He was 36 when he became president of then-Longwood College, which on his watch began its transformation into a liberal arts school. Willett’s son, Rodney, is a Democratic delegate from Henrico.

Roberta “Bobbe” Scruggs, 92

  • : A Henrico Republican activist with an electric personality, Scruggs considered campaigns not just fun but a chance to make friends, even if she disagreed with them on politics. She stuck with the party in good times and bad. Her many years with the Tuckahoe Republican Woman’s Club tracked an intoxicating era for the county GOP, now facing blue headwinds attributed to the Richmond suburb’s growth and accelerating diversity.

Requiescat in pace.

Contact Jeff E. Schapiro at (804) 649-6814 or Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter, @RTDSchapiro. Listen to his analysis 7:45 a.m. and 4:45 p.m. Friday on Radio IQ, 89.7 FM in Richmond and 89.1 FM in Roanoke, and in Norfolk on WHRV, 89.5 FM.


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