Sadly, little has been mentioned about the death of former congressman and State Supreme Court Justice Richard Harding Poff. Its a travesty nothing more has been written because Poff was one of the founding fathers of the modern Virginia Republican Party. He was one of the old "Mountain and Valley Boys," that followed the lead of Mr. Republican, Ted Dalton. Back then, as many of you out there probably lived through, Republicanism in the state legislature could be counted on one hand. Dalton, Poff, Linwood Holton, Joel Broyhill, Richard Obenshain, and William Wampler, Sr. were at the forefront of Republican politics in the 50s and 60s as the Byrd Machine fell and Virginia realigned its parties to more reflect their national brethern.
Poff, Broyhill, and Wampler were the recipients of what some historians refer too as "Presidential Republicanism" in Virginia where Harry Byrd and his machine would "give the nod" and endorse the more conservative Republican national candidate while keeping tight control of its Democratic machine at home. They rode General Eisenhower's coattails in 1952, shocking Democrats across the commonwealth. What developed was essentially a three-party system run by the Byrd Oligarchy - Byrd, Harry Jr, Blackie Moore, Bill Tuck, Willis Robertson, Howard Smith, Lindsay Almond, Mills Godwin - that rallied around Massive Resistance. Since suddenly the ruling elites were allowing people to vote Republican in national elections, it allowed the party to start to slowly grow - though with fits and starts. For their measure, Democrats began to resist Byrd as well - more liberal politicians like Armistead Boothe, William Spong, George Rawlings, and most notably Henry Howell emerging from the post-war period representing new cities and suburbs with new residents unfamiliar and unappreciative of the Byrd regimes tight controls over the state. So you had Mountain Valley Republicans, Suburban Democrats and the Byrd Machine that was strongest in Southside and held the courthouses (its not perfectly symmetrical because Broyhill represented the suburbs). They ruled by poll taxes, literacy tests, and other ways that restricted the vote. But eventually, more than anything, modernity got them in the end. Byrd retired in 1966 and Booth and Spong challenged Byrd Jr and Robertson in the same year, Byrd barely won and eventually left the party while Spong beat Robertson - and Rawlings knocked off Judge Smith in a shocker.
But back to Poff, he is most known for almost becoming a US Supreme Court Justice (Lewis Powell got the nod, instead). Poff's career is interesting because of the balancing act he required. On the one hand, he signed the Southern Manifesto, but on the other was quite supportive of other civil rights issues. He also seemed to have steered clear of a lot of the issues that fractured the state party - the divide then was just as it is now - and it centered on what to do with all the old Byrd Democrats. Obenshain, Warriner, and Broyhill (himself something of a protege of Judge Smith despite being in different parties, they shared the same philosophy) favored bringing in many of the old Byrdites and creating a conservative party while Holton wanted to keep the party at its progressive, Mountain and Valley roots of moderation and more center than center-right. Holton spent his career fighting Byrd and Massive Resistance, and saw it as really a disgrace and take over by the right wing to bring in Byrdites. This was cemented when Mills Godwin switched parties in 1973 and had John Dalton as his LG running-mate to stop Henry Howell. When Broyhill and Obenshain (and Richard Nixon) wanted to bring Harry Jr. in to the GOP in 1970 and not nominate a US Seante candidate, new Gov. Holton insisted that they do. And then in 1972 when Sargeant Reynolds died and liberal Henry Howell was running for LG as an independent, Obenshain and Broyhill again did not want to split the conservative vote, but Holton personally recruited a candidate to run. Both times Holton's man finished third, and it led to the eventual takeover of the party by Obenshain. If anyone wants to understand why old Linwood Holton, now known as Tim Kaine's father-in-law, endorses Demcrats these days- THAT is why. I'll have to go back and check, but I believe Poff was largely aligned with Holton but please correct me if I'm wrong.
But I wanted to mention Poff here because along with Dalton (both father and son), Holton, Obenshain, Dortch Warriner, Wampler and Broyhill; he was one of the founding fathers of our party in Virginia and his election in 1952 with Wampler and Broyhill was a breakthrough moment for two-party politics in Virginia. And also because unlike many of these others, Poff does not have some extension to today's GOP. Obenshain, who died in a plane crash running for the Senate in 1978, is lionized by many of the old hands that knew him and his son is in the State Senate, his wife, I believe, was for a time a member of the House of Delegates, and his daughter Kate was had a term as RPV chairwomen. Ted Dalton's son John became governor in 1977. Holton, as I said, is Tim Kaine's father in law and his daughter Ann (Mrs. Kaine) was a state judge. Wampler's son has served in the state senate since 1988 (until his impending retirement).
And because I'm 30 and didn't live during this and I'm not that smart, I must suggest EVERYONE who lays eyes on this blog read Frank Atkinson's splendid two-volume history of the Republican Party in Virginia with both The Dynamic Dominon and Virginia In The Vanguard, which is where I learned all of this. And please, if I'm wrong about any of this please correct me.
RIP Richard Haridng Poff