26 Apr 2009
April 26, 2009

Remembering George Rawlings

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Just back from a wonderful celebration of the unique life of George Rawlings at the Massaponnex Baptist Church near Fredericksburg.  Remembrances were lead by George’s brother Richard (who sounds exactly like George), State Sen. Ed Houck, and Bernie Henderson, Deputy Secretary of the Commonwealth (whose remarks I will post).  Dignitaries in attendance included Chuck and Lynda Robb, former Congressman Herb Harris, Kate Hanley, Brian Moran, and House members Jim Scott, Bob Hull, Adam Ebbin and Mark Sickles.  It was a nice to see many old friends and I am sure that George was glad to see folks get together.

George was an early and active leader for civil rights, voting rights, and issues such as the minimum wage and mental health care reform.  Often at the side of Henry Howell, George fought the Byrd Machine and bravely championed “liberal” causes.  (As Henry noted, in Virginia, “a liberal is someone who believes in life after birth.”)  Perhaps his greatest achievement was to defeat Howard W. “Judge” Smith in the Democratic primary for Virginia’s 8th Congressional District in 1966.  Although George lost the general election, Byrd Democrat Smith had used his chairmanship of the House Rules Committee to kill civil rights and other progressive legislation and Smith’s defeat cleared a roadblock to such legislation.

George graduated from Randolph-Macon College and U.Va. Law School in the 1940s and practiced law in Fredericksburg for the next 50 years.  He served in the Virginia House of Delegates from 1964 to 1970.  In addition to his 1966 race, George was the Democratic standard-bearer against Harry F. Byrd Jr. in 1970, forcing Byrd to run as independent.  George remained an active Virginia Democrat, serving on the Democratic National Committee from 1972 to 1980 and chairing the 8th Congressional District Democratic Committee from 1981-1993.  He was one of the founders of the Virginia National Democratic Caucus in the 1980s.

I met George through his son, Chris, who preceded me as the President of the University of Virginia Young Democrats.  Both Chris and his older brother Chance, George’s only children, died of cystic fibrosis in 1980-1981.  They were both good and brave men, as was their father.  I take great comfort in knowing that they are now all together.  At some point, George realized that he was gay and made no effort to hide that fact.  In this, as in all else, he was true to himself.  Indeed, George was known for his unique sense of style.  Even if it meant wearing plaid.

I was struck today that most of the people in attendance were not people who were politically active, but people who knew George as their lawyer, or as someone active in the community, or as a friend.  He took on many cases for free and was otherwise too generous at times.  But he dedicated himself to helping people and Virginia is a much better place because of the vision and efforts of George Rawlings.  And we do miss him.

Additional reading:  Obituary from the Fredericksburg Paper; 2005 article ; 1997 General Assembly Resolution, 8th District Democratic committee statement; Bernie Henderson’s wonderful comments; Bob Hull’s report on the memorial service, all here –

  George_Rawlings.pdf (437.9 KiB, 664 hits)

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