|United States Assistant Secretary of State for Legislative Affairs|
February 28, 1974 – January 31, 1975
|Preceded by||Marshall Wright|
|Succeeded by||Robert J. McCloskey|
|61st Governor of Virginia|
January 17, 1970 – January 12, 1974
|Preceded by||Mills Godwin|
|Succeeded by||Mills Godwin|
Abner Linwood Holton Jr.
September 21, 1923
Big Stone Gap, Virginia U.S.
|Died||October 28, 2021 (aged 98)|
Kilmarnock, Virginia U.S.
|Children||4; including Anne and Woody|
|Education||Washington and Lee University (BS)|
Harvard University (LLB)
|Branch/service||United States Navy|
|Years of service||1942–1969|
|Battles/wars||World War II|
Abner Linwood Holton Jr. (September 21, 1923 – October 28, 2021) was an American politician and attorney. He served as the 61st governor of Virginia, from 1970 to 1974, and was the first elected Republican governor of Virginia of the 20th century. He was known for supporting civil rights, integration, and public investment.
Abner Linwood Holton Jr. was born on September 21, 1923, in Big Stone Gap, Virginia, the son of Edith (Van Gorder), a homemaker, and Abner Linwood Holton, the executive of a small coal-hauling railroad. In his 2008 memoir, he wrote that could not remember a time as a youth when the goal of a Virginia governorship was not at the back of his mind. At his Stone Gap High School reunion in 1990, a childhood friend joked that he had sought the governorship since the 4th grade.
Holton entered Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia, in 1941. After the Japanese Attack on Pearl Harbor, he enlisted in the United States Navy on July 4, 1942. He received a commission after graduating in 1944 with B.S. degree in commerce, cum laude, and served on active duty submarine service throughout World War II and in the reserves for more than two decades afterwards. He graduated from Harvard Law School in 1949.
Prior to entering politics, he was an attorney in Roanoke, Virginia.
Holton was active in the Republican Party when it barely existed in Virginia. He was one of the leading Republicans who fought the Byrd Organization during the three decades it dominated Virginia politics.
In 1965, Holton ran for governor as the Republican candidate and was defeated by Democrat Mills E. Godwin Jr. In 1969, Holton won 52.51% of the vote in the gubernatorial election, defeating Democrat William C. Battle, Virginia Conservative Beverly B. McDowell, American Independent William A. Pennington, and Independent George R. Walker. He became the first Republican governor of Virginia since 1869.
In 1970, when desegregation was an issue in Virginia, Holton voluntarily placed his children, including future First Lady Anne Holton, in the mostly-black Richmond Public Schools, garnering much publicity.
As governor, he increased employment of blacks and women in state government, created the Virginia Governor's Schools Program in 1973, provided the first state funds for community mental health centers, and supported environmental efforts.
A moderate Republican, Holton was against welcoming conservative Byrd Democrats into the Virginia Republican Party. As the GOP moved increasingly rightward, it turned its back on Holton. When Harry F. Byrd Jr. broke ranks with the increasingly liberal national Democrats and ran as an independent for the Senate in 1970, Holton insisted on running a Republican candidate rather than endorsing an independent. That eventually led to the nomination of Ray Garland. Byrd went on to win the three-way election with an absolute majority.
Holton also encouraged a moderate Republican to run in the special election in 1971 to choose a successor for deceased Lieutenant Governor J. Sargeant Reynolds, an election that was won by another independent, populist Henry Howell.
Holton was not eligible to run in 1973, as Virginia does not allow governors to serve consecutive terms. In 1973, Mills Godwin, the conservative former Democrat who had defeated Holton in the 1965 election, was the Republican nominee. Godwin had supported massive resistance to racial integration and had first identified himself as a Republican in his speech accepting the Virginia Republican convention's nomination for governor.
Following his term as governor, Holton served one year in the Nixon Administration as the Assistant Secretary of State for Congressional Relations.[a] After leaving Washington, he practiced law as a shareholder at McCandlish Holton, P.C.
Holton later unsuccessfully sought the Republican nomination for the United States Senate in 1978, finishing third in a race against Richard D. Obenshain, John Warner, and Nathan H. Miller. Warner subsequently became the nominee after Obenshain's death in a plane crash.
Under Gov. Gerald Baliles (1987-91), he served as interim president of the Center for Innovative Technology in Northern Virginia, where he guided it through managerial difficulties.
After his retirement, Holton supported moderate Republicans, including John Warner. As the Virginia Republican Party became more conservative, however, he found himself more in line with the state Democratic Party and endorsed several Democrats for statewide office, including his son-in-law, Governor Tim Kaine. Holton endorsed Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential election.
The Holtons have four children: Tayloe, Anne, Woody, and Dwight. Anne is married to U.S. Senator and former Virginia Governor Tim Kaine, the nominee of the Democratic Party for Vice President of the United States in 2016. She was the first First Lady of Virginia to live in Virginia's Executive Mansion both as a child and as a First Lady.[b] In January 2014, Anne Holton was named Virginia Secretary of Education. Woody Holton (Abner Linwood Holton III) has published three books, including Unruly Americans and the Origins of the Constitution (2007), a finalist for the National Book Award, and Forced Founders: Indians, Debtors, Slaves and the Making of the American Revolution in Virginia (1999). His third book, a biography of Abigail Adams, won the Bancroft Prize in 2010. Dwight Holton served as acting U.S. Attorney for Oregon from 2010 to 2011. He later lost to Ellen Rosenblum in the May 2012 primary in the race for Oregon Attorney General.
In 1999, Linwood Holton Elementary School, in Richmond, Virginia, was named in his honor.
In November 2005, Holton underwent surgery for bladder cancer.
The University of Virginia Press published his memoir, Opportunity Time, in March 2008. He was a long-time member of the Governing Council of the University of Virginia's Miller Center of Public Affairs.
In 2017, the City of Roanoke hosted Holton for the dedication of a plaza named in his honor.
Holton married Virginia "Jinks" Rogers on January 10, 1953. She was a CIA intelligence analyst and the daughter of a leading Roanoke Democratic Party figure. Together, they had four children, Anne, Tayloe, Woody, and Dwight. Anne is married to Tim Kaine, who served as governor of Virginia from 2006 through 2010, and has served as a United States Senator from Virginia since 2013. Kaine was the 2016 Democratic vice presidential nominee.
Linwood Holton died of natural causes at his home in Kilmarnock on October 28, 2021, at age 98.
The memorial service for Holton in December 2021 at Second Presbyterian Church in Richmond included tributes to his belief in civil rights and school desegregation. In attendance were Gov. Ralph Northam, the other eight governors of the state, and Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin. Ann Compton noted that when Holton took office, there were only 31 Republicans among the 141 members of the state legislature.
Holton's tenure as governor ushered in a new era, bringing to seven Republican governors elected compared to seven Democratic governors.
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