Abner Linwood Holton, Jr. has just died at age 98 at his home in Kilmarnock, Virginia, near Richmond. There is a certain irony in this as a Republican, Glenn Youngkin, is likely to be elected governor of the state in three days, and Holton was the first Republican to be elected to that position since Reconstruction, which ha managed to do in 1970. He defeated the pro-segregation Byrd Machine that had run the Democrats and the state since the 1930s. That machine had supported massive resistance to integrating schools in Virginia after the 1954 SCOTUS Brown vs. Board of Education ruling that mandated such integration. Holton, a supporter of Eisenhower for president in the 1950s, would end that mass resistance, implement a clean water initiative, and introduced various other essentially progressive reforms, relying on the support of more moderate Dems in the legislature to do all this.
As it was, after George McGovern ran as the Dem nominee for president in 1972 during Holton's term, the Byrd Machine would largely move into the GOP, and Holton would be succeeded by Mills Godwin as govenor, who had preceded him as a Democrat, but succeeded him as a Republican. Holton's obituary noted that the Virginia GOP has drifted rightwards ever since he left office.
Coming from a coal mining business family in far southwestern Virginia and a WW II veteran, Holton was a classic moderate "Mountain Valley" Republican. His move to integrate schools would be symbolized by him personally walking one of his daughters into a majority Black school in Richmond while he was governor. Another of his daughters, Anne, would marry current Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA), who was Hillary Clinton's running mate in 2016, and Holton supported him and Clinton also.
A poll out two days ago has Youngkin leading former Dem governor Terry McAuliffe 53-45%, and I think that Youngkin will win solidly this coming Tuesday, as I noted in a recent post here, and may also sweep the other top positions, with the GOP retaking control of the House of Delegates, while the State Senate remains in Dem control, not up for reelection right now, fortunately. It seems that some people die at moments of their own choosing, and it may be that Holton has passed before having to see this outcome, even as he was the first GOP governor in the state for nearly a century. But, as we all know, the Republican Party stopped being the party of Abraham Lincoln some time ago, and in this age has been taken over by RINOs accusing people like Holton of being such. Perhaps he simply did not wish to see the triumph of a new and even worse version of this breed taking power in the state, people whom old Harry Flood Byrd would probably approve of with pleasure.