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A day of changes for a changing state

Rosalind Helderman

How about this for a moment symbolic of the changing face of modern Virginia:

Tomorrow, a Commonwealth founded 400 years ago on tobacco farming, will ban smoking in bars and restaurants. On that same day, in the historic Virginia tobacco farming community of Gloucester, the last son of a Confederate veteran to serve in the General Assembly will be laid to rest.

John Warren Cooke, whose father was on the personal staff to Gen. Robert E. Lee, served in the House of Delegates from 1942 to 1980, including time as Speaker of the House from 1968 to 1980.

Cooke died Saturday at age 94. As the Richmond Times Dispatch explained this weekend, Cooke was himself a figure of change. A Democrat at a time when Virginia had nothing else, he was the first to allow the Republican minority a voice in government. A newspaperman, he sponsored Virginia's Freedom of Information Act.

For those wondering, there are now four members of the House of Delegates who served with Cooke. Del. Lacey Putney (I), who was first sworn into the House in 1962, Del. Ken Plum (D), who served a stint from '78 to '79 before he returned in the House in 1982, Del. Joseph P. Johnson (D), who likewise served from 1966 to 1969 before being reelected in 1990, and Del. Johnny Joannou (D), who served from 1976 to '83 and then came back in 1998.

There are also two senators who served with Cooke, Sen. Chuck Colgan (D), elected in 1976, and Sen. Dick Saslaw (D), who served with Cooke in the House from 1976 to 1980 before his election to the Senate.

For those keeping count, that means there is but one serving member of the General Assembly whose years in the body exceeds the whopping 38 served by Cooke. That is the institution that is Appropriations Chairman Lacey Putney.

Gov.-elect Bob McDonnell issued a statement Sunday on Cooke's death. Here it is:

John Warren Cooke was a son of Virginia. As a public servant, newspaperman and private citizen he was warmly regarded by those who worked with him in his many pursuits and capacities. The child of an Episcopal priest who served under General Robert E. Lee, The Richmond Times-Dispatch appropriately notes that Cooke 'had a foot in three centuries.' During his time as Speaker he sought to include members of the opposite party and those with differing political viewpoints. He was an ardent proponent of greater transparency in the General Assembly. His life was long and productive, and he contributed greatly to his community and our Commonwealth. Our thoughts and prayers are with Speaker Cooke's family, and his many friends, in this difficult time.

By Rosalind Helderman  |  November 30, 2009; 9:39 AM ET
Categories:  Robert F. McDonnell , Rosalind Helderman  
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Next: Smoking ban goes into effect in hours


We should all mourn the passing of this gentleman. I knew and respected him and his family immensely. His record of public service is a standard for all, and his civility, humility and courtesy is all but extinct at the Capitol today.

All members of the General Assembly could reflect on his ability to lead without personal attacks and to put the interests of Virginia first -- except really, not just in news releases.

Posted by: suncreekconsult | November 30, 2009 7:42 PM | Report abuse

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