“Politics be damned! Let’s consider what’s best
for the men and women of this great state and
their families and children.”
— U.S. Sen. John Warner, R-Va.
In February 2004, Virginia’s senior senator held a news conference in Richmond to announce support of a package of tax increases, boosts in fees and budget cuts to improve schools, health care and transportation. The Republican backed the sweeping $1.4 billion proposal pushed by a Democratic governor, which ultimately cleared the GOP-controlled General Assembly after a bruising battle.
His declaration that day epitomized his independent streak, one of several notable examples of bucking the party to pursue what he thought best for the state and nation.
Virginia lost a true statesman last Tuesday with the passing of John William Warner III, who died at his home in Alexandria surrounded by family. He was 94.
Senator Warner left an indelible mark on the commonwealth, particularly through his championing of the military and defense. His civility, integrity and bipartisan spirit set a standard that all elected officials should follow.
He served in the Senate from 1979 to 2009, a 30-year tenure only exceeded in Virginia by Harry F. Byrd Sr. Twice, Senator Warner solely chaired the powerful Armed Services Committee, a critical assignment in a state whose economy depends on federal spending. As The Washington Post noted, Senator Warner “used the clout of his chairmanship to steer billions of dollars in defense spending to Virginia’s shipbuilding and naval facilities.”
Senator Warner’s impressive career in public service began during World War II, serving in the Navy from 1944-46. An enlistment in the Marines followed in 1950 when the Korean War broke out, after his first year in law school at the University of Virginia. During the Nixon administration, he served as undersecretary of the Navy and then as secretary of the Navy. Additionally, he was director the American Revolution Bicentennial Commission.
“John Warner was a consummate statesman and a public servant who always put Virginia before politics; who put the nation’s security before partisanship; who put the country’s needs above his own,” said U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va. (no relation), who now holds the seat and was governor during the 2004 tax fight.
Senator Warner’s “service to our country never ended,” and neither did his zest for life. “The last time I saw him just a few weeks ago, he was full of questions about the latest in the Senate and in Virginia,” Mark Warner said in a statement.
U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott, D-3rd, dean of the Virginia congressional delegation, praised Senator John Warner for setting the tone of how politicians regardless of party need to work together for the betterment of Virginia.
“In the Senate, John was always focused on what was best for the Commonwealth, and he could always be relied on to prioritize the people he served, not party or politics,” Scott said.
Senator Warner’s high-profile breaks with his party underscored his independent streak, among them his opposition to Robert Bork for the U.S. Supreme Court in 1987; his refusal to endorse Iran-Contra figure Oliver North for the Senate in 1994; and his endorsement of Hillary Clinton for president in 2016 over Donald Trump. He stood up for his convictions, and once was described as a “governing senator” rather than a “political senator.”
Senator Warner defied expectations. He began his political career as an accidental candidate, becoming the GOP’s nominee in 1978 after the untimely death of Richard Obenshain in a plane crash. Warner perhaps was best known then as the husband of actress Elizabeth Taylor, to whom he was married from 1976 to 1982. But he left as a titan of the Senate, considered the chamber’s foremost expert on defense.
He had, as they say in acting, “presence.” Senator Warner’s “patrician bearing, military mien and stentorian pronouncements made him the senator from central casting,” as the Richmond Times-Dispatch’s Andrew Cain aptly stated.
On the eve of his departure from office, in an interview with longtime RTD political reporter Tyler Whitley, Senator Warner said he was most proud of two bills that received little attention but showed his interests.
One was an appropriations amendment that authorized the Embrey Dam near Fredericksburg on the Rappahannock River to be blown up, which enabled fish to swim up the river all the way to the Blue Ridge Mountains to spawn (he was an avid fisherman). The other was a bill that set up “Tri-Care for Life,” a medical plan for National Guardsmen and other service personnel. What gave him the greatest satisfaction, he said, “was working with the men and women of the armed forces.”
Senator John Warner was an exemplar of public service who earned and carried the respect of Virginians and Americans. He forever will be remembered for his devotion to duty, unwavering patriotism, and commitment to the commonwealth and this great nation. We extend our deepest condolences to his family.
— Richmond Times-Dispatch