Leigh B. Middleditch, Jr., whose centrist community activism over several decades sought solutions to divisive issues, died Monday at the age of 92.
Middleditch, a long-time partner with the McGuireWoods LLP law firm, served on dozens of committees and boards of directors for agencies and organizations both locally and statewide.
His most recent 8-year effort to change the way Virginia draws its district boundary lines for the General Assembly and the House of Representatives resulted in a state constitutional amendment approved by voters last November.
Middleditch joined other Virginians upset at how the Virginia legislature drew district boundaries based more on political parties than on population. In 2013, he created an organization that lobbied for a redistricting committee that included citizens on the panel.
“Leigh was truly a visionary. He harbored the seemingly radical notion that it was possible for those in government to put aside partisan rancor and work together for the greater good,” said Liz White, executive director of OneVirginia2021, the organization that helped get the amendment passed.
“When others were skeptical about nonpartisan redistricting reform, he simply rolled up his sleeves, assembled a team, and pushed forward to get it done. His work and his ideals have had a huge impact on Virginia for decades and he will be missed in all corners of the Commonwealth,” White said.
“Leigh had the vision to assemble a diverse group of like-minded leaders to put politics aside and work to fix our broken democracy,” a statement from OneVirginia2021 states. “Through the years he also provided quiet leadership and steady resolve. He was quite simply our North Star. We will forever be grateful for his efforts over the years, and will miss his kind demeanor and wise counsel.”
Middleditch’s life was full of impact. Some 24 years ago, he and Charlottesville businessman Michael Bills created what is now the Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership at UVa. The organization works toward putting trust, civility and respect into politics.
Some three dozen years ago, he joined other residents of Charlottesville and Albemarle County to create the Citizens Committee for City-County Cooperation. The committee was an effort to bridge community chasms created by city annexation of county land.
The move led to the current joint agreement for revenue sharing between the city and the county.
The committee reformed in the 1990s to work toward consolidation of some local services and again in 2008 to propose a development rights transfer program in the county.
A dozen years ago, Middleditch used his leadership position on the American Bar Association to help disadvantaged Black lawyers in Zimbabwe and South Africa.
Middleditch once credited his six decades of community activism with not being able to advertise his profession.
“I came along when lawyers could not advertise,” he said. “My law firm encouraged me to get involved in civic activities.”
Middleditch was born in Detroit, Michigan and graduated with a bachelor’s degree from UVa in 1951 and a law degree in 1957.
A U.S. Navy veteran, he served as a lecturer on civil procedure and legal aspects of business at UVa. He was a legal adviser to the school between 1968 and 1972.
Middleditch served on the UVa Health Services Foundation from 1988 to 1997 and as member of the UVa Board of Visitors from 1990 to 1994. He also served as a trustee for the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation, Monticello and Montpelier Foundation and chaired the UVa Miller Foundation for Study of Presidency from 2000 to 2010.
“Leigh was someone who had an idea and let others run with it,” said Bob Gibson, a former executive director of the Sorensen Institute who also knew Middleditch from his days as a Daily Progress political reporter. “He was a quiet guy, a leader by consensus but not by talking as much as starting things off and letting them take their natural direction.”
Officials with the local Blue Ridge Action Group, part of OneVirginia2021, called Middleditch a friend and mentor.
“Leigh held an unfashionable belief in democracy and in the ability of people with different views to come together and work for the public good. And despite the odds, he was often able to pull it off through his uniquely personal touch, passion and patience,” they said in an email. “He was a rare and unassuming giant. He will be sorely missed.”