By Ben Beagle and Ozzie Osborne. Full Court Press.
Reviewed by Mason Adams
Many Roanoke Times readers know Ben Beagle for his long-running column in the Extra section.
As a young man growing up in Clifton Forge in the ‘80s and ‘90s, I remember reading of “the greatest station wagon driver of them all” and his takes on celebrities and other foibles of modern life. But it wasn’t until I was a few years into my tenure here at the Roanoke Times that I realized Beagle also was a heck of a reporter for many years, too.
I heard stories, but I didn’t understand fully until covering former U.S. Sen. John Warner’s retirement announcement in 2007. I pulled a bunch of stories from Warner’s first run for Senate in 1978, only to see Beagle’s byline at the top of most of them. He wrote well, getting to the point but including a lot of nice details along the way.
Mel “Buster” Carrico is the Roanoke Times’ most storied political reporter, but Beagle definitely deserves a place in the conversation too.
Several years ago I tracked down a second-hand signed copy of “J. Lindsay Almond: Virginia’s Reluctant Rebel” – a 1984 book that Beagle co-wrote with Ozzie Osborne, another former Roanoke Times reporter.
There are a few legends surrounding the book – that it was rushed to print, that Beagle and Osborne decided to write alternating chapters but then Osborne wouldn’t let Beagle read his work. I visited Beagle last week at his home, and he doesn’t remember that part of it. On the other hand, he didn’t seem all that proud of the book, either. Maybe that’s just Beagle’s modesty.
“Virginia’s Reluctant Rebel” does make for a clunky read at times – there are typos here and there, and sometimes information is unnecessarily repeated. On the other hand, the story it tells is so compelling that the reader can’t help but turn the page.
Almond came to prominence through Harry Byrd Sr.’s political machine that dominated Virginia politics through the 20th Century. He served as a state court judge in Roanoke from 1933 to 1945, then was elected to Congress representing the 6th District (the seat currently held by Bob Goodlatte).
In 1957 Almond was elected as governor at the height of massive resistance by running as a staunch segregationist. Brown v. Board of Education had already been handed down by the United States Supreme Court, but Byrd and his associates were willing to shut schools down rather than integrate.
But suddenly, halfway through his term – and one week after making a vehement speech for segregation – Almond made an abrupt 180-degree turn and came out in favor of integrating schools. It was the first step on a hard road to where we are today.
Almond paid a terrible political price for his change of mind. Byrd refused to speak to him ever after that. And these days, he seems almost lost to history. Virginians talk a lot more about the founding fathers and the Civil War than about massive resistance and the fight over integration.
“J. Lindsay Almond: Virginia’s Reluctant Rebel” has also been forgotten, but it’s available if you look for it and is worth the search. It details an important piece of state history – I don’t know if you can really understand Linwood Holton, another governor with a Roanoke link and memoir that’s much easier to find, if you don’t know about Almond – and helps solidify Beagle’s reputation as not just a columnist but a reporter.
For more thoughts on Beagle about the writing of the book and on Lindsay Almond, check out the audio file below.