Clifton “Chip” Woodrum, who represented Roanoke in the House of Delegates for nearly a quarter century, died Tuesday in Florida, according to current and former legislators. He was 74.
Woodrum served from 1980 to 2003 in the Virginia House, where his intellect and rapier wit made him one of the state’s most visible and effective legislators. There was no official word on the cause of Woodrum’s death Tuesday night.
“I can’t ever remember being in a pitched battle when he wasn’t right there with me in the struggle,”
said former House Majority Richard Cranwell of Vinton, a close friend and political ally of Woodrum’s. “He was a loyal friend to me and I hope I was a loyal friend to him.”
“I think one of the greatest characteristics he had was to cut the ice and refocus the debate with a one-liner that put everybody in stitches and kind of framed the fact that what we were about was something important,” Cranwell said.
Cranwell, Woodrum and the late Del. Vic Thomas, D-Roanoke, functioned as a formidable and effective trio representing the Roanoke Valley’s interests in the House during their long careers, said Sen. John Edwards, D-Roanoke.
“He was an extraordinarily accomplished legislator,” Edwards said Tuesday night.
Woodrum, an attorney, had deep roots in Roanoke’s Democratic Party. His great-grandfather was the city’s first elected commonwealth’s attorney, and his grandfather served for 23 years in Congress. Woodrum worked for the party in several capacities before running for the House in 1979.
Woodrum sponsored legislation that allowed a portion of the sales tax revenue generated at Hotel Roanoke to be put into a special fund that helped finance the hotel’s restoration.
“That’s one of Chip’s hallmark pieces of legislation,” Cranwell said.
Woodrum also sponsored legislation in 1987 creating the Virginia Birth-Related Neurological Injury Compensation Program, a fund that covers medical bills and other expenses for children who suffer disabling neurological injuries at birth. And he headed the Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Council, playing a lead role in pushing for access to government meetings and documents.
Sen. Creigh Deeds, D-Bath County, a Woodrum protégé who served for a decade in the House of Delegates, called Woodrum’s death “devastating.”
Deeds said his mentor regularly spent part of the winter in Florida after leaving the legislature and seemed more energetic than when he was holding court in the state Capitol.
“He was really younger and more full of spit and vinegar than when he was when he was here in session,” Deeds said.
“We are all diminished by Chip’s loss,” Deeds said.
– Michael Sluss