Del. Onzlee Ware, D-Roanoke, took the floor of the House of Delegates this morning to pay tribute to his predecessor, Clifton “Chip” Woodrum, who died Tuesday at the age of 74.
Ware was elected to the 11th District seat in 2003 following Woodrum’s retirement from the legislature. In a brief floor speech, Ware highlighted some of Woodrum’s signature legislative achievements and recalled the Roanoke Democrat’s legendary wit. Ware said he sometimes couldn’t tell if Woodrum’s humor was scathing or in jest.
“He had great command of the English language and he could do it either way,” Ware said. “It would take me a couple of days to figure out if Chip had actually taken me to the woodshed.”
“I loved Chip Woodrum and I’ll tell you why, ladies and gentlemen,” Ware said. “It is hard as an African American to follow someone as great as Chip Woodrum. Everyone had expectations of me to be the next Chip Woodrum. I appreciated Chip for all these years because he allowed me to be me.
“There was only a couple of times Chip Woodrum called me and asked a favor on a vote. One of the times he called me, he also had me solicit the help of [former] Del. Harvey Morgan [R-Gloucester], who also was an esteemed colleague. The vote came up 98-2, and the two people against it were Harvey Morgan and I. When I called Chip to tell him what happened to the vote, he said, ‘I told you to watch out for crazy constituents telling you how to vote.’ That’s the the type of wit Chip Woodrum had.”
On Ware’s motion, the House agreed to adjourn to today in Woodrum’s memory.
In an interview, Ware said he last spoke to Woodrum a few weeks ago. Woodrum called Ware after reading that Ware was giving some consideration to a Republican-engineered Senate redistricting plan that had enraged many Democrats.
“I had to walk him through my position on redistricting,” Ware said. “I had to calm him down.”
Ware eventually spoke out against the plan, which died on a procedural ruling by House Speaker Bill Howell, R-Stafford County.
Del. Vivian Watts, D-Fairfax County, and Del. Lee Ware, R-Powhatan, also recalled Woodrum’s contributions in floor speeches today.
Lee Ware recalled a line Woodrum often used on close votes: ” I’ve got friends who are voting yes on this bill and I’ve got friends who are voting no. And I’ll tell you, I’m sticking with my friends.”
And, Lee Ware said, Woodrum was not reluctant to remind his colleagues of the place they occupied in the balance of power in state government.
“One time we were having a pretty serious debate on the floor and somebody said that he was here and he had served under I can’t remember how many governors. And after this part of the debate concluded, Chip stood up and he said, ‘You know, I haven’t served under any governors. I’ve served along side six governors. This is a co-equal branch, the legislative branch with the executive branch, and I have not served under any governors.’ It’s a great thing to remember people like Chip Woodrum as we think of those who served and distinguished this floor by their service.”
The Senate also adjourned in Woodrum’s memory today following brief tributed by Democrats Creigh Deeds of Bath County, John Edwards of Roanoke and Frank Wagner of Virginia Beach.
Former Gov. Gerald Baliles also issued a statement this morning after learning of Woodrum’s death.
“I am stunned at the loss of such a good friend and public servant,” Baliles said. “With his wry sense of humor, Chip Woodrum was the consummate legislator – principled, yet pragmatic, in his search for solutions that would serve the Commonwealth and this region.”
– Michael Sluss