Mills E. Godwin Jr.

Mills E. Godwin Jr.
60th & 62nd Governor of Virginia
In office
January 12, 1974  January 14, 1978
Lieutenant John N. Dalton
Preceded by A. Linwood Holton Jr.
Succeeded by John N. Dalton
In office
January 15, 1966  January 17, 1970
Lieutenant Fred G. Pollard
Preceded by Albertis S. Harrison Jr.
Succeeded by A. Linwood Holton Jr.
28th Lieutenant Governor of Virginia
In office
January 13, 1962  January 15, 1966
Governor Albertis S. Harrison Jr.
Preceded by Allie E.S. Stephens
Succeeded by Fred G. Pollard
Member of the Virginia House of Delegates
In office
Personal details
Born Mills Edwin Godwin Jr.
(1914-11-19)November 19, 1914
Nansemond County, Virginia(now Suffolk, Virginia), U.S.
Died January 30, 1999(1999-01-30) (aged 84)
Newport News, Virginia
Resting place Cedar Hill Cemetery, Suffolk, Virginia
Political party Democratic (until 1973)
Republican (1973–1999)
Spouse(s) Katherine Thomas Beale (m. 1940–99)
Children Becky Godwin (1954-1968)
Residence Chuckatuck, Virginia
Alma mater College of William & Mary
Religion Congregationalist

Mills Edwin Godwin Jr. (November 19, 1914  January 30, 1999) of Chuckatuck, Virginia, was an American politician who was the 60th and 62nd Governor of Virginia for two non-consecutive terms, from 1966 to 1970 and from 1974 to 1978.

In his first term, he was a member of the Democratic Party, and was the last Virginia governor elected as a part of the Byrd Organization, the conservative Democratic establishment that dominated the state's politics for over three decades. He was succeeded by A. Linwood Holton Jr., the first non-Democratic governor in over 80 years. By 1973, when he ran for a second term, Godwin had switched to the Republican Party, as the dominance of the Democrats in Virginia politics receded and the Byrd political machine had disintegrated. He was the first governor in the history of the United States to be elected as both a Democrat and a Republican.

Early life

Godwin was born in Nansemond County (now Suffolk, Virginia) and educated at the Norfolk Division of The College of William and Mary, now Old Dominion University and also received an LL.B. degree at the University of Virginia.


He married Katherine Thomas Beale of Holland, also in Nansemond County. They adopted one child, Becky Godwin (b. 1954). In August 1968, while Governor Godwin was attending the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, Illinois, Becky and her mother were vacationing at the Oceanfront area of Virginia Beach when Becky was killed in a freak lightning accident.[1]

The family resided in the Chuckatuck section of Nansemond County, an area that became part of the consolidation of the former county, with the former town and city of Suffolk centrally located as the county seat. In 1974, the modern independent city of Suffolk was formed. It was the last of the cities of Hampton Roads to take their current form during a wave of political consolidations in the Hampton Roads region which began in 1952.

His boyhood home, the Godwin-Knight House, was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1985.[2]

Political career

Godwin served in the Virginia state senate between 1952 and 1962 and was the lieutenant governor between 1962 and 1966. In the state senate, Godwin was one of the leaders of the segregationist policy of "massive resistance," which aimed to prevent the implementation of federal court decisions under Brown vs. Board of Education requiring that black students be admitted to white schools. However, after 1960, he was among those leaders who became much more moderate as Virginia made the cultural transition, and distanced itself from the extreme positions of Senator Harry F. Byrd Sr.

With an eye to the 1965 gubernatorial race, Godwin reached out to African American voters during the 1964 presidential campaign by campaigning for President Lyndon B. Johnson, who had led the movement for enactment of the Civil Rights Act of that year.

When he ran for governor in 1965, Godwin had no opposition from within the Democratic party and was therefore nominated without a primary election. His support of President Johnson the previous year, however, lost him the support of the most die-hard segregationists, who bolted from the Democratic party to support William J. Story Jr., the candidate of the short-lived Virginia Conservative Party. Godwin's bid for governor in 1965 was endorsed by the local affiliates of both the NAACP and the AFL-CIO.

Despite the third-party challenge, Godwin defeated Republican Linwood Holton (who would succeed him as governor in 1970) by a 48%-36% margin, with Story winning 13 percent of the vote. (American Nazi Party leader George Lincoln Rockwell, running as an independent, won 1.02 percent of the vote.)

After his first term ended in 1970, Godwin began to separate himself from the Democratic Party. He managed the U.S. Senate campaign of Harry F. Byrd Jr., who was running as an independent candidate. Godwin was denied a seat at the Democratic state convention in 1972, and he was a member in the Texas organization of "Democrats for Nixon," supporting Republican Richard Nixon over the Democratic presidential nominee, George McGovern.

Lieutenant Governor Henry Howell had been elected to his office as an independent in a 1971 special election, against Democratic and Republican opposition; he ran as an independent for governor in 1973, as the Democrats failed to put up a candidate. Howell was a self-styled "populist," but many conservatives saw him simply as a liberal whose push to the governor's office they believed had to be stopped. Former governor Godwin was persuaded to run again by conservative Republicans who saw him as the most likely candidate to beat Howell. Although Godwin sought and won the Republican nomination, he did not declare that he had personally switched his party affiliation until his speech to the Republican convention in which he accepted his nomination "as one of you." Godwin narrowly defeated Howell by a margin of 15,000 votes, a 50.7% to 49.3% margin, to win his second term. Virginia law prohibits incumbent governors for running for consecutive reelection; Godwin became the only Virginia governor to be elected to two terms in the 20th century. In another historic note, Godwin became the last governor of Virginia for 40 years whose party held the Presidency at the time of election, a distinction that ended with the election of Democrat Terry McAuliffe as governor in 2013.

As governor, Godwin abandoned the state's "pay as you go" fiscal policy, which Virginia had followed since Harry F. Byrd's governorship, by having the state issue bonds to pay for capital projects.

On December 17, 1975 Governor Godwin ordered the James River and its tributaries closed to fishing from Richmond to the Chesapeake Bay. This order was the result of the improper handling and dumping of kepone into the James. Kepone is a chemical pesticide that was produced by Allied Signal Company in Hopewell, Virginia and caused a nationwide pollution controversy.

In 1976, Governor Godwin supported the bid of President Gerald R. Ford Jr., for the Republican presidential nomination, against challenger Ronald Reagan. The Virginia Republican Party convention of that year, however, elected a largely pro-Reagan delegation to the 1976 Republican National Convention, although as a courtesy Godwin was designated as co-chairman of the delegation (but was required to share the co-chairmanship with Reagan supporter Richard D. Obenshain).

After the end of his second gubernatorial term, Godwin worked behind the scenes in the Virginia Republican Party until shortly before his death. Godwin died in 1999 of pneumonia.

His personal papers, including papers from his time as governor, are held by the Special Collections Research Center at the College of William & Mary.[3] His executive papers from his time as governor are held by the Library of Virginia.


Two schools in Virginia were named for him, including Mills E. Godwin High School in suburban Henrico, where the Becky Godwin Memorial Award is given annually to a senior selected by classmates,[4] and Godwin Middle School in Prince William County. Amid much controversy in 2016, however, Godwin Middle School was renamed George Hampton Middle School.[5] Godwin Drive is located in the city of Manassas, Virginia. The Psychology/Biology building on the campus of Old Dominion University, formerly the Norfolk Division of The College of William & Mary, is named Mills Godwin Life Science Building. The former student center at Norfolk State University was also named in his honor. The building was demolished in early 2010 as a modern student center opened on campus. The Godwin Building on Northern Virginia Community College's Annandale Campus is also named for him. A Becky Godwin Memorial Scholarship is also given to college students at Godwin's former church, Oakland Christian Church, in Chuckatuck, Virginia. The church also dedicated a section of the church to Godwin known as the Godwin Building. Godwin Hall on the campus of James Madison University was completed in 1972 and was dedicated in honor of Mills E. Godwin and his wife Katherine, who was a graduate of the university.[6]

See also


  1. Speidell, Phyllis (2008-01-26). "'I'm so tickled I'm here' says 91-year-old former first lady of Virginia". The Virginian Pilot.
  2. National Park Service (2010-07-09). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service.
  3. "Mills E. Godwin Jr. Papers". Special Collections Research Center, Earl Gregg Swem Library, College of William and Mary. Retrieved 1 February 2011.
  4. The Virginian-Pilot
Political offices
Preceded by
Allie E. S. Stephens
Lieutenant Governor of Virginia
January 13, 1962 – January 15, 1966
Succeeded by
Fred G. Pollard
Preceded by
Albertis S. Harrison Jr.
Governor of Virginia
January 15, 1966 – January 17, 1970
Succeeded by
A. Linwood Holton Jr.
Preceded by
A. Linwood Holton Jr.
Governor of Virginia
January 12, 1974 – January 14, 1978
Succeeded by
John N. Dalton
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