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Hunter B. Andrews Dies; Va. Senate Majority Leader Powerful and Intimidating

By Patricia Sullivan and Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, January 15, 2005; Page B08

Former Virginia state senator Hunter B. Andrews, 83, the formidable and temperamental chairman of the Senate Finance Committee who ruled Richmond's corridors of power for 32 years, died Jan. 13 at his home in Hampton, Va.

He had not been ill but had suffered from heart ailments, his daughter said.

Hunter B. Andrews, who was chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, was also Virginia's longest-serving senator. (Family Photo)

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Mr. Andrews was the longest-serving senator in the state's history, and when the Democrats controlled the 40-member Senate, he was also its majority leader. He wielded enormous clout during the three decades when the Democrats controlled every branch of the state's government, and his power often matched that of the nine governors under whom he served.

His reputation was that of an aristocratic and irascible leader whose mastery of the state budget and encyclopedic knowledge of the law could reduce a freshman legislator to tears, even without being subjected to his withering glare. His whim could derail a bill, and a barbed remark could deflate a bloated ego, former colleagues recalled to the Associated Press.

But Mr. Andrews also pumped billions of dollars into Virginia's public schools and colleges over the years, and he stood up to the state's policy of "massive resistance" to integration in the 1950s. When he left office in 1995, after being defeated by Republican Martin E. Williams of Newport News, Va., he said he was proud of putting the compulsory school attendance law back on the books in the 1960s.

Gov. Mark R. Warner (D), who appointed Mr. Andrews to several high-profile boards and commissions, called him "a towering figure in Virginia's modern political history, a gentleman and a leader of principle and candor."

Warner said: "One had to earn the senator's respect, and he did not suffer fools gladly. I am proud to have considered him a good friend."

U.S. Sen. George Allen (R), a former Virginia governor, called him "a lion in Virginia General Assembly history" whose "spirit and vinegar" will live on.

So surprised were legislators at the news of his death that it became just about the only topic of conversation in the Capitol's halls, elevators and on the floor of the Senate chamber. Mr. Andrews had attended a meeting in the General Assembly building last week.

Both the Senate and the House of Delegates adjourned for the weekend in honor of Mr. Andrews, who was legendary for his merciless and effective use of power. And senators postponed Monday's floor session, which normally begins at noon, so they could attend the funeral in Hampton en masse.

Several senators said they believed Mr. Andrews would despise the commentary about his life.

Mr. Andrews's protege in the Senate, Finance Chairman John H. Chichester (R-Stafford), visibly choked up as he gave one of the dozens of impromptu eulogies for Mr. Andrews on the Senate floor.

"If he were listening, as he is, he would come at me probably right now and put his finger on the end of my nose and ask me to shut up and sit down," Chichester said.

But they kept going anyway, for about an hour. Many senators and some lobbyists recalled not only his command of rules, procedures and the state budget, but also that he savored conflict and revenge.

Sen. R. Edward Houck (D-Spotsylvania) said Mr. Andrews was "sharp as a tack and he could be mean as a mad dog when he needed to be. Who I really have pity on is St. Peter and all those angels up there in Heaven. They don't have any earthly idea who has arrived and who's going to take command up there."

Rob Jones, a lobbyist for the Virginia Education Association, recalled a time years ago when his union was embroiled in a lawsuit with the state over unequal education funding.

"When I would go before his committee, he would lean down, pull his reading glasses to the end of his nose and say, 'Aren't you the guy who's suing me?' " Jones recalled.

Senate Clerk Susan Clarke Schaar, who worked for Mr. Andrews for decades, said he was "considered very crusty. But he also had a very soft side to him that a lot of people didn't see."

Mr. Andrews was born in Hampton, Va., and graduated from the College of William and Mary and the University of Virginia Law School in 1948. He served in the Navy during World War II in the Pacific theater.

He was a member of the Hampton School Board for five years before being elected to the state Senate in 1963. He worked with nine governors and influenced the course of Virginia government probably as much as many of them.

Jay Timmons, former chief of staff to then-Gov. Allen, recalled that he escorted the newly elected Republican governor into Mr. Andrews's office. As the courtesy meeting was almost finished, Mr. Andrews turned to him and chilled him with his opening words.

"Now young man, I am going to tell you this is the last time this is going to happen," Timmons recalled Mr. Andrews saying. "You need to understand something. The governor of Virginia never comes to the legislature, the legislature goes to the governor. The next time I see you, it will be in his office."

Mr. Andrews, with his lilting Tidewater accent and regal bearing -- his family arrived in Virginia in 1610 -- believed in decorum. He was known to cite Oliver Cromwell during floor debates and once replaced the Senate's floor covers with a burgundy carpet that he matched from the carpet in the British Parliament. A story, possibly apocryphal, goes that teenage pages in the State Capitol some years ago were told to give visitors a tour of the Senate. They made one stop, and one stop only: the office of Senate Majority Leader Andrews.

That high-handedness (he once told a new senator that he preferred the appellation "arrogant bastard") cost him his seat in 1995.

"Guys like Hunter only come along once in a generation," Sen. Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax) said at the time. "He may be the best legislator in the whole country."

Mr. Andrews, focused on statewide issues, may have taken for granted his district, a conservative, blue-collar and military area of Hampton and Newport News. While his attention was elsewhere, the area was changing, and the state was beginning to turn Republican. Mr. Andrews's loss was a preview of what was to come in Virginia politics as the GOP began its takeover of both legislative chambers.

The Republicans who set out to beat him, and to topple Democratic control of state government, were ecstatic at their 1995 victory.

"We bit the head off the snake when we knocked off Hunter Andrews," J. Scott Leake, then-director of the Joint Republican Caucus, said at the time. "He was 50 percent of the brainpower in that caucus and 80 percent of the intimidation."

A son, Hunter Booker Andrews Jr., died in 1986.

Survivors include his wife of 54 years, Cynthia Andrews of Hampton; a daughter, Bentley Andrews of Falls Church; and two grandchildren.

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