The Race to Richmond R. Creigh Deeds

Deeds an Underdog With a History of Beating the Odds

Born to a rural Virginia family with deep political roots, Creigh Deeds finds himself the underdog in the Virginia governor's race -- a position he has excelled in since the start of his political career.
By Fredrick Kunkle
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 29, 2009

HOT SPRINGS, Va. -- On a chilly October night nearly 40 years ago, as people in this tiny rural community cheered its high school football team and primped for a homecoming dance, a farm truck broke loose on the steep hill overlooking the field.

Among the hundreds in the truck's deadly path was a young boy who wandered from his mother to buy a pack of gum. The three-quarter-ton truck barreled into the concession stand, killing two children and injuring a dozen people, including 12-year-old Creigh Deeds.

Deeds, who is now running for governor against two opponents in the June 9 Democratic primary in Virginia, lapsed into a coma for 16 days. Some feared that the accident might diminish the promise of a boy who had already told his family he planned to be a lawyer and enter politics like his beloved grandfather. Yet, if anything, the accident hardened Deeds's resolve to accomplish great things, his younger brother said.

"I would say that if there was anything, maybe a driving force behind him, it could have been that. He set out to prove them wrong," said Eddy Hicklin, 40, who was born after his mother divorced Deeds's father and remarried.

Deeds, 51, who dislikes talking about the accident, has made a lifelong habit beating the odds. Running as the underdog in the primary against Terry McAuliffe and Brian Moran, Deeds said he plans to surprise people again. Although the race has been difficult to track, polls have repeatedly shown Deeds trailing McAuliffe and Moran. Deeds also spent the early months lagging in campaign money.

But one of his sayings has become the campaign's informal motto: "Always underestimated, never outworked."

Although Deeds has played up his Virginia heritage against opponents who were born and raised elsewhere, he also struggles against the perception that some of the conservative values common in rural America are out of sync with the Democratic mainstream.

Raised on a farm where there was plenty to eat if not much money, Robert Creigh Deeds displayed a precocious interest in politics and history. His family's roots in Bath County go back to 1740. His unusual name (pronounced KREE) was passed down from a Confederate hero. He was born in Richmond while his father, Robert Deeds, was working as a city police officer. His mother, Emma Hicklin, worked for the Virginia Department of Highways.

When Deeds was about 7 years old, his parents divorced. His mother returned to Bath, raising Deeds and his younger brother, Greg, in a trailer at Rock Rest, a farm that has been in his mother's family since 1803. Deeds took the divorce hard.

"He wanted to see his dad, and his dad didn't come and didn't come," Hicklin said.

Bob Deeds, who now sells cars in Charlottesville, acknowledged that he virtually disappeared from his son's life until Deeds was an adult. "It wasn't the best of divorces," he said.

Deeds's mother, who remarried and had a third son, Edward, raised the boys and found work as a mail carrier. (She still makes the rounds part time, driving more than 100 miles on her route.)

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