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The Washington Post Profiles R. Creigh Deeds

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.

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Suddenly, in mid-sentence, he stopped talking.

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He lifted his head. He looked sideways at an aide. It was quiet in the conference room. "I'm not so certain that government ought to be involved in defining that sort of relationship for people," he finally said.

His words sounded tantamount to saying that same-sex marriage should not be barred by government. Was that a fair interpretation?

"It's not an issue. I don't know . . . ," he responded. He swayed in his chair, leaned forward and ran his palms along his temples. "I'm focused on the issues I have to deal with. This is not one that is, I -- my thought has evolved on this subject over the years, through the process of being married 28 years. . . . My thoughts have evolved, and I'm in a different place than I was just a few years ago. . . . It's a subject I've been thinking about a long time, and it's not one I'm prepared to make an issue of in this campaign."

It was hard, as always, to read him. He ruminated over the amendment a little longer and reiterated why he'd voted to put it on the ballot: "I didn't think it broke new law."

Finally, he shrugged. He shuffled his feet beneath his chair. He evolved a little more. "I could well have come to a different decision had I to do it again."

'I Was All Hat and No Cattle'

Deeds's conciliatory approach is a strain in his temperament that dates to his boyhood, say childhood friends and acquaintances, who remember a shy boy quietly skilled at getting along with others, a boy who learned to manage stress from the time his parents' marriage had fallen apart.

When he was 7, his mother, Emma, picked up him and his younger brother, Greg, from an eight-week stint at their uncle's summer camp with some news: They weren't going home, and they wouldn't be living with their father any longer. For an instant, Deeds's voice quavers as he remembers his desolation. "It had an effect, no question," he said. "It was pretty traumatic."

In the next instant, he straightens in his chair. "The divorce was equally unpleasant," he remembers. At birth, he had been named Robert Creigh Deeds, but never would he remember his mother or anyone else close to him calling him Robert. His father -- the Robert who left -- had become a remote figure in his children's lives, eventually moving to the Charlottesville area. In school, the boy answered only to Creigh.

The young Deeds took refuge in the company of the man he revered, his maternal grandfather Creigh, as everybody knew him -- Austin Creigh Tyree, a longtime Democratic Party honcho in their native Bath County, a rural hamlet without a stoplight where longtime residents tended to know everyone who mattered and most who didn't. Creigh Tyree mattered. While serving as chairman of the Bath County Democrats, during the Depression, Tyree's house was the first private home in the county to receive electricity from the federal Rural Electrification Act, proof of the power of government, he told his grandson. Watching the elderly man work the circuit of county shops and farms, the boy saw the power of political maneuvering, the influence it brought a man, the way it enabled the well-connected to pick up a phone and get something previously ungettable. Young Deeds started telling elementary school teachers that he wanted to be, would be, governor someday, and then president.

His mother remarried and, not far from where Deeds's ancestors had put down stakes in the 18th century, the blended family lived in a trailer on his grandfather's farm, which had belonged to the Tyree family since the early 1800s. His mother had another son, and the family settled into lives whose rhythms were foretold by a nearby mountain. "We lived on its east side," Deeds said. East meant the less-affluent side of the Warm Springs Mountain, the hardscrabble end. Those on the west side could boast of the Homestead resort and big-spending visitors who had flocked there for the past century. The west stood for money and influence. The east-siders had a mountain to negotiate.

After his grandfather died, Deeds and his family moved into the main house. While his stepfather did his carpentry work and his mother drove long routes as a mail carrier, Deeds came home from school and helped care for the family's hogs and cattle, some of which had to be occasionally retrieved when they wandered though holes in the farm's fencing. "Most of the work we did was patch fence," he recalls. "You always were patching fence."


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