Owen B. Pickett, Virginia congressman who supported defense efforts, dies at 80

Mr. Pickett speaks at Virginia Wesleyan College. He guided defense spending to his district, which included Virginia Beach and Norfolk.
Mr. Pickett speaks at Virginia Wesleyan College. He guided defense spending to his district, which included Virginia Beach and Norfolk. (2006 Photo By Charlie Meads)
By Adam Bernstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 28, 2010; 5:27 PM

Owen B. Pickett, 80, a Democrat who served seven terms in the the U.S. House of Representatives and who was known for steering federal dollars for defense funding to a district that included the naval and shipbuilding hub of Norfolk, died Oct. 27 at his home in Virginia Beach. He had congestive heart failure.

The soft-spoken legislator was a certified public accountant and lawyer before being elected in 1972 to the Virginia House of Delegates, where he became a member of the tax-writing House Appropriations Committee.

He was chairman of the Virginia Democratic Party in the early 1980s, flirted with a U.S. Senate run in 1982 and then launched a successful House bid in 1986.

On Capitol Hill, Mr. Pickett was a member of the House Armed Services Committee and used his accounting knowledge to help craft the defense budget to his district's advantage. He was known for his attention to the Navy and shipbuilding industries, which sustained the Tidewater area of southeastern Virginia.

In addition to Norfolk, his district included Virginia's Eastern Shore and Virginia Beach. He often worked with congressmen in bordering districts as well as then-Sen. John Warner (R-Va.) to steer billions of dollars in military contracts to their corner of the state.

One of the biggest beneficiaries of their congressional support was Newport News Shipbuilding. In the 1990s, the congressmen prevented a competing Connecticut shipbuilder from winning a monopoly on a Navy contract for new submarines.

Mr. Pickett shared an interest in missile defense with Republicans on the Armed Services Committee - he served on the subcommittees on military research and development - and often sided with the GOP majority on environmental issues such as water and power.

Owen Bradford Pickett was born in Richmond on Aug. 31, 1930. He grew up in rural Hanover and Caroline counties.

He graduated from Virginia Tech in Blacksburg in 1952 and from the University of Richmond law school three years later. He then opened a law practice in Richmond.

Mr. Pickett was not a candidate for reelection to the U.S. House in 2000. He focused on developing real estate, including a planned community called Pendleton, near Ladysmith in Caroline County. It has an 18-hole championship golf course.

Survivors include his wife of 57 years, Sybil Kelly Pickett of Virginia Beach; three daughters, Laura Pereira of Mattapoisett, Mass., and Karen Pontes and Mary MacLeod, both of Virginia Beach; a sister, Evelyn Carneal of Doswell, Va.; and eight grandchildren.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company