After 28 Years, Va. Lawmaker Calling It Quits
By Donald P. Baker
RICHMOND, Feb. 19 –– Amid tears and hugs, and quotes from Saint Paul and Edmund Burke, Sen. Joseph V. Gartlan Jr. (D-Fairfax), second in seniority and the leading liberal voice in a conservative body, today announced his upcoming retirement after 28 years in the General Assembly.
During a 60-minute tribute, the "senior senator from Fairfax," as Gartlan is formally acknowledged on the floor, was praised by colleagues on both sides of the aisle for his intellect, wit and passion.
"A generation will be better off" because of Gartlan's support for the mentally ill, mentally retarded and the environment, said the senior Republican, Sen. John H. Chichester (Stafford).
Gartlan, a master of contemporaneous discourse, delivered his eight-minute farewell speech from a prepared text. Befitting his erudite reputation, Gartlan quoted writers Ralph Waldo Emerson and Ogden Nash and U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.), who has reminded elected officials that they "hold the proxies of the people."
A crucial choice for public servants, Gartlan mused, is whether to "follow the voices of their own informed judgment or the opinions of the people they represent." Gartlan cited the "Irish patriot" Burke, who said "a representative owes his constituency not his industry only, but his judgment, and he betrays instead of serving his people if he sacrifices that judgment to their opinion."
Gartlan wondered: "Would a majority of our people today accept this unvarnished Tory doctrine? But if they don't, what is the value of the representative's wisdom and commitment to principled decision-making? At the end of the day, each of us, I suppose, has a point where wisdom and integrity draw the line. Finding that point is, I suggest, a good definition of our responsibility to the people."
In a lighter vein, Gartlan told colleagues, "You have left footprints on my heart -- indeed some on my backside."
Sen. Stanley C. Walker (D-Norfolk), the only senator with greater seniority, remarked on Gartlan's propensity for saying "so much, so well."
That prompted Sen. William C. Wampler Jr. (R-Bristol) to joke about the trepidation that he and other lawmakers from far Southwest Virginia, anxious to begin their 300-mile trek home, often felt on Friday afternoons when Gartlan rose to speak.
Gartlan's speech was followed by a four-minute standing ovation, during which the other 39 senators exchanged hugs and high-fives, and more than a few tears, with the tall, white-haired 73-year-old senator, a New York native who came to the Washington area to attend Georgetown University and its law school.
Watching from the front row of the gallery were Gartlan's wife, Fredona, five of their six children, grandchildren and friends.
Because the announcement was not a closely held secret, candidates to succeed him already are in place. Del. Linda T. "Toddy" Puller (D-Fairfax), 54, and former federal prosecutor Dan Rinzel, 56, who unsuccessfully sought the GOP nomination for the seat four years ago, are expected to vie for the seat in November.
Eight Democrats and eight Republicans, the latter including former senator and now state Attorney General Mark L. Earley, paid tribute to Gartlan, variously describing him as "an intellectual giant leaving at the top of his game," a man with a "golden tongue and steel-trap mind" and "a feisty Irishman who believes in what he fights for."
In a time when some politicians plea for voters to separate their official and unofficial actions, Sen. Patricia S. Ticer (D-Alexandria) said, "the public and private Joe Gartlan are one and the same."
Sen. Charles J. Colgan (D-Prince William) said that "if someone speaks ill of Joe Gartlan, no one will believe them."
Walker, Gartlan's seat mate on the first row, added: "I knew on that first day" when he arrived in 1972 that he was "bold. He left no doubt that he would challenge the old guard."
Embarrassed after the tribute, Gartlan looked pleadingly at the presiding officer, Lt. Gov. John H. Hager, and whispered, "Are we done?"
Staff writer Michael D. Shear contributed to this report.
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