On a cloudy, sultry afternoon in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Virginia Republican Senate nominee Richard D. Obenshain was buried yesterday in a cemetery at the end of a row of tombstones bearing the names of his forebears.
Earlier, hundred of mourners filled a Presbyterian church in downtown Richmond where the 42-year-old politician, killed in a plane creash, was enlogized as a man "who died pursuing a dream." The Richmond service drew much of Virginia's political leadership, but those who came to the rural Baptist church near here were mostly members of farm families who had known the Obenshains as staunch Republicans, as one put it, "back in the days when around here it look courage to be a Republican."
Obenshain, as much as any man, had helped to change that in Virginia, transforming the GOP from a letnargic political party into a dominant political force that has denied Democrats most statewide offices for a decade. He did it by carefully building the party's organization and without yielding on his conservative philosophy, points that mourners here and in Richmond recalled.
"They said Dick was too conservative," said his 79-year-old aunt Elizabeth Obenshain, who lives in the three-story Obenshain family home here. "But he never compromised his values, he never hedged on what he believed in."
"You always knew where he stood: he never waffled," said Ralph Peachee, a Republican Party precinct captain in Richmond and husband of Obenshain's campaign manager, Judy Peachee. If he was thinking of changing his mind on something, he'd call you up and let you know that and the reasons for it," Ralph Peachee said. "You don't find that very often."
Obsenshain's grave, beside that of his great uncle Halley Edison Obenshain, was dug by a bacwhoe in the early afternoon on land donated more than 100 years ago by Obenshain's great grandfather to build the first Baptist church in rural Botetourt County. The cemetery and the Mill creek Baptist Church are just down the road from the white house where Obenshains have lived since 1849.
Elizabeth Obenshain said her nephew loved to come back to Mill Creek because "he could sleep as late as he wanted. When he got grown up he said this was the most peaceful place in the world."
The Obenshain home, called "Lucy's Place" in this century after a now dead aunt, was filled with relatives and friends yesterday who had come for the short funeral service and to console the three aunts. The kitchen was stacked with pecan pies, fresh tomatoes and fried chicken that has been coming in unsolicited from neighbor since news of the plane crash reached this country, 220 miles west of Richmond.
In the parlor, near a table stacked with photgraphs of Richard Obenshain and his family, relatives talked about the man they said would have become a U.S. senator who would make Botetourt County proud.
In Richmond where Obenshain practiced law and lived, there were similar expressions from party workers who had hoped to see Obenshain this fall make the transition from party tactician to successful candidate. He was running against Democrat Andrew P. Miller, who in 1969 won the office of state attorney general by defeating Obenshain.
The Richmond service was itself a tribute to the organizational skills that Obenshain cherished as a party leader. Specially colored tickets sorted VIP's from other inside the Second Presbyterian Church, lists of pallbearers and guests were given to reporters and the 30-minute service began and ended on time.
Inside the church, the Rev. Albert Curr Vinn praised Obenshain's commitment to his conservative ideals and to the "hurly-burly of politics." "Life is measured more truly by the length of our years . . . he lived more fully in 42 years than other people do in 82."
Winn recalled his last conversation with Obenshain "last week yonder at the door of the church," in which he told Obenshain that he had an idea of what political life cost a candidate's family. "I had no notion the cost would be so great," he said, and then spoke to Obenshain's three children:
"Your Daddy died pursuing a dream, he tried to do what he thought was right. You can hold your heads high when you remember that."
As he spoke, Obenshain's widow, Helen, held her 9-year-old daughter kate. The other children, Mark, 16, and Anne Scott, 12, held each other's hand and wept.
The honorary pallbearers included the three mem Obenshain defeated for the nomination at the GOP convention in June: former Gov. Linwood Holton of McLean, former Navy secretary John W. Warner from Middleburg and state Sen. Nathan Miller of Harrisonburg. The three sat together, Warner occasionally putting his hand over his eyes, Holton with his head bowed low. Their wives, Jinx Holton and actress Elizabeth Taylor, sat nearby.
Warner is regarded as Obsenshain's most likely successor, but partly leaders are not expected to select a new nominee until Saturday, at the earliest.
Before the three-hour drive to Botetourt, a number of Obenshain loyalists and campaign workers stopped by his nearby state campaign office. In the smoky rooms whose walls were still covered with smiling posters of the candidate, young workers kept a watchful eye on Judy Peachee and other long time supporters, trying to divert their attention from sudden waves of grief through introductions and small talk.
"And this isn't even the hard part," said one county chairman. "The hard part will come tomorrow when there's nothing left to do."
There had been, she said, conversations about who the Obenshain supporters could back. "And we just don't know the answer. He was so different from the others (who actively sought the nomination)."