Colgate W. Darden Jr., 84, governor of Virginia during World War II and president of the University of Virginia who raised a calm voice for peaceful integration of the state's public schools, died at his home in Norfolk Tuesday following a heart attack.
A farmer, a lawyer, a businessman, a Democrat, a member of the state legislature, a member of Congress, a governor, an educator, a delegate to the United Nations and a constitutional reformer, Gov. Darden was widely regarded as the Old Dominion's elder statesman in the closing years of his life.
Like Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence and founder of the University of Virginia, Gov. Darden held a profound belief in education as an essential part of a sound and just society.
Like most of his contemporaries in the South, he believed in segregation of the races. Unlike many of them, he decried segregation as a means of oppression.
He believed blacks were as entitled to a decent education at state expense as whites and also to the other rights and responsibilities of citzenship, such as service on juries. Unlike all but a small minority of his contemporaries, he was not prepared to sacrifice the state's education system to defy federal court orders to integrate.
In 1956, when the political organization of the late Sen. Harry F. Byrd devised a system of "massive resistance" to school integration, Gov. Darden was outspoken in his pleas for moderation. The "massive resistance" laws would have cut off state funds to any school district where integration took place.
Gov. Darden warned that this and other aspects of "massive resistance" would destroy Virginia's public schools.
A decade and more earlier, as the state's chief executive, Gov. Darden called on the General Assembly to provide more funds to improve schools throughout the state and to provide scholarships to blacks who wished to enter the professions.
He also retired the debt Virginia carried from the Civil War, worked for penal reform and left a surplus in the state treasury when his term in office was over.
As president of the University of Virginia from 1947 to 1959, he transformed a rather exclusive preserve for the privately educated sons of affluent families into a more democratic institution where the primary concern was the student's ability. He reduced influence of the university's social fraternities and increased its academic standing.
He was instrumental in founding its graduate school of business administration, which is named after him. He expressed concern that the public schools of Virginia must be improved so its high school graduates would be properly prepared for the University of Virginia.
He forbade freshman, many of whom were veterans just returned from World War II, from keeping cars at school. He directed that students live in dormitories. He was undeterred when he was hanged in effigy.
Gov. Darden called education the "engine of civilization." In an interview in 1966 when he looked back on a public career that had spanned 40 years, he said his years as head of the university had been a "fabulously interesting journey."
In the same interview, he said the state's most pressing problem was ending disparities among its educational institutions and systems. That reason he fought for revisions in Virginia's constitution that would make this process easier without sacrificing quality.
"The ever-present danger is the confusion of a broadly based education with a good education," he said. "You can turn out any number of numbskulls and it doesn't help society any."
At Gov. Darden's death, Gov. John N. Dalton ordered the flag at the State Capitol lowered to half-staff. Like other Republican and Democratic leaders, Dalton hailed Gov. Darden for his statesmanship and moderation.
Sen. Harry F. Byrd Jr. (I-Va.) said, "Virginia has lost a great statesman who rendered inestimable services to the Commonwealth." Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.) called the governor "a statesman Virginia shared with the world."
Former governor Mills E. Godwin said, "In government, education, business and philanthropy, he has left an enduring legacy." Former governor Linwood A. Holton said Gov. Darden "was a dear friend and I shall sorely miss him. He was my governor when I was governor, always ready to help me sympathize with me and inject his sense of humor to encourage me."
Lt. Gov. Charles S. Robb, whose name Gov. Darden put in nomination for the Democratic candidate for governor at the party convention in Norfolk May 30, said, "We have lost one of the truly great men of our time." Attorney General J. Marshall Coleman, Robb's Republican opponent for the governorship, said Gov. Darden "stood tall among those in our lifetimes who have preserved the good things about Virginia."
Colgate Whitehead Darden Jr. was born on a farm in Southampton County in the southern Tidewater of Virginia. His father was a banker and the youngster was educated at public schools. When he gratuated from high school in 1913, the class prophet predicted that one day young Darden would be governor of the state.
The future governor enrolled in the University of Virginia -- years later, he recalled that it had been hard going with his modest academic background -- but left to become an ambulance driver with French army during World War I. He took part in several campaigns and then became ill.
When the United States entered the war in 1917, he went into the fledgling naval air service, was transferred to the Marine Corps, as a pilot and returned to France, where he saw more action. In the closing days of the war, his plane crashed and he sustained injuries that hospitalized him for a year.
When he was well again, Gov. Darden returned to the University of Virginia, where he graduated in 1922. The following year, taking advantage of a system of wartime credits, he earned a master's degree and a law degree at Columbia University. There followed a year of study at Oxford University in England.
Gov. Darden then returned home and began the practice of law. In 1929, he was elected to the House of Delegates of the Virginia General Assembly. In 1932, he was elected to Congress. In 1936, having aroused the ire of President Franklin D. Roosevelt through his lukewarm support of certain New Deal measures, he was defeated for reelection. Two years later, he was back in Congress.
Years later, Gov. Darden described his interrupted congressional career in these terms: "I was kicked out unceremoniously because some of my constituents thought I was not as much of a New Dealer as I should have been and, looking back on it now, they were probably right and I was wrong."
In 1941, he resigned from Congress to run for governor. He was elected and served a four-year term.
"The great experience was to show the sterling qualities of the people of Virginia in such a frightening time," he said of those wartime years. "The splendid cooperation in getting things done. . . . You never got a dodge, never got a refusal."
At the end of the gubernatorial term, the governor was offered an opportunity to go to the U.S. Senate to fill the seat of Carter Glass, who had died. He declined and became chancellor of the College of William and Mary. The following year, he was named president of the University of Virginia.
Over the years, Gov. Darden continued to serve in government. He was a member of the U.S. delegation to the United Nations in 1955, a member of an intelligence oversight committee and a member of state and national bodies and commissions on education. He continued many business interests from his office in Norfolk.
Gov. Darden's survivors include his wife, the former Constance S. du Pont, a member of the industrial family, of Norfolk; one son, Colgate W. III, a professor of physics at the University of South Carolina at Columbia, and one daughter, Irene Greenfield, wife of U.S. diplomat stationed in Korea. Another son, Pierre, was lost at sea in 1959 at the age of 17 while sailing from Norfolk to the Caribbean.