Jay Shropshire, the former Virginia Senate clerk who wielded vast political influence at the state Capitol while ensuring the smooth day-to-day operation of the legislative assembly, died May 23 at Loudoun Hospital Center's Leesburg campus after a stroke. He was 59 and made his home in Middleburg, where he had worked as a business consultant and lobbyist in recent years.
Mr. Shropshire, a lifelong and ardent Democrat, served five terms as the Senate clerk from 1971 to 1990. Elected by the Senate, Mr. Shropshire was essentially the chief administrative officer with responsibilities over maintaining all Senate records, assigning bills to committees, keeping the daily journal of proceedings and managing the facilities.
The job positioned him at the center of the inner workings of Virginia state politics, including three years as chief of staff for former governor L. Douglas Wilder. During Mr. Shropshire's tenure, then one of the longest at the Capitol, he developed into a keen veteran strategist and influential political figure. Working out of a windowless office off the Senate Chamber, he nurtured close relationships with some of Virginia's most powerful political leaders and maintained those ties throughout the years among a vast network of friends and associates.
He was said to relish Senate politics with a management style described as old-school politics, in which loyalty was rewarded and betrayal punished.
But he also was a gregarious character who loved parties, said Sen. H. Russell Potts Jr. (R-Winchester), who last spoke with Mr. Shropshire by telephone Friday afternoon.
Potts regularly attended Mr. Shropshire's annual Christmas parties held at Middleburg's Red Fox Inn in the shadow of the Blue Ridge and Bull Run mountains.
"He was a big-picture kind of guy," Potts said. "His bottom line always was, what was in the best interest of Virginia. He'd look you right in the eye, give you his full attention as if nothing else in the world mattered at that moment. He had so much more living to do."
Mr. Shropshire was a native of Martinsville in southwestern Virginia. He graduated from National Business College in Roanoke and received a master's degree in business administration from the College of William and Mary.
He began his career in 1967 as a low-level clerk for the state House of Delegates. He became a protege of Del. A.L. Philpott, a country lawyer from the Martinsville area who later became House speaker.
When Mr. Shropshire was Senate clerk, he befriended then-state Sen. Wilder and engineered a surprise endorsement of Wilder's successful bid for lieutenant governor in 1985 from Philpott, then speaker.
Mr. Shropshire, who in the 1980s chaired the state Compensation Board, went on to serve as chief of staff to then-Gov. Wilder in 1990.
But after three years as Wilder's liaison to the Cabinet and senior lobbyist, Mr. Shropshire abruptly resigned amid a controversy over a "bugging" device in 1993.
His once close relationship with Wilder cooled after Mr. Shropshire alleged that his office had been planted with an electronic listening device. A federal investigation failed to determine who might have placed the device.
"My goal in every position has been the betterment of government for the commonwealth and for all Virginians," Mr. Shropshire wrote in his resignation letter to Wilder.
Survivors include his wife, Anne Gravely Shropshire of Richmond; a son, Richard T. "Rusty" Shropshire of Virginia Beach; and two sisters.