Baliles one of Va.'s best governors

A few days ago, another newspaper in the region published the sad news that Gov. Gerald Baliles has entered palliative care after a four year battle with cancer. In the wake of this news, a local gentleman wrote — and The News & Advance published — a vicious attack on the character of Gov. Baliles, beginning with the statement that the governor would soon be held to account for his misdeeds in “a court far higher” than the writer’s or public opinion. At least one other letter writer has expressed shock that an attack framed in these terms was published in our newspaper.

The attack is expressed in the strongest manner, even invoking Joseph Stalin, a brutal dictator responsible for the death of millions of his people. While replete with anger and inflammatory quotes, the letter is free of facts. So, a few facts about Gov. Baliles are in order.

First, an antidote to the viciousness — Baliles is widely recognized, including by those of a different political party, as honest, humble and kind. The governor’s achievements during his administration included significant transportation improvement projects, environmental protection initiatives and emphasis on higher education. He was passionate about expanding the economic base of Southwest Virginia, bringing dozens of new businesses, thousands of jobs and millions in capital improvements to the region. Always recognizing the importance of bipartisanship, he took on such activities as hosting President George H.W. Bush’s Summit on Education.

After his term as governor, he continued to work for improvements in education, especially making quality education available to rural and inner city residents. He continued to engage in these activities even while battling cancer.

The last time I saw him was at the 40th anniversary celebration for the Virginia Legal Aid Society several years ago, where he had agreed to give the keynote speech. The governor was sick with a respiratory infection and had been told by his physician to stay home. Wanting to celebrate the legal aid society’s commitment to access to justice, he attended anyway and since he could not deliver his remarks himself, recruited his daughter to do so. His remarks hit many points, including the importance of private attorneys volunteering to provide services pro bono for those without sufficient resources. His actions on that occasion are typical of his commitment and sacrifice for others.

Thank you, governor, for your exemplary life of service.



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