IRVINGTON—A. Linwood Holton Jr., former Governor of Virginia, died on October 28, 2021. A lifelong Virginian, he passed away peacefully at home at Rappahannock-Westminster-Canterbury (RWC) in Irvington.
A moderate Republican, Holton is widely seen as the founder of Virginia’s modern two-party system. In 1969, he assembled an alliance of business, labor and the Black community, defeating the conservative Democratic machine that had ruled Virginia for nearly a century and becoming the state’s first Republican governor since Reconstruction.
His promotion of civil rights was pioneering and defined his professional and personal life. He was best known for the integration of Virginia’s schools. While other southern governors had stood in schoolhouse doors, keeping Black children out, Holton escorted his children to formerly all-Black schools in 1970. As governor, he also created the modern Virginia cabinet, cleaned up Virginia’s rivers, replaced racist school textbooks, unified the Port of Virginia and expanded funding for mental health.
Holton was born in Big Stone Gap in 1923 to Abner Linwood Holton Sr. and Edith Van Gorder, one of four children. He attended Washington and Lee University and Harvard Law School. He enlisted in the U.S. Navy in World War II, entered the submarine corps, and participated in the post-war occupation of Japan. He practiced law in Roanoke, where he married Virginia (Jinks) Rogers in 1953 and raised four children.
Holton’s later work included leading the Center for Innovative Technology, helping create the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, and practicing law at McCandlish Holton.
He served on the boards of Amtrak, the Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority, the Virginia Institute for Marine Science, the Miller Center at the University of Virginia (which he helped found), the College of William and Mary, Hampton University, and many others.
He loved gardening and fishing on the Chesapeake Bay, and he loved and was so proud of his family. He and Jinks skied and played tennis well into their 80s.
Holton’s life was grounded in his faith. He attended Presbyterian churches across the state, where he variously sang in the choir, taught Sunday school and served in leadership roles. In 2008, he published a memoir titled with his life’s motto, “Opportunity Time.”
He is survived by his wife of 68 years, Jinks Holton; his children, Tayloe Loftus (Jon Loftus), Anne Holton (Tim Kaine), Woody Holton (Gretchen Schoel), and Dwight Holton (Mary Ellen Glynn); his sister, Harriet Jones; 10 grandchildren; and numerous other relatives and friends.
Memorial services will be held in Kilmarnock, for family and local friends, and in Richmond, for the public, on December 18 and 19, respectively. Further information will be available through Currie Funeral Home.
The family thanks RWC, and especially Teresa Burrell, Maude Harris and Jami Seagle for their loving care. Gifts in lieu of flowers may be made to the Linwood Holton Elementary School (via designation through the Richmond Public Schools Education Foundation) or to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.