by Henry Lane Hull
Bristow Balderson was involved in numerous arenas of public service in the Northern Neck over the course of his highly productive lifetime. He served his native Richmond County in appointed positions on the planning commission, the board of zoning appeals and as president of the Richmond County Farm Bureau. He was a charter and founding member of the Newland Volunteer Fire Department where he remained active all the while pursuing his other responsibilities. He enjoyed engaging in public service and practicing the life of a small country farmer.
In the latter area he came to be known to folks all across the Neck from his participation in the annual Richmond County Fair. In that venue he and his wife, Indianola, enjoyed displaying some of their Murray Gray cattle. Those who attended the fair in Warsaw each summer might have come away from it with many different memories, but one of which certainly would have been seeing Bristow’s cows and listening to him describe their special qualities.
Murray Grays, as I learned from many chats with Bristow, are an Australian breed that resulted in 1905 by chance from a cross of a black Aberdeen Angus bull and a Shorthorn cow during the great Australian drought. The ensuing years led to the offspring advancing and becoming recognized as a distinct breed of cattle. Raising cattle in the Northern Neck is not as extensive as it was a half-century ago, but with the introduction of more exotic breeds such as Bristow’s Murray Grays, Stratford Hall’s Red Devons and the Belted Galloways at Ditchley, perhaps a comeback will be in the offing.
I do not know how many other farmers in the Northern Neck raise Murray Grays, but I do know that Bristow was the acknowledged guru in all matters relating to the breed. At the fair he also displayed other critters, but clearly cows were his passion.
Murray Grays are known for being docile and easy to manage. Perhaps from his devoted personal attention Bristow’s cows even could be called gentle, or actually friendly. They never seemed to have been bothered by the hordes of strange people gaping at them and usually were happy to be petted.
In the realm of politics Bristow closely followed legislation and spoke frequently about political measures that he considered to be important for the good of the Commonwealth as a whole. Twenty years ago he was particularly concerned that the so-called Kings Dominion bill not pass the General Assembly. That legislation would have prohibited local school districts from opening classes for the fall term until after Labor Day. The unusual-sounding name of the bill comes from the pressure the amusement park exerted to keep lower-wage, school-age employees on the job through the lucrative Labor Day weekend.
In Bristow’s mind education was the most important public service government rendered and he focused on what he thought would be best for the children of Virginia. He spoke on this topic extensively and resisted being convinced to the contrary by the arguments the park’s lobbyists tried to put forth. Typically, he did not like big government and thought local school boards would know what was the best course for their pupils’ academic success and advancement.
Bristow was a keen observer of the passing scene. He could discuss virtually any topic that arose and although his opinions were firm, he could engage in dialog with those of other viewpoints with gentlemanly banter. He was close to nature and the land, which he saw from a Christian perspective and which he hoped to see preserved and conserved. He had utter disdain for waste, whether at the national, regional or local level. He appreciated our resources and sought to nurture them for the benefit of the present generations as well as those to come. He was a true steward of the bounty of the earth.
As our land continues to be swallowed up by development and subdivisions, individuals who treasure it for what it affords the community are all the more necessary. Bristow Balderson was among the most eminent of those who cared about our environment, be it agricultural, economic or political. He did his part to keep the Northern Neck the pristine place it is.
Clifton Bristow Balderson, June 30, 1919 – March 18, 2019. R.I.P.