In any listing of great modern Virginians, Tom Bliley would stand tall, and not merely because of his own physical stature. His career in public service is exemplary in every respect. Like Cincinnatus, whenever called to serve the peoples’ interest, he stepped forward. His level of dedication is an inspiration to officeholders as well as to the citizenry at large.
Tom is a native of Richmond, where he grew up and graduated from Benedictine High School. He went on to Georgetown University, where he majored in government and graduated at age 20, after which he first served his country as a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy from 1952 to 1956. Following his naval service, he returned to Richmond to join his ancestral family funeral business, the Joseph W. Bliley Co., of which he ultimately became president.
Jimmie Currie, the late owner of the Currie Funeral Home in Kilmarnock, was one of the many who were mentored by Tom in the funeral business. Jimmie often spoke of him, and throughout his own career, remained grateful for the guidance and direction he had received from him. When Jimmie died 18 years ago, Tom was one of the mourners at his wake.
On the home front, Tom entered politics by running for the Richmond City Council on which he served as vice mayor from 1968 until 1970, then he successfully ran for mayor, serving until 1977. In 1980 he was elected to the U.S. Congress and was reelected to nine succeeding Congresses until retiring in 2000.
In most of his congressional elections he received over 70% of the vote. The electorate clearly appreciated his steadfast response in addressing their concerns. Tom is a good listener who accords the person speaking to him his complete attention. Given the depth of his knowledge, any conversation with Tom is truly a learning experience.
In his last six years in Congress, Tom was the chairman of the House Commerce Committee. During that time, among the many significant bills that he sponsored, the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, also known as the Financial Services Modernization Act, was a milestone in modern legislative history.
Upon his retirement, he returned to Richmond, but was again called to public service as co-chairman of the commission that rewrote the city charter, thereby restructuring the role of the mayor vis-a-vis the council and city manager.
Unlike the many Richmonders who have made Edwardsville in Northumberland County a version of Richmond-on-the-Potomac, Tom and his wife, Mary Virginia, made their “river home” in Deltaville on Fishing Bay, as previously had his parents, where they often could be seen on weekends. Coming to the water was a wonderful digression from the pressures of serving in public life in Richmond and in Washington.
Two of Tom’s trademarks are his ever-present bow tie and impeccably correct posture. Another is his strict attention to detail. Perhaps attributable to his lengthy career as a funeral director, Tom understands the importance of seeing matters flow on an even keel. Whether he is in charge or merely a participant, whether directing a funeral or a piece of legislation, for Tom at every turn all the pieces must be in order and all the players must be doing their proper parts. Would that every member of Congress today followed his example in that regard!
On the 28th of this month Tom will enter his 92nd year. I do not know how he will be celebrating, but I do know, wherever or whenever the party is, he will be wearing his bow tie.
Happy Birthday, Tom! Thanks for your leadership and example. “Ad multos annos!”