This past summer the Virginia Marine Resources Commission launched a new marine patrol boat, the W. A. Pruitt, named in honor of the commission’s longtime former chairman Bill Pruitt. The vessel will serve the Middle Bay region from its home berth at Tangier Island, where Bill was born and raised.
The commission’s action in naming the boat for Bill Pruitt is a highly deserved and merited recognition of his dedicated service to the commission over the 26 years of his chairmanship, the longest in the commission’s history, and far more broadly to the multifaceted life of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries.
Bill understands the bay intuitively and intellectually. Throughout his career, he brought to the commission a background deeply rooted in both history and science. His memory for detail and overall breadth of knowledge are astounding, making him an ideal resource as the commission’s chairman.
Prior to becoming commissioner, Bill had served in the Northern Neck as the county administrator of Richmond County. During his tenure in Warsaw, he oversaw the implementation of the county’s zoning ordinances as well as the rapid expansion of the town as a commercial hub of the region. He remains acutely interested in the Northern Neck and regularly follows our comings and goings from his unique perspective.
The VMRC is the successor to the former Virginia Commission of Fisheries and is a component of the Secretariat of Natural Resources. Its multi-faceted jurisdiction covers all matters relating to the marine and aquatic life of the bay and the property rights and obligations of waterfront landowners. Throughout his lengthy service as commissioner, Bill meticulously maintained a balance between the often-conflicting interests of commercial and recreational users of the bay, and he established a framework for overseeing disputes with an even hand, respecting the rights and views of everyone involved.
At the hearings before the commission, the commissioner presides, but votes only in cases of a tie among the eight members, each of whom is appointed by the governor and approved by the General Assembly. Bill’s ability to conduct what frequently were contentious meetings was legendary.
He consistently gave every party the opportunity to speak, always maintaining proper decorum that led to a harmonious atmosphere, despite the strong opinions of many of the attendees, which could have deteriorated into chaos at the hands of a presider less adept at keeping dignity and order. He earned the continuing respect of both political parties and each of the governors and secretaries of natural resources under whom he served.
Bill speaks with the delightful 17th-century English accent characteristic of a Tangierman. The centuries of isolation from the mainland were the cause of the Islanders passing on from generation to generation their unique inflections and intonations that are intriguing for others of us to hear. When Tangiermen would speak at the commission meetings and Bill would reply, listeners were transported audibly to a different era.
Throughout the Chesapeake Bay area from Hampton Roads to the tidal extremities of the bay’s tributaries, the Virginia Marine Police provide crucially significant service in seeing to law enforcement on the water and in overseeing rescue operations for those in distress. The officers have the same authority in matters affecting the waterways that the Virginia State Police have on land. They are trained to enforce the laws and regulations enacted by the General Assembly and the VMRC.
The good ship W. A. Pruitt now has joined the commission’s roster of vessels seeing to those vitally important ends. In the years to come may all who serve on board it reflect the honor and integrity of the person whose name it nobly bears.