At the Capitol, a phalanx of reporters and photographers records the Jan. 17, 1970, swearing-in of A. Linwood Holton as Virginia's first Republican governor in the 20th century. In the forefront, standing at the far right, are (from left) outgoing Gov. Mills E. Godwin (who served a second term as governor from 1974 to 1978), Lt. Gov. J. Sargeant Reynolds, Attorney General Andrew P. Miller and outgoing Lt. Gov. Fred G. Pollard.The John Marshall Hotel at Fifth and Main streets may be shuttered and deteriorating, but the once grand hostelry holds fond political memories for A. Linwood Holton, in 1969 the first Republican elected Virginia's governor since Reconstruction.
It was there that he and his wife, Virginia — or “Jinks” — stayed inaugural eve. “Suite 1103 up on the corner was the choice location,” Holton says. “We had been there in November on Election Night. There's where I received a telephone call from President Nixon. He was very elated because it looked like his efforts to build a national [Republican] party were growing with my election and Bill Cahill's election in New Jersey.”
On inaugural morning, Jan. 17, 1970, outgoing Gov. Mills E. Godwin and his wife, Katherine, came to the hotel via motorcade for the Holtons and the short ride back to the State Capitol. “I do know it was traditional for the incumbent governor to escort the governor-elect in an open car,” Holton recalls. “It was a quiet drive.” He and Mills Godwin had been political rivals. Godwin, a Democrat who later switched parties, had defeated Holton in the 1965 gubernatorial campaign.
Holton is particularly proud of his inaugural speech, he says: “I planned that with a great deal of premeditation. It was my intention that racial matters be addressed. I had campaigned on a platform of more blacks in executive positions. When I said, ‘The age of defiance is past,' I had in mind the performance of Wallace and Barnett standing in doorways.” George Wallace and Ross Barnett, as governors of Alabama and Mississippi, respectively, had vehemently opposed school desegregation. Holton credits Staige Blackford, his press secretary, and J. Harvey Wilkinson Jr., now a federal judge, with drafting the speech. “But I was responsible for the themes,” he says.
After the swearing-in, during the brief interval before the inaugural parade, the Holtons had a few friends and dignitaries to the Executive Mansion, just steps away, for a light lunch. U.S. Attorney General John Mitchell officially represented Nixon and was accompanied by Martha, his famously outspoken wife. “Martha, in her flamboyant way,” Holton says, “went flying from room to room and said, ‘Well Jinks, it's just beautiful, but where in the hell are the antiques?' It was beautifully decorated, but all of the furniture was modern or reproductions.” Within weeks the Holtons began a concerted campaign to acquire period pieces for the mansion.
That evening the Holtons initiated an event that had never been held, an inaugural ball — actually, three of them. “Balls were customary at the national level,” Holton says, and Virginia Republicans were jubilant. “We had many people enthusiastic about that inauguration.”