Former Virginia Governor Baliles ’63, Hon. ’88, Remembered

Cynthia RockwellJanuary 21, 20205min

Gerald Baliles ’63, Hon. ’88, who had served as the 65th governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia, died Oct. 29, 2019. He was 79.

A government major at Wesleyan, he earned his juris doctorate degree from the University of Virginia School of Law. After a stint in the Virginia attorney general’s office, he practiced law in Richmond, with a focus on energy and environmental issues. Elected to the Virginia House of Delegates in 1976, he became the Attorney General of the Commonwealth of Virginia in 1981, and was, during his term, selected by his peers as Outstanding Attorney General of the United States.

Elected governor in 1985, he served in that capacity from 1986 through 1991. An obituary in the Richmond Times Post noted that as governor, “[h]e delivered on his promise to make transportation an economic building block, with new roads and improvements to the port and airports in Virginia. He saw education as the key to economic development, raising teachers’ salaries and fully funding school budgets. . . . His continuing leadership was recognized by the National Governors Association when he was elected as its chairman during his term.”

A Washington Post obituary by Matt Schudel noted that “[o]ne of [Baliles’] signature accomplishments was to open doors in government for women and minorities in the commonwealth, which had been the capital of the Confederacy and was often proudly slow to change its ways,” and quoted Mary Sue Terry, who been elected attorney general of Virginia in 1985 with Baliles, as the first female to hold a statewide office there: “Mr. Baliles ‘lifted Virginia’s profile nationally, and helped Virginians see themselves differently. Jerry then flipped the state’s image, from the Old Dominion to the New,’” she said in 1988.

The author of Preserving the Chesapeake Bay: Lessons in the Political Reality of Natural Resource Stewardship (Diane Publishing Co., 1995), Baliles continued to serve Virginia in a number of capacities, including as chairman of the Public Broadcasting System. An attorney with Hunton & Williams, he left in 2006 and became director and CEO of the University of Virginia Miller Center, where he created the National Discussion and Debate Series and the National War Powers Commission.

Emil Frankel ’61, senior fellow at the Eno Center for Transportation, who served as commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Transportation and as assistant secretary for Transportation Policy at the US Department of Transportation under President George W. Bush, recalls Baliles warmly. The two served together on the Wesleyan Board of Trustees when Baliles was an alumni-elected trustee from 1989–92. “He was a tremendously active and influential trustee during his three years on the board,” recalls Frankel. “There was a kind of humility and humanness about him that one doesn’t always find in people who have been so successful in public life.”

The two also shared a commitment to solving transportation issues through public service. “He was a public leader on a range of issues who turned his attention to transportation and made it a priority,” said Frankel. “As governor of Virginia, he recognized the changing geography of northern Virginia and made the first significant commitment to improving transportation infrastructure in the region.”

Additionally, Frankel recalls that Baliles’ interest in national transportation issues led him to chair a national task force commission on aviation under the Clinton Administration. Baliles also was chairman of the Public Infrastructure Subcouncil of the Competitiveness Policy Council and invited Frankel to join the team. “I think it fair to say that Jerry undertook a major role in transportation, which continued through his time at the Miller Institute. He made a real impact on prodding the public and public leaders to recognize transportation challenges and invest in them.”

Among those who survive Baliles is his wife of 16 years, Robin Marshall Deal Baliles; his daughter, son, and two stepdaughters; four grandchildren; his former wife, Jeannie Patterson Baliles; and his father-in-law, Lt. Col. (Ret.) Robert W. Marshall.