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Under questioning by 4th Circuit at pipeline hearing, state concedes Union Hill's racial status

Lakshmi Fjord began to cry after an attorney for the State Air Pollution Control Board conceded in federal court Tuesday that Union Hill, a community established by freed slaves in Buckingham County after the Civil War, is indeed overwhelmingly populated by African Americans.

Deputy Solicitor General Martine Cicconi made the concession under sharp questioning by Chief Judge Roger Gregory in the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. It came during a hearing on the legality of an air pollution permit the state board issued in January for a natural gas compressor station on the site of a former plantation where the forebears of some Union Hill residents worked as slaves.

The outcome remains uncertain, but two environmental organizations’ appeal of the state air permit represents yet another hurdle at the 4th Circuit for the 600-mile, $7.75 billion Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

The pipeline company, led by Dominion Energy, already is preparing to argue before the U.S. Supreme Court in an effort to reverse the appeals court’s decision last year to block a federal permit for the pipeline to cross beneath the Appalachian Trail.

The state’s admission hit Fjord hard because she had led a community study that began more than four years ago with a door-to-door survey to document who lives around the proposed compressor station site. The state and pipeline company had disputed the finding that Union Hill is a predominantly African American community that would be disproportionately harmed by the project.

“It was hugely vindicating for all of us,” said Fjord, a University of Virginia anthropologist who learned last month that the National Trust for Historical Preservation would finance another community effort to map the history of Union Hill and its families.

Dominion also claimed some vindication separately Tuesday from a Virginia Department of Health study released last month that concluded that the concentrations of air pollutants from the compressor station would not pose a health hazard because they are far below the threshold for hazardous exposure.

The study, performed after the state issued the permit, recommends that actual air pollution concentrations “be evaluated for public health implications” if the compressor station is built.

“The results are reassuring,” said Dominion spokesman Aaron Ruby, who cited the additional pollution controls and monitors the air board required — beyond those recommended by the Department of Environmental Quality staff — as conditions of the permit.

Ruby also cited Dominion’s efforts to address the concerns of Union Hill residents, including promised investments in a new rescue squad and community center. “We have a profound respect for Union Hill and its history, and we’re determined to do right by the community,” he said.

The project already is more than two years behind schedule and about $3 billion overbudget, in large part because of legal setbacks in the 4th Circuit.

In addition to the Appalachian Trail crossing, the appeals court has vacated federal permits — twice — that had determined the project would not pose an existential threat to endangered or threatened animal species in its path from West Virginia to southeastern Virginia and eastern North Carolina.

The court also blocked the pipeline from crossing beneath the Blue Ridge Parkway. The 4th Circuit upheld the state water quality permit issued for the project.

The state issued the air permit in January after a highly contentious series of public hearings that focused sharply on whether the 58,000-horsepower compressor station posed a threat to environmental justice because of its effect on Union Hill.

For Gregory, the first African American appointed to the Richmond-based appeals court, the primary issue was whether state air pollution regulators had even tried to compare the compressor station’s potential health effects on Union Hill residents with the effects on their neighbors elsewhere in Buckingham, where the population is predominantly white.

“What is the key to justice? Fairness, isn’t it?” the judge asked Cicconi.

Elbert Lin, a Richmond attorney for the pipeline company, said the state board had properly compared the health effects on the compressor station’s neighbors with the pollution burden on people elsewhere in Virginia.

“If you draw your circle small enough, there’s always going to be a disproportionate impact,” Lin said.

Gregory shot back that the state doesn’t know what the effect of the compressor station would be on other county residents because it never tried to measure it.

“Don’t you want to know how the area compares to fellow Buckinghamians?” he asked.

The other major issue raised in the appeal by the Southern Environmental Law Center and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation is whether the state should have considered electric-powered motors instead of gas-fired combustion turbines as an alternative that would further reduce the effects of air pollutants, especially microscopically fine soot.

The environmental groups challenge the state’s assertion that the permit is the most stringent for any natural gas compressor station in the United States because they say that does not include those that rely on electric motors rather than gas turbines to operate.

“The error of the DEQ was not considering it at all,” said David Neal, an attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center, based in Charlottesville.

Cicconi said Virginia air quality regulations do not require the Department of Environmental Quality to consider an alternative that fundamentally changes the project proposed by an applicant such as the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

“The agency is not in the business of telling Atlantic or any other applicant how to compress gas,” she said.

Instead, Cicconi and Lin argued that the DEQ went beyond the regulations by requiring the project to use “the best available control technology” to limit what is legally considered a minor source of pollution.

Gregory asked in response, “What if the Band-Aids don’t work and they still don’t meet the emission standards sought?”

Union Hill residents who attended said they were heartened by what they heard in court on Tuesday.

“I thought it was great, great, great,” said John Laury, an African American who lives and owns an orchard about a mile from the site. “They cut through a lot of the rhetoric we have been listening to for approximately five years.”

Answers from the candidates

With dozens of local elective offices and all 140 seats in the General Assembly up for grabs Nov. 5, we asked candidates why voters should pick them.

Their responses will be printed throughout the week and also can be read on Richmond.com.

Sunday: General Assembly

Monday: Richmond City Council’s 5th District

Tuesday: Chesterfield Board of Supervisors and School Board

Wednesday: Hanover Board of Supervisors

Thursday: Henrico Board of Supervisors and School Board

Friday: Chesterfield sheriff and commonwealth’s attorney, and Henrico sheriff and commonwealth’s attorney

Candidates for Hanover Board of Supervisors focused on expanding internet access in rural areas, limiting residential development growth (print)

More than half of the seats on the Hanover County Board of Supervisors will be contested in next week’s election, but with only three candidates running, Democrats won’t be picking up a majority on the seven-member board no matter how the voting goes.

South Anna Supervisor Wayne Hazzard is retiring, and Cold Harbor Supervisor Scott Wyatt will leave as he is seeking a seat in the Virginia House of Delegates, meaning there will be at least two new supervisors next year.

Hanover School Board member Susan Dibble, who is running as a Republican, will face Democrat Clara James Scott. Vying for the second vacant seat are newcomers Michael Herzberg and James Doran.

Running unopposed are Ashland District Supervisor Faye Prichard (the board’s only Democrat), Chickahominy Supervisor Angela Kelly-Wiecek and Mechanicsville Supervisor W. Canova Peterson, the board’s current chairman.

Republican supervisors Aubrey “Bucky” Stanley and Sean Davis are the only incumbents whose races are contested. Stanley faces Democrat Crystal Robens, and Davis will face off against independent candidate Daryl Chesley.


Aubrey M. “Bucky” Stanley Jr. Republican

Family-run business owner, timber industry

Question: Why are you running for office?

Answer: I’ve been here a long time. I support keeping taxes low to support businesses coming here. I’ve never voted for a tax rate increase because I think we should only spend within our means.

Question: What issues appear to be the most important to constituents in your district?

Answer: In my district, people don’t want more housing. It would mean having to pay for more schools and public services. People are also concerned about the lack of broadband and internet service.

Crystal Robens Democrat

Process improvement engineer and efficiency expert for a federally funded research and development center

Question: Why are you running for office?

Answer: I decided to run because no office should be a lifetime appointment and I believe the issues in our district are reaching a critical tipping point. I have been knocking on doors for months to tell people how important this local election is, and ask them about their concerns. Despite being in office since I was in kindergarten, I have never spoken to a single person who has also heard from my opponent at their door. I may not be able to agree with every person in the district, but I can certainly pledge to listen to them. I chose to run for Board of Supervisors because it is so nonpartisan they don’t even put an “R” or a “D” next to your name and I like that. Choose your representatives based on whether they will do a good job. National political issues have very little effect on local government. I am running for office because I am highly qualified, have the time and ability to serve, I am not beholden to any special interests or the construction industry, and our citizens deserve an active participant as their representative, who will get things done.

Question: What issues appear to be the most important to constituents in your district?

Answer: The primary issues that I see in our region are inadequate access to high-speed internet and teacher salaries (thousands lower than the national average) that are causing us to lose qualified, experienced teachers as they can be paid over $10,000 more by going to neighboring counties. Hanover is known for great schools, but how can they stay great if some of our children cannot even do their required work online and all of their amazing teachers are leaving? Our district is in critical need of economic development, but how can we attract businesses and medical facilities if they cannot access the reliable high-speed internet they require to operate? I also hear complaints from constituents about overdevelopment. I believe it is important to staff the board with citizens who are not beholden to the construction industry for their paycheck as this creates a conflict of interest. Development is not the best solution for internet as it creates a deep chasm between the new homes — “the haves” and the existing homes “the have nots.” Also, as residential development is mostly tax negative (meaning it costs the county money), we should be focusing more on economic development to draw in tax dollars rather than destroying the rural nature of our beautiful county. We need plans to support our farmers rather than turning family farms into cookie-cutter communities. I love living in Hanover. I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. I think most of the citizens here feel the same way. The board is elected to protect the way of life that we have come to love while allowing for growth and improving our infrastructure to support it. It is a delicate balance and it is important to have representatives who understand and can share many perspectives.


F. Michael Herzberg IV Republican

Master gasfitter, owner of a small HVAC business

Question: Why are you running for office?

Answer: I am a 26-year resident of Mechanicsville and reside in the Locust Hill subdivision near Cold Harbor and Walnut Grove Road. I am 52 years of age, and I own and operate a small heating and A/C business. I have 32 years of hard work experience, mostly listening to people and fixing problems.

Question: What issues appear to be the most important to constituents in your district?

Answer: Hanover is a great place to live, work, and raise a family, and it must be preserved. Strong leadership and good management skills are required at the local level to manage growth, expand high-speed internet, and keep our schools and communities safe.

James P. Doran II Democrat

Budget and forecasting manager at Virginia Information Technologies Agency

Question: Why are you running for office?

Answer: I’m running for the Board of Supervisors to give back to the community that has been so great to me and my family. In Hanover, the Board of Supervisors has many responsibilities and should have members who want to make a positive difference in citizens’ lives. Also, I believe it’s important that the Board of Supervisors has at least one or more members with children in the school system because education spending makes up the largest portion of the county budget. That first-hand knowledge of the teachers and administration as well as the challenges they are facing is critically important. Lastly, I want to be a voice for ALL county residents — opening lines of communication between the county government and the citizens is a top priority.

Question: What issues appear to be the most important to constituents in your district?

Answer: Expansion of reliable high-speed internet access is a top priority and one that I’ve already started working on as a candidate. Lack of high-speed internet affects all aspects of daily life — students can’t do assignments, businesses don’t want to locate in places without it, home values suffer for those that don’t have it, etc.

Another important issue is making sure compensation for our wonderful teachers is on par with other localities in the metro Richmond region.

Hanover lags behind neighbors Henrico, Chesterfield and the city of Richmond for virtually every year of service beyond year 15.

Losing experienced teachers because they can be better compensated is an issue that needs to be addressed.

Lastly, proper land use decisions are very important to residents of Cold Harbor. It is a mostly rural district with a great deal of farmland and open spaces between residences. Folks live in the Cold Harbor District because they like the quiet, rural character it has. Recent boards have had ties to developers, real estate agencies and industries that would benefit from additional development. I will make sure that Cold Harbor maintains its rural character as well as work to provide options for our family farms so they can continue to be profitable businesses.


Sean M. Davis Republican

Founder of Commonwealth Training Partners, Marine Corps veteran

Question: Why are you running for office?

Answer: I was encouraged to seek re-election by many of my constituents and a number of Hanover County leaders. Over the past few years we have made tremendous strides, and we have had many successes in Hanover County. My constituents know that I am open, responsive, and will advance their issues. As an active member of my community prior to serving on the Board of Supervisors, holding public office has really been a continuation of service to my fellow Hanovarians. I have been engaged in Hanover County long before I held public office and being asked to run for re-election by constituents means I felt an obligation to seek another term. Hanover is in the best position we have seen in many years: record low unemployment, low crime rates and high clearance rates, substantial economic development that doesn’t stress infrastructure, fully accredited schools, and increased satisfaction in citizen confidence with their government.

These achievements are due to implementing a belief system that we are successful because of our citizen involvement. I have worked extremely hard to create a culture of openness and responsiveness.

This culture is most apparent when it comes to my record of supporting and maintaining our rural nature, supporting Fire/EMS and the Sheriff’s Office, and my commitment to Hanover County Public Schools.

I am running for re-election to further the positive trends we are experiencing and continue my active service to the people of Hanover.

Question: What issues appear to be the most important to constituents in your district?

Answer: The biggest challenges we face are mandates placed on Hanover County by the state and federal governments. Oftentimes these mandates are not accompanied with the necessary funds to implement the onerous requirements. We see this play out when it comes to providing the essential services of government. As an example, the state never fully funds teacher raises and educational needs. In Hanover, we consistently make up the difference in state cuts by using local dollars. I am proud that we make a commitment to give all school personnel raises but the state needs to do more. Likewise, we have seen a reduction of over 90% in state funding for secondary roads. I am proud that I was able to secure all of the funding to alleviate many of the traffic issues on Pole Green Road; however, the state should have played a larger role in this project.

Daryl Henry Chesley Independent

Teacher, school administrator, educator at United Network for Organ Sharing, U.S. Navy veteran

Question: Why are you running for office?

Answer: I am the only candidate on the Hanover ballot who is speaking to the issue of continuous process improvement. Hanover is a really good place to work and live — but we can do better. If we continue with the current reactionary mindset of the incumbents, we’ll never reach our full potential. By committing to implementing processes that will guarantee to reduce waste and improve efficiencies countywide, Hanover can take the next step in providing a great place to work and live for our residents. The top industries in the state/country/world have committed to quality improvement processes. It would be negligent if Hanover County did not.

Question: What issues appear to be the most important to constituents in your district?

Answer: Lagging teacher salaries and old school buildings are the symptom. The cause is a lack of leadership to provide a long-term solution to these issues. There is also a great deal of inequity in access to high-speed internet.


Susan P. “Sue” Dibble Republican

Certified landscape architect / Class A contractor in VA

Question: Why are you running for office?

Answer: In 2013, after being very active in our community and in the PTA, I was appointed to the Hanover County School Board. Over the past 6+ years, I have had the unique opportunity to interact with, to get to know and to care for our students and their families. It is because of these relationships and because of my genuine desire to continue to serve our South Anna community that I am running for the South Anna seat on the Hanover County Board of Supervisors.

I believe that my community involvement, my six years on the School Board and my business experience make me a highly qualified candidate for the Board of Supervisors.

I have been a PTA volunteer for the past 11 years, serving multiple years as president and vice president. In 2012, I was awarded the Hanover County Spirit of One Volunteer of the Year Award.

I am a current member and past chairman of the Hanover County Social Services Board, serving our constituents in need of assistance for the past seven years.

I have been a successful business owner since 1990 and have extensive experience in financial and business management. Running a county is a business, and we need business-minded people at the helm!

I am proud of my accomplishments and believe I can be an effective supervisor. By working together with our constituents, we can preserve the values and traditions of our Hanover community and maintain our reputation as one of the best places to live, work and raise our precious families.

Question: What issues appear to be the most important to constituents in your district?

Answer: Preserving our rural character, schools and safety.

Clara James Scott Democrat

Retired principal/part-time adult education teacher

Question: Why are you running for office?

Answer: I am running because I want to preserve the rural character of the community where I grew up while bringing it into the 21st century. I want all Hanover residents finally to have internet access. I want a school system that is competitive with other systems in Virginia. I want to encourage foresighted, responsible growth.

Question: What issues appear to be the most important to constituents in your district?

Answer: The issues that appear to be the most important to constituents in the South Anna District are irresponsible growth, improving the school system, and the lack of broadband internet access.

Texting driver gets year in jail for fatally striking 3 on Route 288 in Goochland

A Chesterfield County woman who fatally struck three people who were standing near a disabled car along state Route 288 in Goochland County pleaded guilty Tuesday to reckless driving and received a one-year jail sentence.

The defendant, Claire Carr, stood during the hearing and tearfully apologized to the families of those killed in the crash that unfolded a few seconds after she texted an emoji to a friend while driving.

“I am so sorry — so deeply and profoundly sorry for this accident,” she said.

“I know these words may sound hollow to you,” Carr said, adding that she doesn’t have the vocabulary to fully express her feelings. At the end of the hearing, Carr was placed in handcuffs and taken into custody.

Carr, 54, had faced three counts of involuntary manslaughter and up to 30 years in prison if she had been convicted of those charges. Referring to her plea to the lesser charge of reckless driving and the 12-month sentence, Carr told the families that no restriction of her freedom “can come close to the prison of my own head and my own heart.”

“I will continue to pray for you and think of you every day of my life,” she said.

Carr had been driving south in the left lane of Route 288 on the night of June 27, 2018, when she swerved left into the median to avoid a car that had struck a deer and was disabled in the left lane. Carr’s 2016 Audi Q5 struck and killed the driver of the disabled car, Linli Xu, along with a couple who had stopped to assist her, Justin Ransone and Amy Lee Abbott.

Authorities said Carr had been engaged in text conversations with three people as she was driving south on Route 288 within a 20-minute period leading up to the crash. She sent her final text — an emoji of a woman holding her palm against her face — three or four seconds before the collision, authorities believe. Before that final text, she had stopped texting for 26 seconds, authorities said.

Goochland Commonwealth’s Attorney Mike Caudill said he agreed to the plea agreement for the lesser charge of reckless driving in part because technological problems had thrown some of the chronological evidence into dispute, and also because of the high burden of proof for charges of involuntary manslaughter.

A trial had been set for Nov. 13 to 15. Had the case gone to a jury, Caudill said he would have had to prove criminal negligence to get convictions on the manslaughter charges. Citing case law, he said he would have had to prove that Carr’s actions indicated “a callous disregard for human life” and were “merciless or inhumane.”

“The case law is clear that criminal negligence is a very high burden,” he said in an interview. “As the evidence developed in the case, we became aware of concerns about meeting that burden.”

“I have to do what is fair and just,” he said, “and it may not seem that way without a full and complete understanding of the facts and circumstances of the case.”

Caudill added that the defendant, an attorney, has been a productive member of the community. “Claire Carr is an accomplished person and up until this crash, has done nothing but good things,” he said. “There are no winners in this case.”

Defense attorney Craig Cooley told the judge that neither alcohol nor excessive speed was a factor in the crash. Citing a study by the Virginia Department of Transportation, he said Carr had only 8.1 seconds from the time she saw the disabled Mercedes to recognize the hazard and react. He also said that if she had swerved into the right lane, a car that was traveling behind her and in the right lane might have struck her.

Cooley acknowledged that Carr sent the emoji during the 8.1 seconds, but noted that she sent no other texts during that period.

In addition to the jail sentence, Carr’s driver’s license will be suspended for six months. Judge Timothy K. Sanner granted her work-release privileges and a restricted license to drive to and from work.

Linli Xu’s husband, Heng Hu, expressed frustration with the plea agreement after Tuesday’s hearing.

Heng, whose wife was nearly six months pregnant with their son when she was killed, noted that Carr can drive to work during the day and must stay in jail only at night and on weekends. He said the arrangement is “ridiculous” and likened it to staying in a hotel free of charge.

“I feel disappointed because I feel the driver ... she got everything she wanted,” he said. “It sounds ridiculous.”

Abbott’s sister, Nancye Hunter, said after the hearing that the family understood “this was going to be a very hard case to try.” She called on lawmakers to strengthen laws with the goal of “making people have to put down their phones.”

“She destroyed three families,” Hunter said of the defendant. “Does she feel remorse? Yes. But I think she has more sorrow for herself.”

Ransone’s mother, Dianne, said after the hearing that she has complete confidence in the handling of the case by Caudill and his deputy prosecutor, Ashley Thompson.

Dianne Ransone said she does not refer to the crash as an accident because it was avoidable. The driver is a smart woman who knew better than to text while driving, Ransone said.

“It was horrific,” she said. “My son was hit at 63 mph.”

Ransone said she hopes laws will be enacted making it illegal in Virginia to hold a phone while driving. “Hopefully, everyone will learn from this,” she said.

“Our grandsons miss their father every day and the bond they had with Amy and her sons.”


Xu, 25, was driving her Mercedes south on Route 288 near West Creek Parkway when she hit a deer about 9 p.m. that night. Her car was disabled in the center of the left lane with the hood smashed up to the windshield, Caudill said.

Ransone, 41, and his girlfriend, Abbott, 45, were a Glen Allen couple who stopped to help Xu and pulled their Chevrolet Suburban onto the right shoulder. They walked across the highway and were standing with Xu when Carr’s Audi hit them. Ransone was on Xu’s phone talking to a state police dispatcher at the time of impact, Caudill said.

Carr had been out to dinner and was driving toward home when the crash happened. Caudill said Carr was traveling 73 mph in a 65-mph zone before she started braking.

A witness who was traveling behind Carr’s vehicle and in the right lane reported that the Audi was not swerving and did not appear to be traveling too fast, Caudill said. Other cars were slowly going around the Mercedes to the right, according to another witness.

The hazard lights on both Xu’s Mercedes and the Suburban were flashing, Caudill said. The witness who had been traveling behind Carr reported that he was able to stop without locking up his brakes after he saw hazard lights.

A passenger in another car that was traveling behind the Audi reported that he spotted lights on the Mercedes that “did not seem that bright.” He told his wife, who was driving, to slow down, Caudill said. The driver hit the brakes hard and swerved left — stopping behind Xu’s car, but in the median.

Cooley, the defense attorney, told Sanner on Tuesday that his client had maintained that people were standing behind the Mercedes. The defense believes they were seeking to help push the car off to the side, Cooley said. The fact that the door was ajar supports that theory because someone would have been trying to steer as the others pushed, he said.

The people behind the car, Cooley said, would have blocked the left hazard flasher and made it look to Carr as if the Mercedes was signaling to make a lane change.

Caudill believes, however, that all three victims were standing several feet to the left of the Mercedes, either in the left shoulder or in the median.

Caudill said that Carr was involved with “three texting conversations as she was driving down 288.” Sanner had ruled before Tuesday, however, that only texting from 8:59 until the time of impact would have been admissible at trial. The prosecution believes Carr’s Audi hit the three victims either at exactly 9:04 p.m. or one second later.

The event data recorder from Carr’s vehicle registered the time of impact at 9:04. But it was unclear whether that was the time that the Audi struck the Mercedes’ driver-side door, which was partially open, or the time it struck the three pedestrians. The defense disputed the time on the event data recorder, Caudill said.

The time on the event data recorder did not match some of the Virginia State Police evidence of Ransone’s phone call with the 911 dispatcher, Caudill said. The call ended when the Audi struck him, Abbott and Xu.

One of the state police servers was not connected to the internet and suggested an incorrect time for the 911 call with Ransone, Caudill said. That time was inconsistent with the crash time recorded by the Audi’s recorder.

The prosecution believes that another server, which was connected to the internet, had a correct time stamp. It indicated that the phone call with Ransone ended at 9:04 and one second.

Caudill said the discrepancy presented a significant problem with his case. “We’re dealing with just a matter of seconds that essentially this entire case hinges on,” he told the judge on Tuesday.

After the crash, body camera footage from the police showed that Carr was “appropriately distraught” at the scene, Caudill told Sanner.

“It’s a painful video to watch,” he said.

In accepting the plea agreement, Sanner said the defendant is, “by any other measure, an outstanding citizen.”

The judge said the sentence is not adequate to address the extent of the loss, but that it “goes toward that goal.” He told Carr that whether he sentenced her to 12 months or 12 years, she would be imprisoned by her own guilt.

He also issued a warning about the risks of distracted driving.

“We’re all so busy and we think we’re immune to this type of event,” he said. “And we’re not.”

Former Virginia Gov. Gerald Baliles, credited with historic investments in transportation, dies at 79

Former Gov. Gerald Baliles, a bookish Democrat credited with historic investments in transportation and economic development and who was elected in 1985 on a ticket that included the first African American and woman to win statewide office in Virginia, died Tuesday of cancer. He was 79.

Mr. Baliles, a bespectacled native of the rural Southside who would become an emblem of urban-suburban dominance of state politics, had publicly disclosed in September what few of his relatives and close friends knew: that since 2016 he had been treated for cancer and that there was nothing more his doctors could do.

Mr. Baliles, according to friends and former aides, died at his home outside Charlottesville, surrounded by his family. Funeral arrangements have not been announced.

Gov. Ralph Northam, himself a product of the countryside, said in a written statement: “As the 65th governor of Virginia, he understood and valued the role government can play in improving citizens’ lives. He transformed Virginia’s transportation infrastructure, signed Virginia into the Chesapeake Bay agreement under which we still operate today, and focused on expanding access to higher education, among many other accomplishments.

“Governor Baliles fought for rural Virginians, promoted civil discourse, and was the epitome of a true public servant.”

Born in Patrick County, in the foothills of Appalachia, Gerald Lee Baliles was the son of a truck driver who died when Mr. Baliles and his two brothers were youngsters. Because the elder Baliles and his wife were estranged, the boys were largely raised by their grandparents on a farm outside Stuart, the county seat.

With a voracious appetite for history and ideas, Mr. Baliles — as a lawyer, politician and administrator — was a stickler for preparation. He would show up at public appearances carrying in his longshoreman-sized hands briefing books often as thick as the Manhattan Yellow Pages. His edits and marginalia in the bowels of lengthy memos from bureaucrats could terrify their authors.

Such discipline manifested itself as well when Mr. Baliles, a clever quipster with a disarming deadpan and a remarkable memory for names, was off-duty.

His calendar included an annual post-election luncheon — its origins reached to the early 1960s — at which he and other seasoned political observers would assess that year’s results and offer predictions for the year ahead. On Christmas Eve, Mr. Baliles dutifully went shopping with a longtime associate from legal circles — after downing a bloody mary or two.

Mr. Baliles’ administration, from 1986 until 1990, was distinguished by once-in-a-generation financing of roads and transit, supported by higher taxes that, as a candidate under pressure from his Republican rival, Mr. Baliles had publicly declared he would not seek.

The broken promise, however, barely registered with Virginians, who welcomed improvements intended to free them from traffic congestion that has become a symbol of the state’s accelerating suburbanization, which would also hasten a Democratic resurgence a decade after Mr. Baliles left the governorship.

In the late 1960s, Mr. Baliles came to Richmond as a lawyer in the attorney general’s office, serving under Robert Y. Button, a wheel horse of the segregationist Democratic machine of the late U.S. Sen. Harry F. Byrd Sr. For Mr. Baliles, it was a posting that fed his appreciation for the economic and demographic change that was beginning to remake Virginia.

In 1975, Mr. Baliles was elected to the House of Delegates, representing the Richmond area in an at-large seat for which he defeated a colorful gadfly, Howard Carwile, whose pointed attacks on Mr. Baliles included what then was regarded as an uncivil, if not indefensible, criticism of Mr. Baliles’ two children.

During his six years in the General Assembly, Mr. Baliles won legislation that would spotlight his lifelong fascination with the efficient movement of people and products: the right-on-red law, signed by Gov. Mills E. Godwin Jr., that would help clear traffic at busy intersections.

In 1981, as the nominee for attorney general, Mr. Baliles defeated Republican Wyatt B. Durrette Jr. — the two would face off again for governor four years later — and completed for Democrats their first statewide sweep since the mid-1960s. It would be the first of three for Democrats through the 1980s.

On election night in 1981, accepting victory after his running mates for governor and lieutenant governor, Charles S. Robb and Richard J. Davis Jr., respectively, Mr. Baliles reached into his pocket, pulled out his house keys and told jubilant Democrats at the Hotel John Marshall: “We won back the keys!”

In 1985, running for governor after defeating Davis in a bruising nomination fight, Mr. Baliles led a ticket that included Sen. L. Douglas Wilder of Richmond for lieutenant governor and Del. Mary Sue Terry of Patrick County for attorney general. To skeptics, the ticket — featuring an African American man and a woman — was too clever for a Virginia still clinging to some of its Old South ways.

But the ticket harnessed the energy of the New South, appealing to a broad cross section of voters: suburbanites, minorities, trade unionists and younger members of the politically muscular corporate class. Mr. Baliles carried all congressional districts — there were 10 at the time — and was the last gubernatorial candidate to do so.

As governor, Mr. Baliles singled out for each year of his term a theme for which he would mobilize political and public support. The first — and best known — was transportation, a service in which the state, despite a vast road department in place since the 1920s, had made irregular investments largely through the fuel tax.

Mr. Baliles, backed by a Democratic-dominated General Assembly, secured funding for highways, airports, harbors and rail that would be largely unmatched until 2013, when a Republican governor, Bob McDonnell, would do as Mr. Baliles had: go back on a promise not to increase taxes to provide needed money for a stressed transportation network.

Transportation complemented another of Mr. Baliles’ priorities: economic development. With Virginia’s economy shifting from a reliance on manufacturing to knowledge-based service industries, Mr. Baliles said the transformation logically linked the state not just to other corners of the nation but to spots around the globe.

He would visit more than 20 foreign nations as governor and establish formal trade ties with several, most notably Israel — a move that was not without controversy, promoting friction within a Democratic Party that had long been home to Jewish voters but was then making room for Arab Americans wary of support for Israel.

An economic downturn near the end of Mr. Baliles’ term threatened the election of Wilder as his successor and as the nation’s first elected African American governor. A bitter strike by union miners in the distant Southwest Virginia coal fields also marred the close of Mr. Baliles’ tenure, contributing to the region’s diminishing enthusiasm for Democrats.

Also during Mr. Baliles’ term, Virginia adopted, with the consent of the gun lobby, instant background checks on most firearms purchases. Support for gun rights was at the time an article of faith among politicians in both parties, and the main conduit to the now Republican-leaning National Rifle Association for endorsements and support was a Democratic legislator from the Roanoke area.

Mr. Baliles, an avid fisherman, ushered through the legislature a measure to protect the Chesapeake Bay that — consistent with his centrist instincts — struck a balance between the demands of environmentalists and business. He created a standalone secretariat responsible for environmental policy.

Mr. Baliles appointed the first woman to the Virginia Supreme Court, Elizabeth B. Lacy, who had worked for him in the attorney general’s office and had been named by Robb to the State Corporation Commission. She was the first woman to serve on the agency that polices business.

Mr. Baliles also took a forceful stand against taxpayer-supported colleges and universities subordinating academics to athletics. A scandal at Virginia Tech, in Blacksburg, would lead to a shake-up in the sports program and a dramatic speech by Baliles — delivered at Tech on graduation day — in which he said Virginians would not tolerate a back seat for scholarship.

Education was Mr. Baliles’ pathway out of hardscrabble Patrick County.

With financial assistance from a local businessman, Mr. Baliles was sent to Fishburne Military Academy in Waynesboro and, on his graduation, gave up a cadet’s uniform for the preppier confines of Wesleyan University in Middleton, Conn. Mr. Baliles graduated from the University of Virginia Law School in 1967.

After leaving the governorship, Mr. Baliles became a partner in the white-shoe Richmond law firm Hunton and Williams, now Hunton Andrews Kurth. He largely focused on transportation issues, heading a study on the airline industry for President Bill Clinton, who had considered Mr. Baliles for attorney general.

Mr. Baliles also led an army of Hunton and Williams lawyers who represented the estate of Pamela Harriman, the socialite, widow of railroad heir and diplomat Averell Harriman and American ambassador to France, in a dispute over who would inherit her millions. Mr. Baliles also was the executor of Mrs. Harriman’s estate.

In a third career — after politics and law — Mr. Baliles became the director of the Miller Center of Public Affairs, a think tank at the University of Virginia that specializes in the American presidency and is based at the stately brick-and-slate house in which lived the state’s pre-Byrd political boss, U.S. Sen. Thomas S. Martin.

Ever mindful of his rural origins, Mr. Baliles headed an examination of the countryside’s ills — a graying population, shrinking job opportunities, limited health care and challenged schools — and concluded that one of its supposed benefactors, a multimillion-dollar fund set up by the state with tobacco-settlement dollars, had failed to make sound investments.

Mr. Baliles recommended the remaining money be plowed into scholarships and job-training programs that he described as a “Marshall Plan” for rural Virginia.

Mr. Baliles, born July 8, 1940, is survived by his wife, the former Robin Deal, and two children from his first marriage to the former Jeannie Patterson, which ended in divorce: Jon Baliles, who served on Richmond City Council and briefly ran for mayor, and Laura Osberger, both of Richmond.

Mr. Baliles, predeceased by his two brothers, Larry and Stuart, had two step-daughters, Katherine Stone Walsh of Charlottesville and Danielle Deal Hudack of Ashland, and four granddaughters.

PHOTOS: Former Virginia Gov. Gerald Baliles through the years