The sharp focus

of Gov. Gerald Baliles

Editor, Times-Dispatch:

Former Virginia Gov. Gerald Baliles and I met for the first time at an event at Monticello while we both worked for the University of Virginia. We hit it off, and the next thing I knew, we were driving up to the Library of Congress a few weeks later for him to moderate a panel discussion televised on PBS.

We drove from Charlottesville to Washington and back in the same day, so it afforded plenty of time for conversation. What was memorable about the drive was the calm, focused way he spoke, and the calm, focused way he spoke about things.

Knowing folks who worked with him as governor from 1986 to 1990, they always remarked about how Baliles would zero in on a theme and doggedly pursue it, and talk about it and only it for an entire year, until points were put on the board for that goal — focused.

When we zeroed in on Southwest Virginia on the drive back, we hit upon a shared passion. I remember commenting that I’m reminded of my smallness and my own inadequacy when I try to think of the solution to cure economic woes. So I shared that I thought focus, inspiration, organization and recruitment of others, and lowering barriers of entry policywise was the prescription for any leader, a Marshall Plan, a drum beat, that pushed others forward.

Baliles — humble, kind — listened, and responded in a thoughtful rhythm that spoke to an orderly mind, that understood the focused attention a mountain of a problem would take to scale.

The cadence was slower, more measured than what we hear on news segments today. The man was more measured, too.

A few thoughts out of respect as I understand he is in palliative care.

Van Smith.


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