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In memoriam: Long-time U.S. Sen. John Warner

john warner abigail spanberger
Retired U.S. Sen. John Warner meets Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger. Photo courtesy Abigail Spanberger campaign.

Former U.S. Sen. John Warner, who represented Virginia in the Senate for 30 years before retiring in 2009, passed away on Tuesday at the age of 94.

Warner, a former Secretary of the Navy served five terms in the Senate, from 1979 to 2009.

A Republican with an independent streak, Warner was known for irking more conservative Republicans with his positions on some issues of the day.

Democrat Mark Warner, no relation, succeeded John Warner in the Senate seat in 2009, after having challenged the senior Warner in the 1996 cycle.

After being rivals, the two became friends, and John Warner attended the swearing-in ceremony for Mark Warner in 2009.

Mark Warner issued a lengthy statement in tribute to Mark Warner this morning.

“John Warner was a consummate statesman and a public servant who always put Virginia before politics; who put the nation’s security before partisanship; who put the country’s needs above his own,” Warner said.

“John Warner and I ran against each other back in 1996. I’ve often said since that the right Warner won that race. And one way that I know that is that even though we came from different political parties – even though we ran spirited, albeit respectful, campaigns that year – as soon as the election was called, it was over. And even though John Warner was already a towering institution in Virginia politics, and I was just some young upstart, he allowed me to become his friend. I felt then, as I do today, incredibly privileged.

“Later, when I became governor of Virginia, anytime I had to ask folks to take a tough stand in order to do what was right for Virginia, John Warner was always right there, volunteering to put his name and his credibility on the line, because that’s who he was.

“When John retired from the Senate in 2009, he was able to do so with satisfaction at a job well done, and I was blessed to take his place in the Senate. But truthfully, John’s service to our country never ended; he remained an active participant in public affairs. He was always available with a keen ear, sound judgment, good humor and a few words of encouragement and advice. The last time I saw him just a few weeks ago, he was full of questions about the latest in the Senate and in Virginia.

“In Virginia, we expect a lot of our elected officials. We expect them to lead, yet remain humble. We expect them to serve, but with dignity. We expect them to fight for what they believe in, but without making it personal. John Warner was the embodiment of all that and more. I firmly believe that we could use more role models like him today. There’s little I’m prouder of than the fact that he twice endorsed me for re-election.

“I will dearly miss having John’s counsel and wisdom to call upon in the years ahead. But more than that, I will miss his friendship, because I loved him. My deepest condolences go out to his children and his entire family, especially his devoted wife of many years, Jeanne.”

Virginia’s junior U.S. senator, Tim Kaine, also issued a lengthy statement on John Warner’s passing.

“I am stunned at the loss of John Warner. Virginia has lost an unmatched leader, and my family has lost a dear friend,” Kaine said.

“John Warner and my father-in-law, Linwood Holton, interrupted their college studies to join the Navy during World War II. Each served in the Pacific theatre, and they met when they returned to Washington and Lee at the close of the war. Their fraternity brother days started a friendship that lasted 75 years. Lin and John worked together, built the Virginia Republican Party from irrelevance into a formidable force, competed against one another in the 1978 Virginia Senate race, and always found time for new projects and humorous reminiscence.

“When I married Anne in 1984, I entered the large circle of John’s friends. From his thirty-year post in the Senate, he helped me as Mayor and Governor again and again. In particular, I will never forget his advocacy that helped save the Metro Silver Line from the brink of extinction. His advice on matters large and small (mostly solicited but occasionally offered even though I hadn’t asked!) was always farsighted, patriotic, and delivered in pithy and memorable phrases.

“Once I came to the Senate, I understood even more deeply the influence of John Warner. I came to know John McCain, Carl Levin, and so many others who served with him and attested to his integrity and outsized influence in a body he loved so dearly. In particular, John’s service in the Navy during World War II, as a Marine during the Korean War, and as Secretary of the Navy, made him a steady hand as Chair and Ranking Member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. And in this new chapter in my life, John’s advice again became essential.

“I consider it a deep honor to represent Virginia on the Armed Services Committee as John did, and I often think of him during Armed Services deliberations, wondering how he would handle the dilemmas of the day. Shortly after I was elected to my first term, I asked John to lunch in the Senate Dining Room. He hadn’t been in many years. When he walked into the room, the place absolutely lit up, and a steady stream of senators and Senate staff made a path to the table to visit with a person they loved so much.

“John and I once talked about how the Senate of today was more partisan and less relationship-based than during his years of service. But at the end of our conversation, he told me: ‘But Tim, it’s not in the water supply or sick building syndrome. It’s in the character and priorities of the people who walk into the building every day. So you have a chance to walk into the Capitol and make it better each day.’

“Not having John Warner to go to for advice leaves a big hole in my life. But we can all celebrate a public servant who stood on principle, made us proud, and exemplified the best of what politics can be.

“My condolences go out to Jeanne and the entire Warner family.”

More statements

Gov. Ralph Northam

“Virginia, and America, have lost a giant.

“As a sailor, a senator, a statesman, and a gentleman, former U.S. Sen. John Warner spent his life in public service. A World War II veteran of the Navy, he served as Secretary of the Navy, led the Senate Armed Services Committee, and was a respected voice in Washington on military affairs.

“John helped build up his political party and always remained an independent voice. He used that voice in the Senate to forge bipartisan compromise, knowing how and when to reach across the aisle. And he always put Virginia first.

“John Warner truly was the best of what public service and elected leadership should be, and his loss leaves a deep void. Pam and I join the Commonwealth in mourning his death. Our prayers for comfort go out to his wife Jeanne, his three children, grandchildren, scores of friends, and all those who loved him.”

First District Congressman Rob Wittman

“I’m sad to say Virginia lost a giant today. Sen. Warner was a statesman among statesmen, whom I had the honor of serving alongside early in my career in the House of Representatives.  Senator Warner quickly became a friend and mentor, never hesitant to share his vast knowledge or experience. Most of all, he served as an example of how American and Virginian politics should work with his level-headed, bipartisan approach to the legislative process.

“Sen. Warner lived a life of service. From his service in the United States Navy and Marine Corps, to his service in the United States Senate, Sen. Warner was a champion for the American ideal. His work to provide for our national defense and his stewardship of the Chesapeake Bay continue to influence and guide my work each day. Though he may be gone, his service to our nation must not be forgotten. In a time of such bitter partisan divide, we must continue to look to his example as a servant leader who challenged our Commonwealth and Nation to grow and change for the better with each passing day. The Commonwealth of Virginia and the United States of America will him dearly as Virginia’s leaders strive to carry on his legacy.”

Fourth District Congressman Donald McEachin

“I’m sad to hear of former Sen. John Warner’s passing. John dedicated his life to serving our country, as a Navy veteran in World War II, a Marine in the Korean War, and as the second-longest sitting Senator for the Commonwealth. He worked to transcend partisan politics, bridge the gap between the left and the right, and prioritize the well-being of Virginia and the United States. He was well-respected for his expertise on national security and military affairs, and he was never afraid to do what was best for his country. I would like to extend my deepest condolences to John Warner’s family and loved ones for their loss. He will always be remembered as a fierce advocate for Virginia and a respected public servant.”

Sixth District Congressman Ben Cline

“Today Virginians mourn the loss of John Warner, a man whose life’s work was dedicated to serving others and the Commonwealth. He will be remembered as a staple of Virginia politics who was unrelenting in his efforts to bolster our nation’s military to ensure the safety and security of the United States. John fought tirelessly for the people of Virginia, and his life and legacy will not soon be forgotten. Elizabeth and I offer our heartfelt condolences to his family and to all of those who were fortunate enough to know him.”

Seventh District Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger

“Sen. Warner exemplified what it meant to live a life in public service. Across his 30 years in the U.S. Senate, he was dedicated to the lives and stories of his Virginia constituents, he was firm in his principles and his devotion to the Constitution, and he sought to find common ground with his colleagues whenever possible. Throughout his life, he showed a deep commitment to America’s servicemen and women and the country they defended — a commitment demonstrated through his own military service, his time as Secretary of the Navy, and his remarkable leadership on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

“Sen. Warner was a proud Virginian, and nothing made him prouder than to see Virginia lead the way and to play a part in that effort. Generations of Virginia public servants will live by his example, and I have cherished his guidance and his insights during my short time in the U.S. House of Representatives. I was honored to have known him and to have received his mentorship. My thoughts are with his wife Jeanne and his family as we remember an American life filled with character, wisdom, wit, and resolve.”

Eighth District Congressman Don Beyer

“John Warner was a great American who served his country in World War II, the Korean War, and as Navy Secretary, and served Virginia in the Senate for thirty years. I am proud to have been his friend, and he was instrumental in my career and in those of so many others. John’s bipartisan spirit that put country and Commonwealth over party epitomizes what Virginians want in their leaders, and his fairmindedness and generosity were legend. He was a lovely man, and I will miss him.”

Ninth District Congressman Morgan Griffith

“John Warner was an old friend. More importantly for the country and the Commonwealth, he was a giant of Virginia politics. For five terms he represented Virginia with distinction in the United States Senate, and among his achievements, he helped drive the military expansion that won the Cold War.

“I was his campaign’s Emory & Henry College coordinator during his first fight for the Republican nomination for Senate. I fondly remember putting signs together in the modest hotel suite of the future senator and his then-wife Elizabeth Taylor. I was honored when he repaid the favor by assisting me in my first race for the House of Delegates. A true gentleman and patriot, John Warner will be missed but not forgotten.”

Republican Party of Virginia Chairman Richard L. Anderson

“Today, I join many across the Commonwealth in mourning the loss of Senator John Warner. I, Ruth, and the Republican Party of Virginia wish to extend our deepest condolences to the Warner family during this time.

“A veteran, a public servant, and a man of faith, John served his country honorably for decades. From his days in the United States Navy to his service within the halls of Congress and the Pentagon, he left his mark on the institutions we hold most dear.

“As we mourn the passing of our beloved friend, let’s remember and celebrate the life he led and strive to achieve the same level of passion for service that he embraced.”

Story by Chris Graham


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