FitzGerald Bemiss


FitzGerald Bemiss

Richmond City, Virginia, USA
Death 7 Feb 2011 (aged 88)
Richmond City, Virginia, USA
Burial Richmond, Richmond City, Virginia, USA
Memorial ID 65388323 View Source
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Former State Senator FitzGerald Bemiss died at home with his family on the evening of February 7, 2011 at the age of 88.

Senator Bemiss was born on October 2, 1922, the son of Samuel Merrifield and Doreen FitzGerald Bemiss.

He was predeceased by his parents and his sister, Cynthia Bemiss Stuart.

Senator Bemiss attended St. Christopher's School, Woodberry Forest School and the University of Virginia. Senator Bemiss led a life of distinguished service to his family, his community, his state and his nation. He served in the United States Navy during the Second World War. In 1953, he married Margaret Reid Page of Beaverdam, Virginia. Senator Bemiss served in the Virginia House of Delegates from 1955 to 1959, and in the Virginia State Senate from 1960 until 1967. A lifetime conservationist, he was Chairman of the Virginia Outdoor Recreation Study Commission which wrote Virginia's Common Wealth, a comprehensive plan for the wise use of Virginia's natural and historic resources. He was also Chairman of the Virginia Commission on Outdoor Recreation, which was charged with implementing the Commonwealth's plan for parks, conservation easements, historic landmarks and scenic rivers and roads. Senator Bemiss served on the Gray & Perrow Commissions, which were charged with development and implementation of plans to desegregate Virginia's schools pursuant to the Supreme Court's decision in the case of Brown v. Board of Education. He was also appointed to the Virginia Tax Study Commission, the Metropolitan Areas Commission and the Commission for Virginia's Future. Senator Bemiss was President of FitzGerald & Co. and of Virginia Skyline Company. He served on the Board of Directors of State Planters Bank (and, subsequently, United Virginia Bank and Crestar Bank) from 1963 until 1992, and on the Board of James River Paper Company from 1972 until 1995. He served as Chairman of the Richmond Library Board, Chairman of the Board of Woodberry Forest School, and President of the Virginia Historical Society. Senator Bemiss was appointed by President Ronald Reagan to the Board of the National Advisory Committee on Oceans and Atmosphere, and by President George Herbert Walker Bush to serve as Vice Chairman of the Board of the United States Naval Academy. He received the University of Virginia's Raven Award in 1981, and was awarded an honorary degree by the University in 1983. At UVA, he served on the Board of the Center for Advanced Studies, the Arts & Sciences Council, and the Jeffersonian Restoration Advisory Board. He was a member of the Commonwealth Club, the Country Club of Virginia, the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, Scotland, the Metropolitan Club of Washington, D.C., and the Anglers' Club of New York City.

He is survived by his wife, Margaret; his daughter, Madge Wickham Bemiss; his son-in-law, Jeremy Palmer Marlton; his son, Samuel M. Bemiss III; his daughter-in-law, Elizabeth Cole Bemiss; and six grandchildren, Jonathan Palmer Marlton, Nicolas Bemiss Marlton, Charlotte Elizabeth Bemiss, FitzGerald Bemiss II, William Hampton Bemiss and Eli Lockert Bemiss.

Funeral services will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday, February 12, at St. James's Episcopal Church, 1205 W. Franklin Street.

Burial will follow in Hollywood Cemetery.

Published in Richmond Times-Dispatch from February 9 to February 10, 2011

A Story Posted in The Richmond Times-Dispatch:

By Jeff Schapiro
Published: February 08, 2011

FitzGerald D. Bemiss, a former Richmond legislator who was an early advocate of conservation and a skeptic of efforts to shutter public schools in defiance of court-ordered desegregation in the 1950s, died at his home Monday night. He was 88.

Mr. Bemiss, who served in the House of Delegates and Virginia Senate from 1955 until 1966, had suffered for many years from Parkinson's Disease.

Lean and courtly with ties by marriage and blood to some of the state's most prominent families, Mr. Bemiss was a Democrat of the old school during an era when such a label implied an innate conservatism, particularly on public spending and the size and scope of government -- all of which were sorely challenged by the post-World War II suburbanization of Virginia.

Affiliation with the Democratic Party, however, did not extend to its national parent, whose steady drift to the left compelled Mr. Bemiss and others to openly support Republicans for national office, including Dwight D. Eisenhower. Mr. Bemiss' political career began in 1952 as a Virginia organizer for the Army general-turned-GOP president.

Mr. Bemiss, known to his friends as "Gerry," eventually became a Republican, remaining active as a behind-the-scenes fundraiser and adviser to such figures as his childhood friend, former President George H.W. Bush, and former U.S. Rep. Thomas J. Bliley Jr., R-7th.

Though he entered the General Assembly as an ally of the late U.S. Sen. Harry F. Byrd Sr., D-Va. -- the state's conservative political patriarch for a half-century -- Mr. Bemiss questioned the constitutional foundation of the Byrd-led policy that Virginia defy the 1954 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court outlawing racially segregated public schools.

Mr. Bemiss served on a state commission that urged some integration -- a position later rejected by Byrd and other ardent segregationists. Mr. Bemiss' son, Samuel M. Bemiss III of Richmond, said this morning that among those quietly counseling his father on the legal frailty of the Byrd organization's stance was an old friend and neighbor -- Lewis F. Powell Jr., later appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court by President Richard Nixon.

Mr. Bemiss left the legislature to take over his family's business, the Virginia Skyline Co., which operated concessions along the 105-mile-long Skyline Drive, built through the Blue Ridge Mountains as a New Deal-era full-employment project under President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Preservation of Virginia's natural beauty, however, was more than good business for Mr. Bemiss. He was a pioneer in conservation, heading statewide studies that, among other things, led to the creation of programs supporting the preservation of open space through tax credits.

Mr. Bemiss remained a voice in preservation even in his final years. In 2008, he wrote the introduction to a University of Virginia-published history of the state's preservation movement, "Conserving the Commonwealth," by Margaret T. Peters.

Mr. Bemiss and his wife of 57 years, the former Margaret Reid Page, a published expert on Virginia's historic gardens, recently donated $1 million to the medical school at Virginia Commonwealth University toward a $10-million center to study the causes of Parkinson's Disease.

Charles F. Bryan Jr., president emeritus of the Virginia Historical Society, got to know Mr. Bemiss through his association with the historical society, though Mr. Bemiss was chairman its board of trustees before Bryan's time. Beyond an interest in Virginia history, the men shared a diagnosis of Parkinson's:

"When I was first diagnosed almost seven years ago, he was one of the first people to contact me," said Bryan. "He wrote me a wonderful little note. He said he was very sorry to hear the news, and he told me, 'Don't wear rubber-soled shoes.' It was very typical of his sense of humor."

As Parkinson's develops, those diagnosed with it tend to shuffle their feet, and rubber-soled shoes would make it difficult to walk.

Mr. Bemiss was born in Richmond on Oct. 2, 1922 and was educated at St. Christopher's School and Woodberry Forest School. He attended the University of Virginia, leaving for Navy service during World War II, during which he was assigned to destroyers in the Atlantic.

In addition to his wife and son, Mr. Bemiss is survived by a daughter, Margaret Wickham "Madge" Bemiss and six grandchildren -- all of Richmond. Mr. Bemiss was predeceased by a sister, Cynthia, who died in the 1960s.

A funeral will be held for Mr. Bemiss 11 a.m. Saturday at St. James's Episcopal Church, followed by burial at Hollywood Cemetery.

(Times-Dispatch staff writer Bill Lohmann contributed.)

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