RICHMOND, Va. -- Clifton A. "Chip'' Woodrum, a country lawyer from Roanoke who paired a quick wit with his vast command of literature in nearly 25 years in Virginia's House of Delegates, has died. He was 74.
Former House Majority Leader Richard Cranwell said Wednesday that Woodrum died a day earlier in Florida. Woodrum's death was first reported Tuesday night by The Roanoke Times.
There was no word Wednesday on the cause of death.
Woodrum, a Democrat, served in the House from 1980 until retiring after the 2003 session. His amazing recall of history, poetry and classics, employed with passion and gentle humor in legislative debate, ranked him annually among Virginia's most persuasive and quotable lawmakers.
Word of his death spread Wednesday among former colleagues and friends on Capitol Square, leaving them mute and sometimes tearful.
Gov. Bob McDonnell served alongside Woodrum for a dozen years in the House and recalled two of Woodrum's signature achievements: establishing the state's Freedom of Information Advisory Council and Virginia Birth-Related Neurological Injury Compensation Program. But the Republican paid a warmer tribute to Woodrum's intellect and gentle nature.
"(A)s someone who served alongside Chip for several years in the House of Delegates, to me his most lasting legacy might well be the humor, dedication, fairness, intelligence and compassion he showed in the legislature year after year,'' McDonnell said in a statement his office released.
"Chip had a lighting quick wit that would [defuse] tensions during heated debates, putting his fellow legislators on both sides of the aisle at ease. Meanwhile, his command of literature and keen intelligence would elucidate arguments with historical references and literary insights.''
Del. S. Chris Jones, R-Suffolk, was among those surprised by Woodrum's death.
"We were at opposite ends a lot of times on issues, but just a great guy. I am saddened to hear the news,'' Jones said.
Few still in today's General Assembly were closer to Woodrum than Sen. R. Creigh Deeds, D-Bath, who also served for a dozen years in the House with him representing a nearby district.
"Devastating. Just devastating,'' Deeds said. "Chip was the best we could offer. He was our institutional memory. He had an honest wit and the fastest analysis -- always cut to the chase.''
"When times were really tense, Chip would always remind us of the better nature of ourselves,'' Deeds said.
Funeral and memorial arrangements were pending Wednesday.