Lacey Putney – Virginia Gentleman

Yesterday, the Virginia political world was surprised, but not shocked, with the news that the Gentleman from Bedford, Delegate Lacey Putney, had decided not to run for re-election.

The Gentleman from Bedford was first elected in 1961 during the Kennedy Administration. That will make 52 years of service in the Virginia General Assembly. Some back of the envelope scratching puts the number of votes Lacey cast at between 90,000 to 100,000. Give or take ten thousand. And those are just the recorded ones.

I have spent a fair bit of time trying to think of some words that accurately fit my experiences of and serving with Lacey without overdoing it. That man deserves accuracy, honesty, and gratitude without the over the top superlatives. It’s just not worthy of a man who dedicated 52 years to serving the Commonwealth and its citizens.

Lacey Putney was, first and foremost, a gentleman and a Virginia gentleman at that. Yes, there’s a difference – thankfully not much of one.

He was able to connect with people on a personal level because he enjoyed getting to know them but he would also open himself up sharing some of his life at the same time. There was an ease to Lacey, but there was a competing stature as well.

While you would see Lacey, impeccably dressed, stride towards his next meeting, he would never miss the chance to throw out his hand for a “Great to See You” kind of handshake. It was sincere, accepting, and energizing.

Old enough to be a parent or grandparent, but he never came across that way because Lacey was too young at heart. He rarely spoke in caucus, but when he did – everyone listened. He rarely spoke on the floor, but when he did – everyone listened. It was not as if he were Moses or the Oracle at Delphi – the all knowing sage whose wisdom we all sought. No, when Lacey spoke we were going to hear about several things 1) how this issue or bill has been tried in the past or 2) this is or is not a good thing long term or 3) this bill or issue can wait a little bit longer. Lacey was the E.F.Hutton of the House – everyone listened.

Lacey was not the legislator to carry many bills other than the Budget, but if a bill had the attention of some of his constituents – it had Lacey’s attention. Which was a good thing. Chairman of Appropriations have a way getting things done, but Lacey never overplayed his hand. He respected the institution of the General Assembly, the Commonwealth, and himself. But he did play his hand.

Lacey is a model of the unbranded, gentlemanly conservatism that makes Virginia so exceptional. The essence of that conservatism, true conservatism, is grounded in two key elements – pragmatism and self-restraint. What works, works. What doesn’t, shouldn’t.

I was able to bond with Lacey over our shared experiences of being undergraduates and underperforming baseball players at Washington and Lee University. We swapped stories of games, fraternity life, and friendships.

One day during Session, we were in Lacey’s office talking about things W&L and the House caucus when the conversation turned to his new bride, Carmela.

Lacey had become a widower about six or seven years earlier after his first wife’s protracted illness.

“I feel like a teenager!” Lacey exclaimed with a gleam in his eye and a smile as broad as the James River. Then he softly explained, “Of course, when Carmela came to visit me in Bedfuhd, she had to stay across the street. We didn’t want people getting the wrong idea.”

Of course not.

The best lesson I learned from Lacey about campaigning occurred in the Member’s Lounge when some of us were swapping stories.

Lacey had come in and picked up the land line calling his office for messages. He overheard us while he got his messages and hung up saying to us “Let me tell you about campaigns…”

Our conversation stopped in its tracks. Shhh…It’s Lacey on campaigns…

“Don’t evah…evah believe someone who says they are going to vote for yah. They all lie. But the man you grabs you by the collah, looks you dead in the eye, and says ‘Son…ain’t no way I would evah vote for you’ – THAT man is telling you the TRUTH.”

We all cracked up and Lacey left the Lounge headed back to his desk on the floor. A desk without a laptop, or a cell phone, or much of anything except for the printed Daily Calendar.

Life enjoyed. Moment shared. Back to work serving others.

Lacey Putney was and is a model of Virginia gentlemanly conservatism because Lacey was and is, first and foremost, a gentleman.

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Chris Saxman

About Chris Saxman

Father of four, small business leader, retired politician, and Executive Committee member and former Chairman of an international trade association, Chris Saxman delivers strategy and insight as a political coach and keynote speaker. Contact Chris.

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