In Memoriam: The Hon. Abner Linwood Holton Jr. ’44 The former governor of Virginia received an honorary degree from W&L in 1971.
The Hon. Abner Linwood Holton Jr. ’44, former governor of Virginia, died Oct. 28, 2021. He was 98.
“We have lost a highly regarded public servant,” said Washington and Lee President Will Dudley. “Gov. Holton represented the best traditions of service to Virginia and the nation, as well as his alma mater. He was committed to racial equity in education and employment and demonstrated the highest standards of bipartisanship. I extend my deepest condolences to his wife Virginia “Jinks,” his children, and grandchildren.”
Holton was born in Big Stone Gap, Virginia, on Sept. 21, 1923. He began his studies at W&L before joining the Navy during World War II as a submarine officer. After the war, he returned to W&L, graduating with a B.A. in commerce. He was a member of the Ring-tum Phi and the debate and forensic teams and served on the Freshman Leadership Council and Student Executive Committee.
After graduating from Harvard Law School in 1949, Holton returned to Virginia and joined a small firm in Roanoke. He also became active in the local GOP, chairing the Roanoke Republican Committee.
After an unsuccessful bid for the governor’s seat in 1965, Holton was elected the first Republican governor in Virginia since Reconstruction. At his 1970 inauguration, he proclaimed, “Let our goal in Virginia be an aristocracy of ability, regardless of race, color or creed.”
During his four-year tenure, he supported the desegregation of the commonwealth’s public schools, modernized the management of the Port of Hampton Roads and sought improvements in mental health services. After leaving office in 1974, Holton briefly served as assistant secretary of state for congressional relations in the Nixon administration before joining the law firm Hogan & Hartson in Washington and Richmond.
Holton served as president at the Center for Innovative Technology, chair of the Metropolitan Washington Airport Authority, member of the Amtrak board of directors, vice president and general counsel of American Council of Life Insurance, and chair of the Republican Governor’s Association. He was also a member of the American Bar Association, a former vice president of the Virginia State Bar Association and of the Virginia and District of Columbia bars.
In 1973, Holton established the Governor’s School program in Virginia, which provides academically and artistically challenging programs to gifted students across the commonwealth. He has received honorary degrees from Virginia State College in 1971, Washington and Lee University in 1971, College of William and Mary in 1972, Virginia Union University in 1972 and St. Paul’s College of Virginia in 1984.
Holton was an active alumnus, serving as chair of the Alumni Fund and of the Roanoke Alumni chapter. In addition to financially supporting several scholarships at W&L, he also endowed the Louisa Holton Morris Scholarship in honor of his late sister. He was a member of the Commission of the 250th Observance and served on the Shoulders of Giants Campaign’s Parents Committee. He was inducted into ODK in 1966 and received an honorary Order of the Coif in 1996. His wife, Virginia “Jinks,” was a W&L trustee from 1985-95. His daughter, the Hon. Anne Holton, received an honorary degree from W&L in 2015.
In addition to his wife, Holton is survived by his children Tayloe Loftus, Anne Holton and her husband Sen. Tim Kaine, A. “Woody” Linwood III and Dwight Linwood; and nine grandchildren.