RICHMOND, Va. — Virginia lawmakers plan to honor former Del. Lacey Putney, the state’s longest-serving member of the General Assembly, at a Capitol service this week.
Putney, who died last month at the age of 89, will lie in state at the Capitol Rotunda on Wednesday. House Speaker William J. Howell and Senate President pro tempore Stephen D. Newman will lead a prayer service at noon.
Lacey retired in 2013 after serving 52 years in the state legislature representing Bedford. A conservative Democrat when first elected, he left the party in 1967 and became an independent.
His lengthy career spanned significant cultural and demographic changes in Virginia, which went from a conservative rural state to a more suburban and liberal one.
He grew up in Big Island, a mill town near Bedford where blacks and whites both struggled with poverty during the Great Depression. In a 2002 interview with The Associated Press, he said Democrats were wrong to orchestrate Massive Resistance, Virginia’s institutionalized defiance of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1954 order to desegregate public schools.
“I would dread the thought of returning to where we were back in those years,” Putney said. “I was always surprised when the schools were not integrated, even when I was a kid. We grew up and that’s just the way things were. We just accepted it, I guess.”
Putney was chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee and briefly served as House speaker in 2002.
Howell said Putney left a legacy in helping create key programs, like the state’s tuition assistance grant program, that have helped countless Virginians.
“He showed compassion for all with a caring and soft heart, was a man of action and responded to all his constituents with unconditional resolve exemplifying all that a true citizen legislator can and should be,” Howell said.
Putney’s wife of 54 years, Elizabeth, died in 2005. In 2007 he married Carmela Bills, who for years had been the House’s chief public information officer, in the House of Delegates chamber. The service was performed by Putney’s friend, Leroy Rountree Hassell, the first African-American chief justice of Virginia.
Putney’s funeral is scheduled for 2 p.m. Thursday at Bedford Baptist Church. A private burial will follow.