Wednesday, February 20, 2013
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Former Del. Clifton 'Chip' Woodrum was known for sharp wit

The Democrat who represented Roanoke had an amazing ability to refocus debate, recalled a friend and ally.

Clifton

Photos by The Roanoke Times | File

Clifton "Chip" Woodrum represented Roanoke in the House of Delegates for almost 25 years. He died Tuesday in Florida.

Clifton

Clifton "Chip" Woodrum (right) and Del. Vic Thomas were a strong force in the House of Delegates, along with Richard Cranwell.

Members of the House of Delegates, including Woodrum (center), laugh as they don blaze orange ski caps to hear Vic Thomas speak about his bill on hunter safety. An amendment to the bill required hunters to wear blaze orange.

Members of the House of Delegates, including Woodrum (center), laugh as they don blaze orange ski caps to hear Vic Thomas speak about his bill on hunter safety. An amendment to the bill required hunters to wear blaze orange.

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    Clifton "Chip" Woodrum, who represented Roanoke in the House of Delegates for nearly a quarter-century, died Tuesday in Florida, according to current and former legislators. He was 74.

    Woodrum served from 1980 to 2003 in the Virginia House, where his intellect and rapier wit made him one of the state's most visible and effective legislators. There was no official word on the cause of Woodrum's death Tuesday night.

    "I can't ever remember being in a pitched battle when he wasn't right there with me in the struggle," said former House Majority Leader Richard Cranwell of Vinton, a close friend and political ally of Woodrum. "He was a loyal friend to me, and I hope I was a loyal friend to him.

    "I think one of the greatest characteristics he had was to cut the ice and refocus the debate with a one-liner that put everybody in stitches and kind of framed the fact that what we were about was something important," Cranwell said.

    Cranwell, Woodrum and the late Del. Vic Thomas, D-Roanoke, functioned as a formidable and effective trio representing the Roanoke Valley's interests in the House during their long careers, said Sen. John Edwards, D-Roanoke.

    Woodrum "was an extraordinarily accomplished legislator," Edwards said Tuesday night.

    Woodrum, a lawyer, had deep roots in Roanoke's Democratic Party. His great-grandfather was the city's first elected commonwealth's attorney, and his grandfather served for 23 years in Congress. Woodrum worked for the party in several capacities before running for the House in 1979.

    He sponsored legislation that allowed a portion of the sales tax revenue generated at the Hotel Roanoke to be put into a special fund that helped finance the hotel's restoration.

    "That's one of Chip's hallmark pieces of legislation," Cranwell said.

    Woodrum also sponsored legislation in 1987 creating the Virginia Birth-Related Neurological Injury Compensation Program, a fund that covers medical bills and other expenses for children born with disabling neurological injuries. And he headed the Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Council, playing a lead role in pushing for access to government meetings and documents.

    Sen. Creigh Deeds, D-Bath County, a Woodrum protege who served for a decade in the House of Delegates, called Woodrum's death "devastating."

    Deeds said his mentor regularly spent part of the winter in Florida after leaving the legislature and seemed more energetic than when he was holding court in the state Capitol.

    "He was really younger and more full of spit and vinegar than when he was here in session," Deeds said.

    "We are all diminished by Chip's loss," Deeds said.

    Woodrum's acerbic wit and partisan loyalty made him a big target for Republicans when they seized control of the House in 2000. He lost his seat on the budget-writing Appropriations Committee in 2000, was put into the same district as Cranwell in 2001 and later was removed as chairman of the Freedom of Information advisory panel.

    Woodrum shrugged off the apparent snubs with a signature one-liner, saying, "They can tell me where to sit, but they can't tell me where I stand."

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