Mills E. Godwin, Jr.

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Mills Edwin Godwin, Jr.

In office
January 15, 1966 – January 17, 1970
Preceded by Albertis Harrison
Succeeded by A. Linwood Holton, Jr.

62nd Governor of Virginia
In office
Preceded by A. Linwood Holton, Jr.
Succeeded by John N. Dalton (lieutenant governor in Godwin's second term)

28th Lieutenant Governor of Virginia
In office
January 13, 1962 – January 15, 1966
Governor Albertis Harrison
Preceded by Allie Edward Stakes Stephens
Succeeded by Fred G. Pollard

State Senator from Virginia's 5th District
In office
December 2, 1952 – January 10, 1962

Virginia State Representative
for Nansemond and Suffolk counties
In office
1948 – December 2, 1952
Preceded by Willis E. Cohoon

Born November 19, 1914
Chuckatuck, Nansemond County,
Died January 30, 1999 (aged 84)
Newport News, Virginia
Resting place Old Cedar Cemetery in Suffolk, Virginia
Political party Democrat-turned-Republican (1973)
Spouse(s) Katherine Thomas Beale Godwin

(married 1940–1999, his death)

Children Rebecca Katherine "Becky" Godwin (1954–1968)

Mills, Sr., and Otelia Margaret Darden Godwin

Alma mater Old Dominion University

University of Virginia School of Law
(Bachelor of Laws)

Religion Christian

Mills Edwin Godwin, Jr. (November 19, 1914 – January 30, 1999), was a Democrat-turned-Republican who served as the 60th and 62nd Governor of his native Virginia, with service from 1965 to 1970 and again from 1974 to 1978. He is the only Virginia governor to have served two non-consecutive terms since 1849 and the only governor in the nation to have been elected governor with both political parties. Prior to his first gubernatorial term, he was the state's lieutenant governor and from 1948 to 1962 a member of both houses of the state legislature.[1]

As a Democrat, Governor Godwin was the last Virginia governor who was part of the political faction dominated by former Governor and United States Senator Harry Flood Byrd, Sr., which continued to win elections for three decades. He was succeeded by A. Linwood Holton, Jr., the first Virginia not affiliated with the Democratic Party in almost a century. Elected as a Republican, Holton was later known for endorsing many Democratic nominees. In 1973, former Governor Godwin switched parties and became a Republican, but he had no support from Holton, who was term-limited. He was the first and thus far only Virginia governor to be elected under both major parties.


Godwin was born in the unusually named town of Chuckatuck in Nansemond County, now a neighborhood of Suffolk, Virginia, the son of Mills Godwin, Sr. (1882–1946), and the former Otelia Margaret Darden (1884–1945).[2] He was educated at Old Dominion University in Norfolk and the University of Virginia Law School in Charlottesville, from which he received a Bachelor of Laws degree.[3]

Early in his career, Godwin was a special agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.[1]

Political career

Godwin was a state representative from 1948 to 1952, a state senator from 1952 and 1962, and the state lieutenant governor from 1962 to 1966, when he began his term as a Democratic governor.[1] As a state senator, Godwin supported the "massive resistance" to school desegregation, which challenged the United States Supreme Court's Brown v. Board of Education opinion, issued on May 17, 1954. In time, he, like other Byrd Democrats, concluded that resistance to racial integration was unsustainable. Godwin defended his support of "massive resistance" to allow time for racial relations to heal.[4]

In 1964, Lieutenant Governor Godwin endorsed U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson in the race against Republican U.S. Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona. Johnson had signed into law the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which Goldwater had opposed at the time on libertarian grounds against Titles II and VII. In the 1965 gubernatorial race, Godwin was unopposed in the party primary. In the fall he defeated the Republican Linwood Holton, for whom later President Richard Nixon had campaigned, and William J. Story, Jr., the nominee of the former Conservative Party of Virginia.

As he ran for governor against Linwood Holton, Godwin reached out to African American voters during the 1964 presidential campaign by campaigning for President Lyndon B. Johnson, who had led the movement for enactment of the Civil Rights Act of that year.

In 1965, Godwin was unopposed for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination. His earlier support of President Johnson led to the candidacy of William Joseph Story, Jr., the nominee of the former Conservative Party of Virginia. Godwin received the endorsement of the AFL-CIO and local chapters of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Despite Story's siphoning of 13 percent of the ballots, Godwin still defeated Republican Linwood Holton, who would succeed him as governor in 1970, 48 to 36 percent. George Lincoln Rockwell, the founder of the American Nazi Party, ran as an Independent but received only one percent of the general election vote

After his first term ended in 1970, Godwin began to separate himself from the Democratic Party. Though he managed the successful U.S. Senate campaign of Harry F. Byrd, Jr., who ran as an Independent, Godwin was denied a seat at the Democratic state convention in 1972. He then joined the "Democrats for Nixon" organization, which helped to defeat the Democratic presidential nominee George McGovern.

In 1973, Godwin won his second term as governor. He defeated Lieutenant Governor Henry E. Howell, Jr., a liberal populist who ran as an Independent. The Democrats did not field a candidate. Former governor Godwin was persuaded to run again by conservative Republicans who saw him as the most likely candidate to beat Howell. Although Godwin sought and won the Republican nomination, he did not declare that he had personally switched his party affiliation until his speech to the Republican State Convention in which he accepted his nomination. Godwin only narrowly defeated Howell by 15,000 votes, 50.7 to 49.3 percent. Godwin became the only Virginia governor to be elected to two terms in the 20th century.

As governor, Godwin abandoned the state's "pay as you go" fiscal policy, which Virginia had followed since the gubernatorial administration of the senior Byrd. Instead, the state issued bonds to pay for capital projects.

In 1976, Governor Godwin supported the bid of President Gerald R. Ford, Jr., for the Republican presidential nomination against challenger Ronald Reagan, the former governor of California. The Virginia Republican Party convention of that year, however, chose a pro-Reagan delegation to the pivotal 1976 national convention in Kansas City, Missouri. Godwin was designated as co-chairman of the delegation, along with the strong conservative Richard D. Obenshain, who died in an airplane crash in 1978 after being nominated for the U.S. Senate.[5] He was replaced as nominee by John Warner, who ran as a conservative but later like Holton became the Moderate Republican icon in Virginia.

His personal and gubernatorial papers are located in the Special Collections Research Center at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia.[6]

Personal life

In 1940, Godwin married the former Katherine Thomas Beale (1917–2015) of Holland in Nansemond County. The couple adopted a child, Rebecca Katherine "Becky" Godwin, who was killed by a streak of lightning at the age of fourteen in August 1968 while vacationing with her mother at Virginia Beach.[7] Governor Godwin at the time was attending the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, which nominated Hubert Humphrey to challenge Richard Nixon and George Wallace.[8]

The family resided in Godwin's hometown of Chuckatuck, now part of Suffolk, Virginia. Godwin died at the age of pneumonia at the age of eighty-four. He and his wife and daughter are interred at Cedar Hill Cemetery in Suffolk.[9]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Mills Edwin Godwin Jr. (1914-1999) - Find A Grave Memorial, accessed October 12, 2021.
  2. Jamie Ault Grady (1981). Godwin.
  3. Mills E. Godwin, Jr. (, accessed October 12, 2021.
  4. THE LEGACY OF MILLS GODWIN - The Washington Post. accessed October 12, 2021.
  5. Crash Kills Obenshain - The Washington Post, accessed October 12, 2021,
  6. Mills E. Godwin, Jr., Papers. Special Collections Research Center, Earl Gregg Swem Library, College of William and Mary. Retrieved on February 1, 2011.
  7. Rebecca Katherine “Becky” Godwin (1953-1968) - Find A Grave Memorial, accessed October 12, 2021.
  8. Phyllis Speidel, I'm so tickled I'm here,' says 91-year-old former first lady of Virginia," The Virginian Pilot, January 26, 2008.
  9. Katherine Thomas Beale Godwin (1917-2015) - Find A Grave Memorial, accessed October 12, 2021.