Gov. Colgate W. Darden subject of historical society meeting

Published 11:19 am Saturday, June 28, 2014


John Quarstein holds up a display on Colgate Darden, who the historian was speaking about last Sunday. -- MERLE MONAHAN | TIDEWATER NEWS

John Quarstein holds up a display on Colgate Darden, who the historian was speaking about last Sunday. — MERLE MONAHAN | TIDEWATER NEWS

COURTLAND—Thirty-three years ago this June, former Virginia Governor Colgate Whitehead Darden Jr., a true Virginian who dedicated his life to the well-being of the citizens of his home state, passed away at his home in Norfolk.

The beloved Southampton County native, known as kind, intelligent and generous, is still remembered for his dedication to education and his determination that every student would have an opportunity to acquire the knowledge to succeed.

“It is believed that Darden inherited his life-long passion for learning and education from his mother, a former teacher,” John V. Quarstein said.

Darden’s service defending democracy throughout the world was also important, said Quarstein.

Quarstein spoke before more than 50 members and visitors of the Southampton County Historical Society last week, including special guests, Darden’s daughter, Irene Field, and her husband, John.

Quarstein, a regional author, preservationist and historian, often narrates historical events on WHRO-TV. His talk at the Southampton County Administration Building centered on Darden’s life and achievements, which were astronomical, he said

The son of Colgate Whitehead Darden Sr. and Kathryn Pretlow Darden, the former governor was born at Marle Hill, a farm on Route 58 near Franklin.

Educated in the Franklin schools, he went on to enroll in the University of Virginia at age 16.

But when WWI broke out, Darden left school to join the American Field Service in France where he served with distinction as an ambulance driver. When the United States entered the war, Darden volunteered to join the Navy, but was assigned to the U.S. Marine Corps Air Service instead.

He survived a plane crash in which the only other occupant was killed. Darden was paralyzed but did recover.

His military days behind him, Darden returned to the University of Virginia where he graduated in 1922. He then attended Columbia Law School where he not only earned a law degree, but a master’s as well, said Quarstein.

His passion for learning not satisfied, Darden then attended Oxford University on a scholarship where he studies international law. His studies completed, he returned to Norfolk, passed the bar and opened his law practice there.

This is where he met and married Constance Du Pont in December, 1927.

By this time, the dedicated educator had political ambitions. He ran for and was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates, where he served from 1930 to 1933.

He then was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives several times from 1933 to 1941, resigning to run to become Virginia’s 54th Governor. His term as governor ran from 1942 to 1946.

His accomplishments during his governorship, said Quarstein, included recognizing Virginia’s Civil Defense, reforming the state’s penal system, creating a pension plan for state employees and teachers and the abolishment of the poll tax.

At the end of his term as governor in 1946, though, he decided to go back to his passion as an educator by accepting the chancellorship of The College of William and Mary. This position was short-lived, however, as he was made president of the University of Virginia in 1947.

The accomplishments of this great man are many, according to historians. His legacy can still be felt throughout the state.

Darden retired in 1959 and died at his home in Norfolk in 1981. He is buried beside his wife and with his parents at the family cemetery at Jericho on Governor Darden Road.