Former first lady of Virginia passes away
Published 9:21 pm Friday, March 6, 2015
Katherine Godwin, wife of Chuckatuck native and two-time governor Mills Godwin, passed away on Thursday morning at the age of 98.
Godwin died around 10 a.m., according to Delegate S. Chris Jones of Suffolk, who lived several doors down from the Godwins in Chuckatuck. Her husband, who died in 1999, served gubernatorial terms as a Democrat from 1966 to 1970 and as a Republican from 1974 to 1978.
A native of Holland, Katherine Beale was raised by her aunt after both of her parents died on the same night during the 1918 influenza epidemic. She attended Madison College, now James Madison University, and became a teacher.
She met her late-husband while she was working at Chuckatuck Elementary School, when a fellow teacher introduced her to “one of the most eligible bachelors in the country,” a law student from the University of Virginia named Mills Godwin. In 1947, only three years later, they were married and he entered the House of Delegates.
Godwin seemingly remained in the background of her husband’s political life, as he ascended from delegate to state senator, lieutenant governor and then governor.
“She was not one to be out and about in the public eye on her own,” said Trudy Norfleet, who grew up next door to the Godwins and later served as secretary to the governor’s assistant during Mills Godwin’s second term in Richmond.
Jones recalled the Godwins inviting “pretty much the entire village of Chuckatuck” to the governor’s mansion for receptions during his two terms in office.
“I remember just how proud she was to have her neighbors and friends there,” Jones said.
She spent her final hours with those who were close to her.
Barbara Warren, Mrs. Godwin’s personal secretary after having been secretary to the governor for many years, called Godwin “an elegant and delightful lady.”
“She brought out the best in everyone,” Warren said. “Her warm, hospitable personality and genuine interest in others will always be remembered.”
Several remembered Mrs. Godwin’s kindness to children.
“She loved to tell the story about keeping me as an infant and checking on me every 10 minutes to make sure I was breathing,” said Norfleet. “She continued to check on me and teach me through the years, and she eventually became like a second mother to me.”
Godwin also had a wonderful sense of humor.
“During her second time as first lady of Virginia, we dressed up on Halloween, got a capitol policeman to drive us, and went trick-or-treating at nearby friends’ homes,” Norfleet recalled.
Godwin was Yogi Bear, and Norfleet dressed as a witch. They didn’t speak a word as they handed out candy — trick-or-treating in reverse.
In all, Godwin was the perfect first lady for the state, friends said.
“When you think about the first lady of Virginia, Katherine Godwin is the first to come to mind,” Jones said.
Funeral arrangements are pending and will be announced when they are set.