Railey, Southampton County attorney, passes at 74

Published 10:50 am Wednesday, July 12, 2023

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Richard Edward Railey Jr., of Courtland, is remembered by his friends and family as selfless, trustworthy, humble and loyal, possessing exceptional integrity, judgment and an outstanding legal mind, a man who loved his family and Southampton County dearly.

Railey, who practiced law for almost 50 years and served as county attorney for 35, passed away July 4 at the age of 74.

His obituary notes that he was ”completely devoted to his family, friends and clients.”

“He was a very selfless man,” Benjamin Railey said of his father. “He always put everybody else first.”

Born in Franklin in 1948, Richard graduated from Southampton High School in 1967 and from The University of Virginia in 1971, and he was a 1974 graduate of Cumberland Law School at Samford University in Alabama, where he was a member of the Law Review, his obituary states. He formed Railey and Railey, a law partnership with his father, in 1974 and later practiced with his elder son, R. Edward Railey III.

Edward noted that he and his dad worked together every day for almost 17 years, and he spoke highly of his father’s character.

“He always did the right thing,” Edward said. “He put doing the right thing over profit anytime, or embarrassment or whatever. No matter what, he always told the truth and did the right thing. … He certainly wasn’t perfect, but he was a good man.”

Edward indicated that it meant a great deal to him to see the outpouring of love shown for his father after his passing.

Richard is survived by his wife of more than 44 years, Anne; his two sons; three grandchildren; two sisters; and a brother; along with nieces, nephews, cousins and many friends he considered family, his obituary notes.

Benjamin said that Southampton County definitely meant a lot to his father.

“That’s where he wanted to be and where he wanted to live and work after law school,” he said. “It was his life. The county was his life. … This is where he wanted to be at, between here and the Outer Banks.”

Warren Beale, who grew up with Richard, said the man “loved his community and was extremely involved with just trying to promote it and help it. He loved the way of life here,” a way of life he worked to preserve that included activities he loved, like deer hunting with hounds and fishing.

As noted in his obituary, Richard was appointed by Gov. Mark Warner and served two terms on the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries Board.

Former longtime Southampton County Administrator Michael W. Johnson recalled Richard being hired by the Board of Supervisors as its first part-time county attorney in 1988.

A close working relationship between Johnson and Railey grew into an enduring friendship.

“It’s really a sad day for Southampton County,” Johnson said Friday, July 7, as he reflected on Railey’s passing. “For the last 35 years, Richard has just been indispensable. The county relied exclusively on Richard to represent its interests in all legal matters.”

Johnson noted that in addition to being involved in county negotiations, acquisitions, development and review of contracts and ordinances and even representation in court, when necessary, Richard also prepared for and attended hundreds of commission, board, authority and committee meetings.

“Richard was the quintessential county attorney,” Johnson said. “He was an excellent listener, he was always available, always courteous, always prepared. He was highly pragmatic with exceptional judgment. If Richard told you something, you could take it to the bank.

“He had the unusual ability to take complex matters, boil them down and explain them in a way that anyone could understand, and those are the same traits that made him a great trial lawyer as well,” Johnson said.

He noted that Richard was humble by nature.

“He was often self-deprecating,” Johnson said. “He frequently referred to himself as ‘a simple country lawyer,’ but he was anything but. Behind that kind and friendly demeanor was one of the best legal minds anywhere.”

Railey’s obituary notes that he served on several professional and community boards, including the Virginia Trial Lawyers Association’s Board of Governors and Political Action Committee. He served as VTLA president in 2005, which the obituary described as perhaps his proudest professional accomplishment.

Retired judge Westbrook Parker said, “When attorneys in Virginia learned of his death, I received calls from all over the commonwealth to check on his family. He was not only well known in Southampton County, but the trial lawyers of Virginia respected him immensely.”

Parker said Railey had great empathy for the downtrodden, and his “intelligence and his practical approach to problems, both for his clients and his beloved county, made him indispensable in the life of many people.”

Vee Pittman, president and CEO of Manry Rawls insurance agency, described Railey as “an amazing person, a dedicated member of our community, a brilliant mind, a gifted humor and a cherished friend.”

Edward said, “He’ll definitely be missed.”