RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — The longest-serving legislator in Virginia history, 84-year-old Del. Lacey Putney of Bedford, said late Wednesday that he is retiring after 52 sessions in the Virginia General Assembly.
The Washington and Lee University undergraduate and law school alumnus has been instrumental in supporting the Rockbridge County area during his time of service. Putney supported bringing the Virginia Horse Center to the county in 1987, according to the Roanoke Times. In 1990, he also helped pass a $525,000 flood prevention project in Buena Vista.
Putney, a conservative independent who began his tenure in the House as a Democrat in 1962, announced his decision to retire in an email statement.
He was diagnosed last year with throat cancer and underwent treatments for it. He missed several days of the 2013 legislative session because of a minor stroke he suffered in January, but recovered during the session and steadily gained strength. There’s no mention of health concerns in his 350-word statement.
“When first elected in 1961, I had no plans to seek a second term. Now, after 52 years of service, I have reached one of the most difficult decisions of my adult life,” Putney wrote.
Putney’s final day on the House floor is likely to be April 3, a one-day reconvened session to consider gubernatorial amendments and vetoes.
But Putney’s role as chairman of the budget-writing Appropriations Committee will keep him involved through December.
His announcement Wednesday was not expected. In a Feb. 8 interview with the Roanoke Times, Putney said, “I am strongly leaning toward running, and if I do seek re-election, I will run as a Republican.”
Known for his raspy drawl and a shock of thick white hair atop a rigid posture, Putney was elected in the first year of John F. Kennedy’s presidency, a time when the Democratic Party that dominated the legislature was still dominated by segregationists in Virginia.
Putney left the Democratic Party in the 1960s and has been an independent since then, although he has caucused with the House Republicans for the past 15 years. The GOP took an outright majority of House seats from the Democrats in the 1999 election and has not lost it since.
Putney’s tenure has spanned the terms of 12 Virginia governors.
For a few fleeting moments in January 2003, Putney realized his dream of serving as speaker of the House, serving an interim role and presiding over the transition from former Speaker S. Vance Wilkins, who had resigned, to current Speaker Bill Howell.
“For the past 52 years, Lacey Putney has served Virginia with distinction. It has been an honor and privilege to serve alongside of him and we will miss him and his leadership greatly,” Howell said in response to the news of Putney’s pending departure. “Words cannot express the impact Lacey has had on the Commonwealth.”