Rodham T. Delk, Sr. served as mayor of Smithfield from 1961-1964.
He practiced law with A.E.S. Stephens, who is the subject of this interview. The interview discusses Rodham Delk's association with A.E.S. Stephens, who who was a lieutenant governor, a state senator, and a member of the House of Delegates. Stephens was unsuccessful in his run for governor in 1961, possibly because of his stand against massive resistance.
with RODHAM DELK
(regarding A. E. S. Stephens
and Massive Resistance)
March 11, 1981
Old Dominion University
History 685: Historical Apprenticeship. Oral History Interview. Topic: Conversation with Mr. Rodham Delk regarding A. E. S. Stephens and Massive Resistance. March 11, 1981.
Interviewer: Where did you first meet Mr. Stephens?
Delk: I met him here in Smithfield in 1923 or 24. I was a young man and he was a very young lawyer who was just starting out. He was a recent graduate of the College of William and Mary Law School.
Interviewer: Had you been acquainted with him before?
Interviewer: At your first meeting, how did he impress you? What type of man did he impress you to be?
Delk: Well he was a young lawyer who had only been in practice about a year. He came to Surry, first, at the behest of the late Oscar Shewmake, who was a professor of law at the College of William and Mary. Shewmake ran a small law office in Surry and later became one of the commissioners of the State Corporation Commission in Virginia. He was known as Judge Shewmake. He had only been in practice a short time when I first met him. I can't say that I had any impressions of any kind that would be worth mentioning because there was nothing outstanding about him at that time.
Interviewer: Did he have good rapport with the people of this area?
Delk: He developed it and he certainly did from that time on. My next acquaintanceship with him was probably sometime two or three years later. At the time he was strongly courting Miss Hannah Delk, a first cousin of mine while she was a student at Hood College. At that time I was living in northern Virginia where he used to visit our home. He was elected to the General Assembly of Virginia in 1929, which was his first accepted elected office.
Before that he, because of some cases that he handled in the county as a write-in candidate he was elected Commonwealth's Attorney over the incumbent, but, even under the threat of some night riders who waited on him at his home, he was living out in the country, he refused to accept the office. There was a great deal to be said at that time as to whether or not he made a wise decision or not, but he stuck by it. It obviously must have been a wise decision for him to refuse to become a write-in candidate, to accept election as a write-in candidate in a small county in a viciously conducted campaign for Commonwealth’s Attorney. In a matter of a couple of years he was elected to the General Assembly.
Interviewer: Why did he choose Smithfield?
Delk: Well, it was a bad time. They at times were, would had been through probably a very strong, I don’t remember it exactly myself at this time at my age, but there had been a rather strong recession after World War I. Positions in law offices were hard to come by so to speak. That's why I think Judge Shewmake sent him to … to go to Surry, which had nothing really to offer. It was a very modest village and a very small county. Smithfield offered a greater opportunity and that's why he came here. He was a native of the northern neck of Virginia, being a native of Northumberland County. His birthplace was Wicomico Church in Northumberland County. His father was a leader in that community and he had five boys there were no sisters. It was over 100 years before there was a girl born in the Stephens family. He, for reasons I’d never known to be, didn't go back to the northern neck. Two of his brothers more or less made that home for a while but they all, all but one left the area and went and sought their fortunes elsewhere. And I think with some success. Why he chose Smithfield I never heard him say.
Interviewer: When he first came to Smithfield, was he practicing on his own or was he with a firm?
Delk: He came to ... excuse me. He was in Surry on his own. That probably had something to do with it because one of the leading lawyers here at the time was Albert Sidney Johnson. Albert Sidney Johnson was getting involved in the operation of the Legislative Drafting Bureau ... of the General Assembly of Virginia. That is the ... to be spoke of by that name but it actually was an office that wrote the legislation. It still does. The bills that go into the hopper in the General Assembly come out through this legislative drafting office. Mr. Johnson was involved there at that time. It’s a full-time job I believe now, plus! But with a staff, but at that time there was only man doing short periods of the floor for the General Assembly then. The General Assembly had probably then hired one man, two people at the most and Mr. Johnson was doing that. I think he needed help. So he had, now he probably sought Mr. Stephens to come on to Smithfield. He’s not doing anything in Surry ... I have no idea. I knew Mr. Johnson well, but I never asked either one of them.
Interviewer: You mentioned earlier of his race for commonwealth's attorney, as a write-in candidate, this was somewhere around 1927. What was the exact incident that caused him to seek that write-in or did the people seek to put him in there?
Delk: There had been a violent rape and murder in the county of a white girl in the county by a black man. There was a great turmoil in the county over the handling of the case.
Interviewer: Was this the only factor that caused him to run?
Delk: He didn't run.
Interviewer: Was this the only factor that the people saw to put him in this race for Commonwealth’s Attorney?
Delk: Just that one factor was the only thing I ever knew of or heard of. He, of course, was a forceful lawyer, a young lawyer, much younger than the others. They were all old lawyers; he was the youngest lawyer in the county. Everybody else knows Mr. Johnson wasn’t … and the other lawyers were old, or getting older.
Interviewer: How did he feel about this incident himself?
Delk: He didn't want it. Do you mean about the...?
Interviewer: The incident itself ...?
Delk: I never heard him pass judgment one way or another.
Interviewer: But he did not want this job?
Delk: He did not seek it; he did not know that this ... He probably tried to suppress his name from being mentioned in the contest. It was a strong movement. A vigilante group did wait upon him when he refused to accept the office, but he stood his ground.
Interviewer: Was this the Ku Klux Klan?
Delk: No--it was just a local group of hardheaded, determined people.
Interviewer: How did he view these types of people who would take the law into their own hands if they got the chance?
Delk: I never heard him say, except that I remember all that very well there was a discussion. He wasn't going to let them order him around, I mean he wasn’t afraid of them, but he was fearful of what might happen just the same time. He didn’t, of course, appreciate that type of person or their approach. That was not the type of thing he was ever apart of; he was never a part of anything like that.
Interviewer: You made references to his 1929 House of Delegates race. What caused him to run in this race?
Delk: I haven't the slightest idea. <tape change (?)> Mr. Johnson had been in the House of Delegates, but I don’t think he succeeded him because he was with the legislative draft. I don’t really know who was in the House of Delegates. I’d have to look that up.
Interviewer: Did he consider himself a Democrat at this time?
Delk: Oh absolutely!
Interviewer: Did he ever discuss his feelings with you about winning or losing this election?
Delk: The 1961 election?
Delk: No, I was not here at that time. You asked me when I first knew him and I gave you the background; I'm a native of Smithfield myself, he was not. I was born here but I left, my family moved away from here when I was approximately three years of age. I visited a summer here, which happened to be, I think his first or second summer here, and I met him at that time. I visited Smithfield. I’m the only member of my family who ever did visit Smithfield. I have a large family, but I did come and I would see ... we knew him as "Gi" Stephens, but that was for "giraffe" and not for anything else. He tried to ... I didn’t come back to Smithfield other than I was growing up. I came here my first time, I really had any real contact after the other than these visits in our home and northern Virginia or here. It was in 1934, at which time he had married my first cousin. She was Hannah Delk, and then of course we we’re in the same family. I always stayed with Hannah’s mother, who was my daddy’s sister, but had married a Mr. Delk. That’s why she had a surname Delk. So I knew him then and he came in, but we were never close or anything. I had no idea I’d practice law in Virginia in the first place. Farthest thing from my mind, but I just loved knowing him and followed his progress. I had no conversations with him, politically or otherwise, for many, many years.
Interviewer: Do you remember his opponent for the 1929 election?
Delk: No, I’d have to find out who it was. I don't think he was even opposed. He may not have even been opposed. I believe he was elected. I think that is about as close as I can get to it.
Interviewer: He also served in the Senate, didn't he?
Delk: In 1941, Mr. Stephens came to see me in Washington to interview me and offer me a position in his office. I had been out of law school for some time, but I'd been ill for a long, long time. I was on my way to recovery and was about to return to my ... I was with the legal division of the Treasury Department. I returned ... he came to see me because he had offered two other men opportunities to come to the office. One of them, the most promising one was the son of the Clerk of the Court. He had gone to VMI then; he didn't go to law school because before the war he became a career Army officer, and he retired a major general. The other one didn't go to law school. He was more involved the whole time. Of course, his business was improving and his activities statewide were great, so he needed somebody. So I came to him, he was still a member of the House of Delegates. Shortly after the interview in October of ‘41, I was to come here by January 1. The senator in the district died. Mr. Stephens was elected to fill the unexpired term. Instead of going to the January opening session of the General Assembly as a member of the House of Delegates, he went as a senator. I came aboard and start a ... get the office open ...
Interviewer: So his first initial contact with the State Senate was?
Delk: January of 19… entered the Senate January ... He was elected sometime in November or December of ’41 and went to his first session in January of 1942. He succeeded Senator E. E. Holland, if I’m not mistaken, from Suffolk. I believe he was elected by convention, rather than by a special election. He, of course, stayed in the Senate until ... I’d have to run to get the dates for you. He was rising fast in the Senate; he was a member of the finance committee and of the Rules Committee. He was on all of the most powerful committees in the Senate at that time. He was considered to be one of the most informed members of the General Assembly on the finances of the Commonwealth. He had quite a legislative career, even before he became Lieutenant Governor, if you want these kinds of things. He was a father of the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Act of Virginia, and chief patron, an act that has been modeled for black actions in more than half of the states in the Union. He was chief patron of the legislation creating the Hampton Roads sewage and disposal system. One ironic fact of that is that the town of Smithfield was in the territory covered in the legislation. On the night before the passage of the bill, in the body that performs, which it was at that time, this was the final facet; the interim council of Smithfield sent a telegram to them requesting that it be withdrawn from the territory. The town of Smithfield was excluded,
but Isle of Wight County was kept in it. The town of Smithfield has only in recent years come back into the area served by the commission that he was the patron of. That was one of his prime legislative accomplishments at that time. He was a member of the Denny School Commission, which was a very prominent commission during the 50’s. From which many, many of our state leaders came because it did the first real thorough going in depth study of the school systems in Virginia. This resulted in a drastic change in the laws related to public schools in Virginia. Mr. Denny if I’m ... Dr. Denny if I’m not mistaken was ... I seem to recall, I don’t know why but he was of the college of Washington and Lee University, but I’m not sure. He was a college man; he headed the commission. That’s why it was called the Denny School Commission. He (Stephens) served as member of the Board of Corrections in Virginia for a number of terms while in the General Assembly. During this time, there were many changes made in the corrections system, both in the operations of the parole board and the handling of the prison population and so forth. There may have been others that he served on but [they just] don’t come to mind at this point.
Interviewer: In 1952, Mr. Stephens sought election to finish out the term of Lieutenant Governor Preston who had died in office. Why did he seek this office?
Interviewer: Yes, sir.
Delk: <Lengthy pause> If I were in a courtroom I’d say, “Let’s go off the record.” Uh! I have no recollection of that. I do not think your facts are correct. He had only been in the Senate since ... you're correct, but your name is wrong. You're absolutely correct! I was jumping on ... I apologize. He'd been in the Senate since 1942. I was of the impression that it was prior to 1952 that Lieutenant Governor Pat Collins died in office, and Mr. Stephens sought to succeed him and was elected. Again, I do not believe that was in a special election, such as we became accustomed to in later years. I would ask that you research the points to be sure, but I believe that it was done again by convention. He made this announcement; he had been considering ... he and Pat Collins were close fiends. Pat Collins was an excellent Lieutenant Governor of Virginia and served two or more terms. He was an especially capable and competent presiding officer. I feel that Mr. Stephens learned much from him, under him, as did many of the other senators. Senator E. Willy, one of the leading members of the Senate today was a compatriot of his at the time and I think he would say the same thing. He’s still in service. But it wasn’t ... I remember the name Preston, but ... unless it’s Preston Collins. I’ve got to get it. It was Pat Collins that he succeeded, I know. He served ten years as Lieutenant Governor, so your timing is approximately right. But he ran for ... he may have still held the office, I’m sure he did, of Lieutenant Governor while he ran for Governor ... and it ran ... the time the Lieutenant Governor began in January 1962. So that was a ten-year period. I have a record around somewhere who Pat Collins’ name was. He may have been Preston Collins.
Interviewer: At this time, was he contemplating the governorship?
Interviewer: By this time?
Delk: No. I never heard him mention it.
Interviewer: Do you remember who his GOP opponent was?
Delk: There wasn't one.
Interviewer: He ran unopposed again?
Delk: Yes--that time. He was opposed in subsequent elections for Lieutenant Governor. He must have served and elected twice in general elections. Yes. Two years as a ... on a special ... yea.
Interviewer: Why did he treat that – uhh – four his first four midterms in 1953?
Delk: I have no idea other than that he probably felt that he had something to offer. He was, he had close associates. Such men as Senator Harry Stewart; Mel [Darden?], who was the son of the former Governor of Virginia; Senator Aubrey Weaver, who was one of the leading men of the Senate; Senator Morton Goode; Senator Albert Bryan. You could keep on naming people who were leaders statewide that he was a close associate of. He was a close personal friend with Senator John Battle.
Interviewer: I take it then, of all these members or his associates were in the closely-knit Byrd organization?
Interviewer: In other words, it was the Byrd organization that asked him to run, in a roundabout way?
Delk: I wouldn't say that. No sir. I don't think anybody asked him to run, I think he was the one who decided to run, but I think he did it with encouragement probably from the men and others of that statute that I mentioned to you. He was certainly was not opposed to Senator Byrd, senior or junior, at any time. There may have been clashes of personality, but I certainly did not consider him as being a member of the "anti-Byrd group" if you will. There were people at that time who were quite vociferous in their opposition.
Interviewer: How vociferous were they? I mean, were they?
Delk: Well, Pickens Miller, for example, Colonel Pickens Miller, father of Andrew Miller, was probably one of the ... he was probably one of the most capable orators that I have ever heard and I’ve heard some good ones. He was a strong man, but he was totally opposed to Senator Byrd. He ran for governor against John Battle, one of the four who ran against John, there were five. There were many others ... Senator ... not Senator ... Martin [Hutchinson] was "anti-Byrd," but I wouldn't say he was "anti-Stephens." I don't think Pickens Miller was either. But GI was not an "anti-Byrd" Democrat and there were people of that I’m describing it by using a term that’s well used at that time.
Interviewer: This system has to go to the elector at this time to get the vote. What specific appeal did he have? Is it because he is from … is he from a country background that he has that appeal? What makes him appeal to the electorate, the popular voters? What made him an “itemized commodity” by my use of words?
Delk: Well he ran, he was a Democratic candidate in the first place and that was 2/3 of the battle. In many instances, there was no Republican opposition. There was no one to oppose him for the nomination and they didn't have primaries. I think he had stature and sufficient following that could … carried him through the conventions … state conventions where the nominations were generally made. He had a sufficient feel that I think he was generally for almost [on?] the ticket. He had a country background and he had a world of appeal. He could talk to the 9th District Democrats, which are a very powerful group because he had served as a [coalminer?] while he was in college. He was a tremendous baseball player, was on … tried out with the New York Yankees.
Delk: I knew about the letters.
Interviewer: You did?
Interviewer: What were their contents?
Delk: Uh! It … you say letters … I know at least one letter was written. I was shocked – I believe he was going to … leading up to the fact that he said he had not contacted Mr. Byrd. Uh, did you find that in your research?
Interviewer: Yes I did.
Delk: All right. You’re leading up to that and I suspected it. I was shocked when I read the speech. When she said that he had not, I knew ___. I did not review his speeches. He didn't speak from manuscripts much of the time. He would speak from notes depending on what the circumstances were. During his campaign, he spoke more and more from manuscripts because there he did have a staff that, uh, and some speechwriter help. But it was difficult. I knew that he had written Senator Byrd. As a matter of fact, I don’t want to say it as a partisan, but I'm of the impression, looking back that he even spoke to Senator Byrd about the matter. Not asking his blessing or anything, but letting him know that he intended ... <tape pause>.
Interviewer: The Byrd letters.
Delk: I'm satisfied that there were conversations with Senator Byrd in Washington, I do - would not say it _____ that Mr. Stephens saying that he was going to run for governor and would possibly like to have Mr. Byrd's blessing, of course. But as far as asking him anything about what his choices are, it was never my understanding that that occurred. I know he went to Washington and what occurred I wouldn't know. The information that I had was that he did not go in saying and begging, “look I want your support and I’m gonna run - is it ok with you,” or anything like that. No! But! I do know that a letter was written him and he did – it was in a tone. I did not see it but when he referred to the letter, either at Jonesville, which may have been where it occurred. Senator Byrd, in his suave way, pulled the letter and all he did was expose the letter. And there it was that he had asked him, or had asked for his support and so forth. He wasn’t asking if he could run ... they didn't have anything to do with that, although it was said that’s what the – in other instances Senator Byrd had such power that you had to ask his permission. That wasn't so, but Mr. Stephens got caught off base and that hurt. And they made capital of it from then on.
Interviewer: At this point in time did he know that the organization would support Attorney General Mr. Harrison?
Delk: No. They didn’t have anything. That was a late decision. That was late. I couldn’t tell you when it occurred, but it was a decision that was made late in the day but as far as that goes for the time for qualifying. Also the decision of Mills Godwin to run for Lieutenant Governor was equally late. They announced it virtually the same time.
Interviewer: In my research I’ve found out the before this primary, Mr. Stephens came to the point of almost throwing in the towel because he couldn't find running mates for Lieutenant Governor and Attorney General. Why was this?
Delk: I don't know what you found that would indicate that. If you hadn't said that you found it, I wouldn't think so. He was going to run for governor, come hell or high water. It didn't make any difference. He made up his mind a year and a half, I’m sure, ahead of time. There was no way in the world that he could have been stopped. Or anything could have occurred to
stop him from running. He had sufficient... he had a lot of backing; he didn’t have all the money necessary; he didn’t know there was going to be opposition. He had more than enough money to carry the campaign promised to him. He did get great support. He turned down support that came and proffered finances because he would not be a party to get tied in with just anybody because they would want to finance a part of his campaign. They were striking at the Byrd organization rather than to help him get elected. He was not going to take that kind of financing. If you find anything about who those parties were, that’s up to you. I have never mentioned it, and I’m not going to mention it again. But that did occur. Now as far as his seeking running mates, there has never been any "tickets" as such. Mills Godwin didn't run as a running mate to Senator Harrison. They ran, but ... obviously I mean the people in the press put them together. Mr. Stephens was coming in and it was later that Armistead Booth came in and announced for Lieutenant Governor. Whether it was before or after Godwin and Harrison I can’t document that. But if ... I know that it wasn’t, that obviously he was going to run and he was "anti-Byrd" and always had been -- Armistead Booth. He had been a supporter of "GI" in the Senate and he was persuasive, and he was a strong leader in northern Virginia. But the fact that he ran together with him, I mean ran at the same time, they ran somewhat as a ticket, but ran separately. They did not have the same campaign organizations. They did not have the same financing or anything. Yet they were put together by the press. I heard rumors there was an Attorney General candidate. I’d forgotten if there was one again. So maybe there was only one... may have only been one so far as I know.
Interviewer: He was the University of Virginia law professor.
Delk: ... the only one. May have been only one as far as I know.
Interviewer: At this point, what was his opinion of his Democratic challenger, Mr. Harrison?
Delk: They had a mutual admiration society going before they came in. I told you Albertis was a strong friend of his. I remember going to ... oh we used to have rallies galore. Now they don’t have things like that, but I can remember a great gathering of about twelve to fifteen hundred people. Can’t tell you, on a farm, whether it was in northern Surrey or in northern Sussex or where, but I remember it. They used to have them regularly. I can remember Bobby Arnold, a Commonwealth's Attorney in Sussex, introducing these two men. Each of them spent all their time complimenting the other .. what a whale of lawyer they were and a wheel in the courtroom and everything else. So, he didn't sell Albertis Harrison short, from that standpoint. I don't think he ever attacked the guys who ran against him as such by attacking them. I don't recall it being that, my impression would be. Because I told him that he could beat the heck out of them. If it hadn't have been for the Byrd crowd, he'd have beaten Albertis badly. Albertis was not known statewide. As attorney general, he had not made the impressions like Lindsey Almond. He is a handsome man and a great guy, and I'm just devoted to him -- Albertis -- and a friend. I just consider him a deep friend. He's a good justice on the Supreme Court. Have you ever seen him? Have you ever heard him speak? He has an impediment in his speech. I can't describe it, somewhat like Barbara ... what's her name, the ABC commentator? Barbara Walters. Somewhat like that, that type of thing where there are certain letters, like l's .... Senator Harrison has that same thing. She gets by with it, and it hasn't distracted from her. And to some people, it doesn't mean anything. But it often does affect ... And it did affect him, I think, when he was making his speech, whereas "GI" Stephens was a charging type of guy. He was a hellfire and damnation type of speaker.
Interviewer: Along the same lines as this, what was Mr. Stephens' opinion of the lieutenant governor candidate?
Delk: They had split, and this was a bitter disappointment to Mr. Stephens. Mills Godwin started practice virtually the same time I did. I was with Mr. Stephens and Mills was with his cousin, Charles B. Godwin. Charles B. Godwin was a strong... probably the leading lawyer in Suffolk. He was strongly mentioned for Congress at one time and probably could have gotten it on a silver platter, but he decided to turn it down. It wasn't much of a job in those days, part time really. He had a family, and Congress wasn't in the plan. And I remember, he did, I think that one time he did turn down a judgeship. They divided one
time, Charlie B. and GI did, over a circuit court judgeship, as to who would sponsor one and one another. Willis Cahoon, who was a strong Byrd-man in the House of Delegates, was an ardent admirer of GI Stephens and "anti Godwin" strong. And so Mills and I started, and he came back out of the FBI and went with Charlie B., his cousin, and I with GI Stephens. Would that I had had the success that Mills Godwin had, and the money too. But. And GI, I don't think that he, well he didn't appreciate it, and as his regard for Mills at that time, well he never attacked him or anything, but he was so disappointed. It hurt him badly, and it did affect his feelings towards Mills. Very much.
Interviewer: By this time, was the press characterizing Mr. Stephens as independent of Byrd?
Delk: Yes--very much... anti. They were getting on the anti-Byrd at this time. Everybody tried to paint him with that brush. And of course the Byrd organization was planting the quiet seed to foster that feeling.
Interviewer: I've read that Mr. Byrd has had this inner-circle of close friends and Mr. Stephens was never a part of that.
Delk: Not as deeply.
Interviewer: Was it because of his way of thinking on certain issues?
Delk: I think so, absolutely, and his somewhat independence. He didn't jump when someone said "jump." He made up his own mind and hoped that was what was going to be on the mind of Mr. Byrd. He didn't think about what was Mr. Byrd's opinion before he made up his opinion. And 90% of the time, it was what Mr. Byrd wanted.
Interviewer: Of course Mr. Stephens was defeated in the primary. How much had the writing of this letter hurt him?
Delk: I think the speech at Winchester and the writing of the letter and the Jonesville speech are the things that hurt him. I think they did the most damage in the whole campaign. Whether he would have been successful without those incidents happening is of course a problematic question at this time. I think they were the most damaging things that happened to his campaign. You started out with segregation and massive resistance -- that never was in the campaign. Labor supported GI Stephens. Although he was a lawyer right here in this town, we defeated the CIO for the first time in the south. It had never been, it came into the south this was the campaign in Smithfield. And we put on a campaign that became the model of the independents and I don't want to say anti-union, but people against labor organizations in the south. Wherever our tactics were used, they were defeated. This went to the Supreme Court, and the hearings went on for months. Labor still supported GI Stephens, because they knew where he stood; they didn't know where Byrd stood.
Interviewer: Another issue that may or may not have hindered his candidacy was that of his stand in 1959 on Massive Resistance, whereby they bypassed the Byrd education committee in the Senate. Did that have any effect?
Delk: I don't think it had a thing to do with it; people admired it. In Virginia, the electorate is always way ahead of the so-called politicians -- of the elected officials, who are always looking to the next election. People in education supported GI Stephens. I'm of the impression that the manufacturers were supporters of GI Stephens.
Interviewer: At the time of the setback in the primary, what was his opinion of the Byrd organization? Was it one of bitterness?
Delk: He, like anybody else, resented the fact that Senator Byrd pulled that letter on him.
Interviewer: Did Mr. Stephens ever consider running again?
Delk: No--he had a heart attack in the late spring of 1962. He was out of the office for about four months. During this time, I brought in an assistant. While he recovered his health, we were charging on, but it was never the same.
Interviewer: Mr. Stephens passed away on June 9, 1973. In an article written by The Virginian Pilot concerning his political career, they paid him a high compliment: "A country lawyer who held sacred the traditions of Virginia's past, but he never let traditions stand in the way of inevitable change necessary for the state's growth." How true is that statement?
Interviewer: Was Mr. Stephens somewhat of a traditionalist? In a sense?
Delk: I would say so--very much so. His home is known as the second-oldest residence in town. It is at the corner of Main and Mason. It dates back to the late 17th century to the early 18th century. Can you imagine someone who is not a traditionalist being in that type of residence? He was a William and Mary graduate, and he received honors. He was awarded a doctorate. He revered the college and all that went with it. Lindsey Auburn said that in order to cope with the future, you have to have an understanding of the past. That's exactly Lindsey's
philosophy and that was GI Stephens' philosophy. You can have all you wanted in the way of tradition, but that doesn't mean you can't change.
Interviewer: What were Mr. Stephens' hopes for Virginia politically during the remainder of his life?
Delk: I can't tell you; I wouldn't know how to put it. He never thought about Virginia that way. He loved the state. We thought it was a progressive state, even though we were put down at the bottom in education. Virginia is a state where more and more businesses and industries are coming to. I just think that he hoped Virginia would keep on in that path.
Interviewer: How would GI Stephens want himself to be remembered by Virginia historians and Virginians in general?
Delk: As a traditionalist who sought progress in the state in everything. He wanted to see all of this enhanced and improved upon so that Virginia would maintain its stature as it had in the earliest days, as one of the leading states in the country. It produced more presidents than any other state.
Interviewer: Are there any humorous remembrannces that caused Mr. Stephens to laugh at himself?
Delk: He was a great guy. My wife loved him like a brother. He was a good guy to be at a party with. We had great times together. Frequently, he went to social affairs with my wife and I. He could always come with a ready joke and he appreciated a joke. He was a practical joker to a great extent. He had scared me to death on the day I was married. All five of the Stephens boys had three initials. GI was A.E.S. Stephens, J.W.G. was Colonel Stephens and he's retired. J.R.C. Stephens was the youngest. Ennels [sp?] Stephens was "Big GI." He and GI were both at William and Mary. He ran for the Senate in Louisiana. He's a very wealthy man--the wealthiest and most successful of the brothers. He's the man who built Tide's Inn in Irvington. GI was a great baseball player and a great prankster. When he was in school, he would work in the coalmines and play summer baseball. I think he enjoyed a great popularity among a large group of people just because of who he was and his enjoyment of life.
Interviewer: That will conclude our interview.
Delk: I don't have to tell you anymore about him. He really was a great guy and a hell of a guy to practice law with. He was so strong. We tried cases together for years. I wish that he could have lived to see my son come into practice. He retired on December 3, 1971. He would be just as proud of him. My son is of the same political philosophy. GI had a son who did not study law; I think it was a bitter disappointment to him.