Former Rep. William Creed Wampler, a moderate Republican who turned Virginia’s 9th district red after 22 years of Democratic control, died Wednesday night after a long illness, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch. He was 86.
First elected to the House in 1952 on the coattails of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, the first Republican presidential candidate to win Virginia’s electoral votes since Herbert Hoover in 1928, Wampler was a vehement supporter of the coal mining population of the impoverished Appalachian region of southwest Virginia he represented for 18 years.
His service in Congress was split into two stints. Following his defeat in 1954 after one term, Wampler took a 12-year hiatus from Congress before returning to Washington, D.C., in 1966. He spent an additional 16 years in the House before narrowly losing his seat following redistricting in 1982.
Known as the “Bald Eagle of the Cumberlands,” Wampler was a Republican by birth, joining the party his family supported because of its opposition to slavery, the Dispatch reported.
Wampler made one of his final public appearances in 2010 at the victory party of current 9th district Rep. Morgan Griffith (R), where he gave Griffith the 9th district license plate that once graced his own car.
Wampler was praised by a number of Virginia politicians following the news of his death, all of whom said they mourned the loss of the Congressman who exemplified the personality of Virginia’s “fighting 9th,” a nickname given to the district for its customary raucous politics.
“I am very saddened by his loss. He was always interested in what was happening in Washington, and he had advised me on the campaign,” Griffith said. “He was a great leader in the district, and I try and live up to his standards. I hope I can achieve that.”
Former Virginia Gov. George Allen (R), who is running to reclaim the Senate seat he lost in 2006, called Wampler a trusted adviser and said his legacy lives on through his son, William C. Wampler Jr., a former member of the Virginia Senate.
“The spirit of the Bald Eagle of the Cumberlands may have ascended to the Heavens, but memories and appreciation for his strong leadership for the people of Southwest Virginia will live on,” Allen said in a statement.
Former Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine (D), a former chairman of the Democratic National Committee and current Senate candidate in the Old Dominion State, also mourned Wampler’s passing.
“A bastion of Virginia politics and no doubt a driving force behind his district’s ‘fighting ninth’ nickname, William will be missed by all those he has worked with over his many years in state politics,” Kaine said in a statement. “My thoughts and prayers are with his family, and I join all Virginians in thanking him for his great record of service to our Commonwealth.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.