By Cindy Williams[Ed. Note: The following is written by the current chair of the Falls Church City Democratic Committee on the retirement announcement of State Sen. Dick Saslaw, who represents Falls Church in Richmond].
“Sooner or later you’ve got to realize that it’s time to move on. But it’s been a great forty-eight years…I can’t tell you how great it’s been. And I’ve been given a fabulous opportunity by the people…and I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished here over the last forty-some years.” With that, Senate Democratic Majority Leader Dick Saslaw, who represents the City of Falls Church, announced the end of his legendary General Assembly career on the floor of the Senate last Thursday.
Saslaw was first elected to office in 1976. He served in the Virginia House of Delegates for four years until being elected to the Senate in 1980, where he has served since. His peers chose him as Floor Leader in 1996, and he has been chosen as Majority or Minority Leader every session since 1998. He chairs the Commerce and Labor committee, and serves on numerous other committees.
Much of his legislation has focused on transportation issues, public education, and utility regulation. After this long career, he hopes to spend more time traveling with his wife Eleanor, and visiting his daughter and grandchildren in California.
His retirement announcement was followed by nearly an hour of laudatory speeches — many given through tears — from his Senate peers on both sides of the aisle. Much of what they said echoed my own reasons for appreciating the Senator, and calling him a dear friend, despite sometimes having strong political disagreements with him. Senator Janet Howell said “we battled it out and ended up friends” which is pretty much the path of my friendship with him as well.
Several senators spoke about his integrity and his honesty. Senator Howell said he “is loyal to a fault,…has great integrity,…is a person you can trust.” Republican Senator Jill Vogel said she was “totally enamored with how he can even approach a constituent in the face of an awkward conversation and be so brutally honest.” True enough — that constituent has quite often been me! We won’t always agree with our elected representatives, but for me at least, honesty is a non-negotiable requirement for my support.
One after another senator called Senator Saslaw a good friend, a mentor, and even a father figure. Republican Senate Minority Leader Tommy Norment called him “one of the closest and fastest friends that I have in the Senate.” Senator Chap Petersen said that Saslaw “led me and cajoled me to be the best man I could be…next to my own father, he’s been the most important figure in my life, as a mentor, as a leader, as someone who’s shown an example.” GOP Senator John Cosgrove said that Saslaw had been a mentor to many legislators, and Senator Barbara Favola said “you have been a mentor to so many of us, that your views and your thoughts are going to influence us for years to come.”
And numerous people spoke of his kindness, and of his being a people-person—and he truly is the kindest person I know, who lives to help out his friends and the people he cares about. Senator Mamie Locke called him “the epitome of a true Virginia gentleman,” and said “I love you dearly and will miss you immensely.” Republican Senator Steve Newman said “this side of the aisle loves and respects you as much as anybody over there,” and thanked him for “the kindness that you’ve shown me and my family.” Senator Vogel said “he is joyful, he is fun, even when he is fuming and furious, he is still a little bit funny.”
Above all, his peers told him they loved him and would miss him, called him an “icon” and a “legend,” and said that nothing would be the same without him. Senator Vogel, who is retiring from the Senate as well this year, said “I will be sad for this institution, I do not know how it will go on without him…We all love you dearly, Dick Saslaw, and we do not know how another day will go on when you walk out this building.”