Patty Quesenberry and Renie Gates want to be something we’ve never had in Virginia: a mother-daughter combo serving in the General Assembly at the same time.
The odds are against them; both are Democrats running in some of the strongest Republican districts in the state, but the history they’re trying to make is worth noting anyway. In fact, simply by running at the same time they may already have made history.
The same history is full of lots of father-son combinations in politics, so many that there’s no official count of them but we should name-check some of the more famous, and recent, ones.
The most famous — and influential — were, of course, the Byrds. Harry Byrd Sr. entered the state Senate in 1916, later became governor and eventually a U.S. senator. He was such a powerful force that the political organization he led came to be known as the Byrd Machine. His son, Harry Jr., was elected to the Senate in 1947 and served there until 1965. When his father fell ill and retired, Harry Jr. was appointed to succeed him and later won the seat in his own right, holding it until his own retirement. From 1916 to 1983 — that’s 67 years of the Byrd family in politics.
That’s only a fraction, though, of the time that the Slemp family has spent in politics. Sebastian Smyth Slemp of Lee County served in the House of Delegates from 1850 to 1852. After the Civil War, his son, Henry Slemp, was elected to the state Senate in 1875 for a single term (he later came back and served another term in the House of Delegates). In 1879, Lee County also elected Henry Slemp’s younger brother, Campbell Slemp, to the House of Delegates. He was elected to Congress in 1902 and held the 9th District seat until his death in 1907. Slemp’s son, C. Bascom Slemp, succeeded his father in Congress and stayed there until 1923. He wasn’t done with politics, or maybe politics wasn’t done with him. He went on to serve as secretary — the modern term would be chief of staff — to President Calvin Coolidge. Another member of the extended Slemp family is now in politics: Chuck Slemp, formerly commonwealth’s attorney in Wise County, is now chief deputy attorney general. From 1850 to 2023, that’s 173 years of Slemp service (with a few interruptions here and there).
The Wamplers of Southwest Virginia claim three generations in politics. William Wampler Sr. served two stints in Congress: from 1953 to 1955 in the House of Representatives and then returned to the House again from 1967 to 1983. His son, William Wampler Jr., served in the state Senate from 1988 to 2012, and his son, Will Wampler III — the late congressman’s grandson — is currently a member of the House of Delegates. Just not for long — he was squeezed out by redistricting, but given his age (he’s 32), I would not be surprised to see him run for office again someday. (His grandfather was out of office a dozen years when he returned to Washington.)
Then there are some more standard father-son pairs:
Ted Dalton of Radford was a legendary Republican leader in the 1940s and ’50s, when there were few Republicans in Virginia. He was a state senator and twice was an unsuccessful candidate for governor. His son, John Dalton, followed in his footsteps, both as a member of the General Assembly and a statewide candidate. The difference: Times had changed and John Dalton was elected governor in 1977.
Robert Bloxom Sr. of Accomack County served in the House of Delegates from 1978 to 1984, and then as Virginia’s first secretary of agriculture and forestry from 2005 to 2010 under two different governors, Mark Warner and Tim Kaine. His son, Robert Jr., now serves in the House. (I should probably point out that the younger Bloxom, like his father, is a Republican, although his father did serve in the cabinet of two Democratic governors.)
Larry Wilder of Richmond served a single term in the House of Delegates from 1992 to 1994 when his father, Douglas Wilder, was governor.
Jerrauld Jones of Norfolk served in the House of Delegates from 1988 to 2002 and is now a judge. His son, Jay Jones, served in the House from 2018 to 2021. The elder Jones ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor in 2001; his son was an unsuccessful candidate for the Democratic nomination for attorney general in 2021 but is widely expected to run again in 2025.
The Hollands represent a father-and-two-son combination. Shirley Holland of Isle of Wight County served in the House of Delegates from 1946 to 1965. Sons Richard and Clancy served in the state Senate, the former representing rural Isle of Wight, the latter suburban Virginia Beach, two districts whose interests did not always coincide. A 1999 story in the Newport News Daily Press featured this colorful account:
Few have forgotten when brother fought brother on the Senate floor in 1989, standing side by side at their adjacent desks, debating for over an hour while the video rolled and the cameras flashed.
“My mother called me that night,” Richard Holland recalled. “She said, ‘Richard, you’re not mad at Clancy, are you? I saw you on the TV.’ I said ‘No, Mother, he was representing his constituents, and I was representing mine.’ “
Now we have Quesenberry and Gates from Floyd County. The mother is running in House District 47, now represented by Del. Wren Williams, R-Patrick County. The daughter is running in Senate District 7, represented by state Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Franklin County.
While they would be the first mother-daughter combination in Virginia history to serve at the same time, they would not be the first mother and daughter to both serve in the legislature.
That necessary qualifier opens a door that leads nearly a century back into our past: Helen Timmons Henderson of Buchanan County was one of the first two women elected to the General Assembly (Sarah Fain of Norfolk was the other) back in 1923. She died in 1925 before her term in the House of Delegates ended. Two years later, in 1927, her daughter, Helen Ruth Henderson, was elected to the seat. They became the first mother and daughter to serve in any state legislature in the country. They were followed a few years later by Nellie Nugent Somerville and Lucy Somerville Howorth in Mississippi.
Still, for obvious reasons, a mother-daughter combination in politics is unusual. After an initial flurry of women being elected to the General Assembly in the 1920s and ’30s, Virginia’s legislature returned to its previous all-male membership and stayed that way until 1953. Even then, Virginia did not elect a woman as a state senator until 1977.
However, Virginia came close to electing a mother-son combination in 1961. This gives us an opportunity to revisit the remarkable Giesen family. The Giesens had produced two mayors of Radford in the first half of the 1900s. In 1954, the wife of one of those former mayors ran for city council and won. Charlotte Giesen, better known as “Pinkie,” thus became the first woman to serve on Radford’s governing body. This turned out to only be the start.
In 1957, Pinkie Giesen ran for the House of Delegates. That was a particularly challenging year in Virginia. Massive Resistance — Byrd’s policy to hold the line against school integration — was at a fever pitch. There was also a governor’s race going on and Democrat Lindsay Almond of Roanoke was running on a strong segregationist platform. He easily dispatched the aforementioned Ted Dalton, the Republican nominee. But in Radford, Giesen won narrowly. She was a Republican, and Virginia Republicans in the 1950s — notably the “mountain-valley Republicans” — were decidedly progressive on racial matters. She was quite specifically against Massive Resistance, a brave stance for those times. In winning, Pinkie Giesen became the first Republican woman in the General Assembly.
Pinkie Giesen won again in 1959 on a platform that was called for ending Massive Resistance, “requiring inoculations against polio, imposing mandatory jail sentences on drunk drivers, and requiring government to conduct its business in open meetings.”
Then in 1961 two Giesens ran: Pinkie in Radford and her son, Arthur “Pete” Giesen, in Augusta County.
Had they won, they’d have been Virginia’s first mother-son combo in the General Assembly. They did not. Both lost. Pete ran again two years later and won, and went on to a long career in Richmond, eventually becoming House minority leader. Pinkie wasn’t done with politics, either. She ran for the Radford City Council, and won again. (You can read the editorial about their legacy that I wrote for The Roanoke Times when Pete Giesen died in 2021.)
Virginia passed up the chance for a mother-son legacy in the General Assembly in 1961. Of the combinations cited above, all involved father and son serving at different times. Should Quesenberry and Gates defy the odds, they’d be serving at the same time. Lots of things, issue-wise, will be on the ballot this fall, but so will a little bit of potential history.
We have a full list of the General Assembly candidates in Southwest and Southside.