Two years ago today, we lost Tucker Watkins. Not a week has gone by in those two years that I haven’t wanted to pick up the phone and get Tucker’s take on an issue or his counsel about a thorny political issue. Or, just to tell him about something that had come up that day.
It is true that out of the literally thousands of telephone conversations we had over close to 14 years, the largest number had some connection to politics and political personalities. Yet, no matter the topic of our conversation, one thing came through clearly: Tucker Watkins always saw the individual. Not the occupation (though he always knew it). Not the geography (though we shared a partiality for Southside Virginia). Not the family history (though Tucker knew the history of many, many families and took the time to become familiar with the families of many of those with whom he worked). It wasn’t race or ethnicity or religion or educational attainment.
It was the individual. Tucker was a man who assumed the best in everyone until proven otherwise. There were many times when I expressed amazement that he had spent time talking with this person or that person. His response was usually something like, “You never know, we might find we have something in common.”
Did that mean he didn’t get mad at individuals at times? Of course not. Tucker was a man of strong beliefs and conviction. He was willing to take a stand, even if it meant being the first to do so. But, he was also a man who could disagree with you on an issue – even many issues – without seeing you as the enemy. This approach is all too rare in politics these days. It was natural for Tucker, though, as it carried through into other aspects of his life.
Tucker also loved to help people, and was always looking for ways in which to help. Sometimes this came in the form of help to the larger community, such as assisting with economic development or securing grants for numerous communities. At other times, his help came in the form of a personal gift of money or food – usually anonymously – to a family in need. It came in the form of mentoring or encouragement. Who knows how many individuals and families Tucker helped in a time of need, who will never know this side of Heaven how that help arrived?
In early 2006, Alton Foley posted an account of his first meeting with Tucker. Alton has given me permission to re-post it below (thank you, Richard Crouse, for getting us in touch). For many of you, it will bring back vivid memories of similar experiences.
Two years. We miss you, Tucker. Thankfully, we live with the knowledge that we will see you again.
TUCKER WATKINS … GOP STRATEGIST
By Alton Foley
Saturday, June 17, 2006
I slipped into Charlottesville last night under cover of darkness. I met my contact, Tucker Watkins, at the Marriott Courtyard where we discussed possible speakers for the Blogs United conference in August.
Before I knew what had happened we were infiltrated by an advance scouting party of Democrat types. Being the gracious host he is, Tucker did not unleash the cannons, but instead directed them to the makeshift bar he had created on what the hotel thought would be used as a desk. Ah, I thought, he is shrewd. Loosen their inhibitions with a generous shot of excellent Bourbon, or fine Scotch, and send them back to their camp.
It worked. Word soon got out at the Al Weed reception, that the rickety desk just a block away in the Courtyard held free booze in such quantity that it should not run out soon, and it was guarded only by a couple of amiable white haired guys from Southside. That bit of information soon emptied the Weed reception. Well, empty except for Al Weed and Creigh Deeds, of course. At their last sighting, they had a member of the service staff cornered and were earnestly discussing progressive taxation and living wage levels with a confused old man who just wanted to finish mopping so he could lock up and go home to his wife and feed his beagles.
Did I mention that Tucker Watkins is shrewd? Let me tell you, he is shrewd. He thought this whole thing out. Apparently he had scouted the hotel weeks in advance. His choice of rooms from which to launch this endeavor was designed perfectly to lure those liberals into the trap.
First, he chose room number 111. Brilliant! It doesn’t require much thought to remember a series of ones, and it seems they all managed that mental feat quite easily. Next, he knew that he must also make the room easy for our leftist friends to find. Now, this part of the planning is what shows just how cunning Mr. Watkins truly is. Knowing the natural inclination of his prey, he chose probably the only hotel within a 100 mile radius that requires nothing but left turns from the lobby all the way to that makeshift bar in room 111.
Unfortunately that strategy caused our only casualty last night. Our agent RC was unable find us. That third left turn into the room proved to be just too difficult for her to manage. She was able to muster the resolve to return safely to her base camp, though, for which I am thankful. I still have confidence in her abilities, and feel this was just a rookie failure that she will soon overcome.
Tucker’s plan was working perfectly. In just a few short hours we managed to capture Waldo Jaquith, Vivian Paige, VirginiaCentrist, several others, and even Brian Patton, who was still wearing his full General’s regalia (less tie, of course, it was informal after all). The desk/bar did it’s duty and we soon had VirginiaCentrist singing like a bird. But Vivian managed to cut him off short before he released too much information. Or did she? Do any of them remember this morning just what strategy they may have revealed before we released them back to their camp?
The lone exception was General Patton, strangely he just had sober conversation with me and I think Tucker before he slipped away quietly. As I was making my departure back to Henry County in the small hours of the morning, I noticed Brian in the company of Al and Creigh discussing college tuition taxation policy with the girl who was cleaning up the tables at the Weed reception. She looked tired.
Posted by I’m Not Emeril @ 3:55 PM
Mike Thomas earned his degree in political science from the University of Richmond. Since 1996, he has served as First Vice Chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia. Mike has more than 30 years of experience helping to organize and manage grassroots operations for dozens of local, state, and federal elected officials and candidates. From 1994-98, he served as the Commonwealth’s Secretary of Administration for Governor George Allen, and worked as State Director and Chief of Staff for U.S. Senator George Allen. Mike has been a senior vice president at McGuire Woods since 2007. He and his wife live in Richmond.