By Lynn R. Mitchell
The father of former U.S. House of Representatives Majority Leader Eric Cantor passed away Saturday in his hometown of Richmond (see obituary in Richmond Times-Dispatch).
“Mr. Eddie,” as he was fondly known, was 82. He was the son of Jewish immigrants who escaped Eastern Europe at the turn of the 20th century and moved to Richmond where his parents settled in downtown Jackson Ward and lived above the grocery store they owned. His mother was widowed at an early age but she was determined that her sons would be educated.
A 2011 Jewish Times article wrote of Eddie Cantor:
Eddie was an overachiever determined to make his way up the civic ladder. He graduated from John Marshall, one of the city’s best public high schools, at 15, and went on to Virginia Tech and the University of Richmond law school before going into practice with his older brother, Robert.
The one thing [the Cantors] did that few others did, though, was talk Republican politics. As the boys were growing up, their father became increasingly involved in civic affairs — and in the nascent Republican movement that was emerging in opposition to the Harry F. Byrd Democratic political machine, known simply as “The Organization,” which controlled Virginia for most of the 20th century.
“Eddie was a Jewish Republican when there weren’t any Jewish Republicans in Richmond,” says Phil Cantor, a cousin. “You could easily say you didn’t know any Jewish Republicans other than Eddie Cantor.”
Mr. Cantor was instrumental in his son Eric’s interest in politics:
Eddie, who was then a district Republican committee chairman, had bigger plans for his middle son. In 1991, a few days short of his 28th birthday and with an infant son at home, Eric Cantor filed his candidacy for a vacant seat in the House of Delegates, the lower chamber of Virginia’s legislature.
With help from his father and other Republican Party activists who had watched him grow up, Cantor assiduously collected endorsements, and he beat his nearest primary challenger by nearly a 2-to-1 margin in a three-hour nominating contest held in a high school gym — and called to order with a prayer invocation, according to an account in the Richmond Times-Dispatch. There were no Democratic challengers in the general election, and in 1992, Cantor became the youngest member of the state assembly.
Mr. Cantor’s son went on to become one of the most powerful politicians in Washington, D.C. — truly the American dream come true.
During World War II, Eddie Cantor served as a 1st Lt. Battery Commander in the U.S. Army. Returning home, he practiced law with his brother at Cantor & Cantor, and was very involved with the Jewish Community and the Republican Party of Virginia.
Eddie Cantor was active in the community, serving as President of the West Richmond Kiwanis Club, Grandmaster Fraternal Lodge No. 53 AF&AM, perceived as commissioner of Virginia Housing Development Authority, Trustee of Congregation Or Atid, and a Board Member of Temple Beth-El.
He is survived by his wife of 55 years, Mary Lee Cantor; three sons, Stuart Cantor (Joan), Eric Cantor (Diana) and Paul Cantor (Debra); 13 grandchildren and one great-granddaughter. A funeral ceremony will be held 12 noon Monday, March 30 at Bliley’s-Central Chapel, 3801 Augusta Ave. Interment at Sir Moses Montefiore will follow. The family has requested any charitable donations be directed to the MSA Coalition.
Our sincere condolences to the entire Cantor family at the loss of Eddie Cantor.