By William “Skip” Deegans
Shown in this portrait is James Hubert Price, the 53rd governor of Virginia. Born in 1878 near Organ Cave, Price was one of two Greenbrier County native sons who became a state governor. The other governor was Homer Holt of Lewisburg who was West Virginia’s 20th governor.
When Price was nine, he moved with his family to Staunton, Virginia. There, he graduated from Dunsmore Business College where he joined the faculty. Using his teacher’s salary he paid for two sisters to attend Mary Baldwin Seminary (now Mary Baldwin College) and for a brother to attend Dunsmore. Price left Staunton for Lexington where he earned a law degree at Washington & Lee College. Afterwards, he moved to Richmond to practice law. He served seven consecutive terms in the Virginia House of Delegates and became Lieutenant Governor in 1929. Unusually affable, he picked up the nickname “Gentleman Jim.”
Price was an active Mason and Shriner and rose to leadership in both fraternities helping him form a political base. Price challenged the Byrd (Senator Harry F. Byrd) Democratic machine and was elected governor as a Democrat in 1937. He was a liberal progressive who implemented the Social Security Act, inaugurated Virginia’s public assistance program, emphasized public education, raised teachers’ salaries, and brought into government non-political technical and scientific experts. He embraced Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal and used federal monies to fund the most extensive building program in Virginia’s history. Among his legacy are the Library of Virginia, libraries at the University of Virginia and Virginia Military Institute, and the Medical College of Virginia Hospital.
About Price, one of Virginia’s newspapers said “he was genial and friendly with persons of all walks of life. That was because his friendliness proceeded from a genuine love of people.” Following his single term as governor, he traveled the country promoting the sale of war bonds. Price died unexpectedly in 1943 from a cerebral hemorrhage. He was 65.
Portrait from the Library of Virginia was painted in 1940 by Frank Graham Cootes.
Sources: Richmond Times-Dispatch, The Daily News Leader, The Virginian Pilot.
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