ALEXANDRIA, VA. Former Virginia Senator John W. Warner, a centrist Republican who served as secretary to the Navy and one of the Senate’s most influential military experts, died at the age of 94, his longtime chief of staff said on Wednesday.
Warner died on Tuesday at home in Alexandria, Virginia, of heart failure with his wife and daughter by his side, said Susan A. Magill.
« He was frail but had a lot of spirit and was involved until his last days » said Magill.
Warner, a courtly figure who defeated celebrities and was married to Elizabeth Taylor when he was elected to the Senate in 1978. He served five terms before leaving the Chamber in 2008. He was supported by the moderates of both major parties and established himself at the center of American politics.
He was a major proponent of President George W. Bush’s declaration of war in Iraq and was for a time chairman of the Senate Armed Forces Committee. He had an independent phase that sometimes angered more conservative GOP leaders. But he was hugely popular with Virginia voters.
Being the sixth of Taylor’s seven husbands didn’t hurt when he ran for the Senate. The two were married in 1976 and divorced in 1982. Taylor later wrote that they remained friends, but they « just couldn’t stand the intense loneliness » as he became absorbed in his Senate duties.
He was replaced in 2008 by Democrat Mark Warner – no relationship – who took him over in 1996 had challenged for the Senate and subsequently served as governor of Virginia. After years of rivalry, the two became good friends. Mark Warner said his friend « embodies what it means to be a senator. »
Warner was supported by moderates from both parties. The courtly senator with chiseled features and a thick patch of gray hair was so popular with Virginia voters that the 2002 Democrats didn’t bother challenging him for re-election into his fifth term.
« The Virginians know that I stand up for what I believe is right and I accept the consequences, « Warner said in 1996.
» Virginia has lost an unmatched leader and my family has lost a dear friend, « said Senator Tim Kaine, D -Va. “When I got into the Senate, I understood the influence of John Warner even more deeply. I have met John McCain, Carl Levin, and so many others who have served with him and have validated his integrity and oversized influence on a body he loved so much. “
Warner was an early advocate of McCain’s presidential campaign and supported his fellow Senator in February 2007.
The former Secretary of the Navy, a WWII and Korean veteran, Warner devoted most of his career to military affairs. He lost his post as chairman of the Armed Forces Committee in 2001 when Senator Jim Jeffords resigned from the GOP and the Democrats took control of the Senate. After the 2002 elections, he regained control of the Republicans until the 2006 elections.
Warner often defended the Bush administration’s handling of the Iraq war, but also showed a willingness to oppose the White House to fight back.
After a trip to Iraq in 2007, Warner asked Bush to bring troops home. He summoned senior Pentagon officials to hearings about the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal and the Iraq war. Years earlier, he cast a critical vote denying President Reagan’s candidacy to the US Supreme Court, Judge Robert Bork, a Conservative favorite.
In 2005, Warner was part of the Gang of 14 – one Group of centrist senators who defused an in-court filibuster showdown against Bush’s appeals court candidates. That same year, Warner was the only senator to formally object to the federal government intervening in Terri Schiavo’s death right case. « Greater wisdom will not always rest in the branches of the federal government, » he said at the time . He had his statement tacitly included in the Congressional report after the measure passed the Senate with one vote.
The Republicans nominated Warner for the Senate in 1978 after Richard Obenshain, the party’s first choice, was killed in a plane crash was. Warner was mocked by some who thought he was riding the coattails of his then-wife Taylor, whom he married in late 1976.
Warner was elected and could by a gossamer margin of 4,721 votes out of 1.2 million votes cast Easily re-elected in 1984 and 1990.
In 1994, Warner angered the Conservatives by resisting GOP candidate Oliver North’s offer to remove Democratic Senator Charles S. Robb. Warner declared the Iran Contra figure unsuitable for public office and supported the independent J. Marshall Coleman, who received enough independent and moderate GOP votes to ensure Robb’s re-election.
Muted by what they consider Contemplating infidelity to the party, the GOP Conservatives tried to deny him a fourth term in 1996 and backed a challenge from former Reagan administration’s budget director Jim Miller.
Miller portrayed Warner as an elitist who spent too much time spent squeezing stars including Barbara Walters. But Warner easily defeated Miller in the primary, beating Democrat Mark Warner in the general election. John Warner improved his strained relationship with the GOP by winning the successful campaigns of Jim Gilmore for governor in 1997 and George Allen for Robb’s Senate seat in 2000.
« I certainly risked my political future, that’s for sure, » Warner said in 1994. « But I would rather that this state’s electorate remember that I was on my principle. … That’s the price of leadership. «
While the military was a top priority for Warner, he also advocated legislation to tighten seat belt laws and address an increasing number of environmental issues.
Warner became Born on February 18, 1927 in Washington, DC. At the age of 17 he volunteered for the Navy and served as a 3rd class electronics technician. He received an engineering degree from Washington and Lee University in 1949.
He entered the University of Virginia law school in the fall of 1949, but volunteered the next year with the Marines and served in Korea as a first lieutenant and communications officer First Marine Air Wing.
He was a clerk at the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, practiced privately, and then served as a federal attorney for four years.
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In 1960 he resumed his private practice, specializing in banking, securities and corporate practices. He became Secretary of the Navy in 1969 and was Secretary of the Navy from 1972 to 1974. From 1974 to 1976 he was Administrator of the Bicentennial Government of the American Revolution.
Warner received an estimated net worth of $ 7 million when he split up his first marriage to Catherine Mellon, daughter of multimillionaire Paul Mellon.He and Taylor divorced in 1982 and married real estate agent Jeanne Vander Myde in 2003.
Warner had three children, Mary, Virginia and John, and was a member of the Episcopal Church.
Dena Potter, a former employee of The Associated Press, was the lead author of this obituary.
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