Former first lady of Virginia dies

The former first lady of Virginia, Katherine Godwin, was mourned Thursday as folks across the state learned of her death Thursday morning.

The former first lady of Virginia, Katherine Godwin, was mourned Thursday as folks across the state learned of her death Thursday morning.

The wife of Chuckatuck native and two-time governor Mills Godwin never relished her life in the public eye during her husband’s political service, friends and family said on Thursday. She much preferred to spend time with those who were close to her.

Katherine Godwin shows off her book, “Living in a Legacy,” on the grounds of the Virginia governor’s mansion in this undated photo provided courtesy of Riddick’s Folly, which has an extensive exhibit on Godwin and her husband, the late Mills Godwin Jr. She died Thursday.

Katherine Godwin shows off her book, “Living in a Legacy,” on the grounds of the Virginia governor’s mansion in this undated photo provided courtesy of Riddick’s Folly, which has an extensive exhibit on Godwin and her husband, the late Mills Godwin Jr. She died Thursday.

“She was not one to be out and about in the public eye on her own,” said Trudy Norfleet, who grew up next door to the Godwins and later served as secretary to the governor’s assistant during Mills Godwin’s second term in Richmond. “Mrs. Godwin was a devoted wife and believed her role was (to) support her husband.”

Delegate Chris Jones, a former neighbor of the Godwins in Chuckatuck and in Cedar Point, also said Mrs. Godwin wanted to support her husband, to whom she had been married for 58 years when he died in 1999.

“She preferred the private life, but she was very supportive of Mills,” Jones said. “She wanted him to pursue his dreams and be successful, and she was always by his side.”

Jones recalled the Godwins inviting “pretty much the entire village of Chuckatuck” to the governor’s mansion for receptions during his two terms in office, from 1966 to 1970 and from 1974 to 1978.

“I remember just how proud she was to have her neighbors and friends there,” Jones said.

Suffolk attorney Whitney Saunders, a relative of the Godwins, said Katherine Godwin assumed her role very graciously.

“She never asked for a public life and to some degree was a reluctant participant in the political sphere, but she took on her role with consummate grace and was absolutely gracious to everyone that she had contact with,” Saunders said. “She approached all of her duties as wholeheartedly as you could and performed them all incredibly admirably.”

Barbara Warren, Mrs. Godwin’s personal secretary after having been secretary to the governor for many years, called Godwin “an elegant and delightful lady.”

“She brought out the best in everyone,” Warren said. “Her warm, hospitable personality and genuine interest in others will always be remembered.”

Several remembered Mrs. Godwin’s kindness to children who lived in the neighborhood.

“She loved to tell the story about keeping me as an infant and checking on me every 10 minutes to make sure I was breathing,” Norfleet said. “She continued to check on me and teach me through the years, and she eventually became like a second mother to me.”

India Meissel, a social studies teacher at Lakeland High School, recalled growing up next to the Godwins in Cedar Point.

“She told me, ‘I’ve always learned that you don’t return a plate or a dish empty,’” Meissel said. When Meissel’s mother would send her over with baked goods or vegetables from the garden, Katherine Godwin would make sure to put something on the plate when it went back.

It became a tradition, Meissel said, and her mother started making sure the dishes never went back empty as well.

“My mother always had to send the plate back with something else on it, even if it was a can of peanuts or a tomato.”

“She was the most welcoming of people to me,” Meissel continued. “It was never, ‘You can’t sit on this furniture.’ She was just the ordinary next-door neighbor, and that’s how she wanted it to be. She was almost like another relative to me.”

Others recalled Godwin’s wonderful sense of humor.

“During her second time as first lady of Virginia, we dressed up on Halloween, got a capitol policeman to drive us, and went trick-or-treating at nearby friends’ homes,” Norfleet recalled.

Godwin was Yogi Bear, and Norfleet dressed as a witch. They didn’t speak a word as they handed out candy — trick-or-treating in reverse.

“No one ever suspected that the first lady of Virginia had been to call,” Norfleet said.

“She had a marvelous wit and humor that was constantly with her,” Saunders recalled.

In all, Godwin was the perfect first lady for the state, friends said.

“When you think about the first lady of Virginia, Katherine Godwin is the first to come to mind,” Jones said.

Funeral arrangements are pending and will be announced when they are set.

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Article taken from The Suffolk News-Herald – http://www.suffolknewsherald.com
URL to article: http://www.suffolknewsherald.com/2015/03/05/former-first-lady-of-virginia-dies/

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