Election Day was cold and dreary on Dec. 29, 1970.
But that didn’t stop Thomas J. Michie Jr. and his wife, Molly, from casting a ballot at about 9 a.m. A Daily Progress photographer caught them sporting a smile at the polls.
They voted in the special election for the 26th District seat in the House of Delegates, an election that would kick off a long career in the state legislature and earn the city School Board member the nickname “Landslide Michie.”
Michie, who helped the city School Board navigate integration and later went on to serve in the General Assembly for two decades, died Tuesday following declining health due to Alzheimer’s disease. He was 88.
Michie, who grew up in Pittsburgh and Norfolk, moved to Charlottesville to attend law school at the University of Virginia in 1953.
He was appointed to the Charlottesville School Board in 1965.
During his tenure, the division became integrated, kindergarten classes were established, Jackson-Via Elementary School and the Charlottesville Albemarle Technical Education Center were built and planning began for a new Charlottesville High School.
At the end of that December 1970 night, Michie, a Democrat, had won his seat by a single vote. With the humor he is remembered for and kept until his last day, Michie vowed to triple his margin of victory by the next election.
Even as that very election was being contested, he said he was “counting” on his opponent to “advise me of his thinking and that of his supporters” on issues at the General Assembly.
That election would stick with Michie and his family throughout life. His son Ned remembers people claiming to be the deciding ballot starting that night and continuing to this day.
“All kinds of people claimed to be the one vote,” he said. “We often heard stories about people who weren’t going to go out and they decided to go anyway.”
Tom Michie worked across the aisle on many issues. A caption with a Progress photo of the election night party notes that many prominent area Republicans came to congratulate Michie on his victory.
“He wanted to help people and he wanted to make things better, and running for office was a means to accomplish that,” Ned Michie said.
He held the 26th District seat, which included Charlottesville and parts of Albemarle County, as a Democrat until 1980, when he won a special election for the 25th District seat in the Virginia Senate.
The 26th House seat now covers Harrisonburg and Rockingham County, while the 25th Senate District now stretches westward to the West Virginia border.
Michie’s state political career started and ended on close votes, as he was ousted in 1991 by 644 votes.
“Many have referred to me as being ‘shy and retiring,’” Michie said after conceding the race. “There is some truth in that. Certainly at this point I am ‘shy’ of votes and am ‘retiring’ from politics.”
Bob Gibson, a longtime former Daily Progress politics reporter and current communications director at the Weldon Cooper Center at UVa, said Michie was a “mild-mannered, polite, old-style, friendly politician.”
After losing his re-election bid in 1991, Michie conceded that his campaigning wasn’t rigorous enough because, “I’ve always thought it was not such a great idea going door-to-door in the evenings.”
Gibson reported that Michie didn’t want his campaigning to interrupt people’s dinners or their favorite television shows.
In his obituary, which Michie partially penned himself, he highlighted several of his career accomplishments, including legislation that redefined annexation rights and increased state aid to localities for law enforcement and road maintenance and construction.
Part of his legislation allowed cities and counties to reach revenue-sharing agreements to avoid annexation, which paved the way for the current agreement used by Charlottesville and Albemarle County.
Michie also highlighted his role in authoring legislation to increase child abuse reporting, supporting ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment and voting against a resolution that would prevent localities from using busing to achieve desegregation.
In the state Senate, he fought for the Virginia Indoor Clean Air Act, which created indoor smoking-free zones.
“Tom loved serving in the General Assembly more than he liked campaigning,” Gibson said.
Michie’s youngest son, George, said his father took on polarizing issues with no worries about the political consequences.
“He always had the courage of his convictions,” George Michie said.
Gibson called the elder Michie an “advocate for Charlottesville,” with “a real sense of public service about him.”
“He had a wonderful sense of humor, he was always joking,” Gibson said. “He would put people at ease.”
In his professional life, Michie served three years of active duty with the U.S. Navy as a law specialist and remained in the Naval Reserve for more than 20 years.
He was a senior partner in his father’s law firm, where he worked for 44 years before retiring in 2003.
He was also active with community charities, such as the Jefferson Area Board for Aging, Charlottesville Housing Foundation (later Piedmont Housing Alliance), Planned Parenthood and Camp Holiday Trails.
Outside of politics and law, Michie was a family man. His son Ned said the family would regularly take hiking and canoe trips.
George Michie said his father “loved nature.”
“He was a terrible driver because he couldn’t stop looking at the scenery,” he said.
Gale Gibson, who was Michie’s assistant in his law practice, called him a “tireless advocate for his clients and a very devoted family man.”
After retiring from his law firm, Michie became adept in watercolor painting. Ned Michie said his father would take photos of landscapes during his travels and paint them after he got home.
Gale Gibson said Michie “immersed himself” in his art.
“He was so prolific that when he sold his home ... he had too many to move, so he brought many of the paintings to the law firm to give away,” she said. “They were quite good and all beautifully framed.”
The Michie family itself has been a cornerstone of Charlottesville-area politics for more than a half-century.
Thomas Michie Sr. served two years as mayor of Charlottesville and was on the City Council for seven years in the 1950s and 1960s. He later was appointed as a federal judge for the Western District of Virginia.
Ned Michie served on the Charlottesville School Board from 2004 to 2017 and was appointed again earlier this year to fill a vacant seat.
Family members and associates said Thomas Michie Jr. would always get a smile with self-deprecating humor, which led George Michie to say, “I think he would hate that we’re bragging on him this much.”
Michie is survived by four sons, four stepchildren, five grandchildren and five step-grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held at Westminster-Canterbury of the Blue Ridge on Oct. 5.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks for donations to the Alzheimer’s Association, United Way-Thomas Jefferson Area, Habitat for Humanity of Greater Charlottesville, Jefferson Area Board for Aging or any other charity.