William C. Battle, a former U.S. ambassador to Australia, retired president and CEO of Fieldcrest Mills Inc. and one-time member of the University of Virginia’s Board of Visitors, died Saturday at the UVa Medical Center after suffering a stroke the day before. The Ivy resident was 87.
A native of Charlottesville, Battle was the son of former Virginia Gov. John S. Battle, who served as governor from 1950-1954.
While serving in the U.S. Navy during World War II, he was in the South Pacific in the same squadron as John F. Kennedy. Battle participated in Kennedy’s rescue from the island on which he and his crew were marooned during the war. He was awarded the Silver Star for his service.
In 1969, Battle made his own run at governor, securing the Democratic nomination. He lost the election that year to Linwood Holton, who became the first Republican governor of Virginia since Reconstruction.
Prior to that, Battle played a role in Kennedy’s presidential campaign, serving as his campaign manager in Virginia and as coordinator for the Southeastern states.
After Kennedy’s election, Battle was appointed U.S. ambassador to Australia, a position he held until 1964. His wife, Barry Webb Battle, said she and her husband loved being in Australia.
“When Kennedy died, his heart went out of the job,” she said. “It wasn’t the same after that.”
He returned to Charlottesville to join the family law firm Perkins, Battle and Minor, which merged to form McGuire, Woods, Battle and Booth. Today it’s known as McGuireWoods, one the largest law firms in the South.
After his failed bid for governor, Battle was elected president and chief executive officer of Fieldcrest Mills, a textile firm that is now part of Pillowtex Corp. He retired in 1983.
Battle served on a number of corporate boards and was active in the United States Golf Association.
Battle attended UVa as an undergraduate and law student, remaining close with his alma mater. He served on the university’s Board of Visitors and was one of the founders of the UVa Auxiliary Services Foundation, which owns and operates Birdwood, UVa’s golf course.
On Sunday, UVa President John T. Casteen III said the following in a written statement:
“Bill Battle rendered distinguished service to the University of Virginia, the commonwealth of Virginia and the nation. He was well known for his commitment to particular causes and will be remembered with great affection in the university community for his tireless work — along side his beloved wife, Barry — to raise awareness of the University’s Children’s Hospital and to champion children’s health care issues.
“Bill was an elegant, deeply intelligent man, who was also blessed with a quick wit and engaging style. We will miss many things about Bill Battle, but especially his wise counsel and his great passion for the University of Virginia.
“Three years ago, Bill was largely responsible for bringing a gift to the university to support patient care and biomedical research. The Barry and Bill Battle Building at UVa Children’s Hospital will become a central hub for interdisciplinary children’s health care — and will stand as the Battles’ legacy to the region.”
In December 2005, under Battle’s direction, the Ivy Foundation of Charlot-tesville gave the UVa Health System $45 million, one of the largest donations ever received by the university.
In addition to his wife, Battle is survived by two sons, W. Cullen Battle Jr. of Salt Lake City, Utah, and Dr. Robert W. Battle of Charlottesville, and a daughter, Janie Battle Richards of Norfolk.
Funeral arrangements with Hill & Wood are pending.