If Tom Michie’s life could be distilled into two crystal-clear summaries, they might be these:
» His one-vote election to the House of Delegates was the stuff of legend, and inspired many voters to take their duty to the polls more seriously in case theirs might be the next vote to change an election.
» His service in the House, as well as previously on the Charlottesville School Board, exemplified old-fashioned courtesy and respect, even amid hard-fought debates — a combination sorely lacking in politics today.
Mr. Michie died last week at age 88.
Of course, his life can’t be reduced to just two memories.
He had been appointed to the School Board in the tumultuous year of 1965, and during his term the city schools went through critical changes — including the work of completing integration. Other improvements included the addition of kindergarten classes to the curriculum and the construction of Jackson-Via Elementary School and the Charlottesville Albemarle Technical Education Center.
In 1970, the Democrat decided to run for the House in a special election.
He won that race by a single vote.
“All kinds of people claimed to be the one vote,” said his son Ned. “We often heard stories about people who weren’t going to go out [to the polls] and they decided to go anyway.”
The narrow margin was often cited as a demonstration of the importance of the vote. One person can make a difference. One vote changed an election.
Despite what must have been a painful loss on such a close vote, The Daily Progress reported at the time that many prominent Republicans came to congratulate Tom Michie.
In 1980, he ran for the state Senate in another special election, and won. (Both House and Senate districts at the time included Charlottesville and portions of Albemarle County.)
As a lawmaker, he often worked across the aisle to garner support for policies he believed in.
“He always had the courage of his convictions,” son George said, and didn’t let potential political ramifications stop him from doing what was right.
Among other accomplishments, Mr. Michie authored legislation to increase child abuse reporting and fought for the Virginia Indoor Clean Air Act, which protects people from the dangers of second-hand tobacco smoke.
Mr. Michie often used self-deprecating humor to ease situations and help people relax, including would-be voters and would-be political foes.
Former Daily Progress political reporter Bob Gibson described him as a “mild-mannered, polite, old-style, friendly politician” who had “a real sense of public service about him.”
About that sense of public service, Ned Michie said, “He wanted to help people and he wanted to make things better, and running for office was a means to accomplish that.”
Mr. Michie conceded that perhaps he lost his Senate seat in 1991 because he didn’t run a race that was aggressive enough: He didn’t like door-to-door campaigning in the evenings when voters are home from work because he was uncomfortable interrupting people when they were having supper or watching television.
A lawyer by trade who came to Charlottesville originally to attend law school at the University of Virginia, Mr. Michie also aided people through his private practice. He also served on a number of boards and in organizations such as the Jefferson Area Board for Aging, Charlottesville Housing Foundation, Planned Parenthood and Camp Holiday Trails.
His low-key but strong-willed attitude of public service, advanced with humor and humility, is in short supply today, when politics often seems more about power and ego.
Charlottesville-area residents — including those who didn’t know him but benefited from his accomplishments generations later — should be grateful that he won so many elections and served so generously.