The Life of William Mumford Tuck
By Faye Royster Tuck
Special to the Gazette-Virginian, May 10, 2002
William Munford Tuck was the youngest of six sons of Robert James Tuck, a highly respected local tobacco warehouseman, and Virginia Susan Fitts. He had three older sisters and two younger sisters.
Bill, as he was called by everyone, attended High Hill School, 7 grades in one room, for 7 years. He then boarded, in Virgilina to attend high school at Virgilina Academy for two years. This was followed by three years at Chatham Training School, now Hargrave, and. another year of high school at William & Mary Academy.
There followed two years at the College of William & Mary where be received a Teacher's Certificate. After teaching, and also serving as principal one year at a four-room school in Burgess, Westmoreland Co., he volunteered for the U.S. Marines in WW I, serving in the Caribbean. He then attended Washingion and Lee Law School, graduated in two years, and then passed the Bar Exam.
He practiced law in South Boston for the rest of his life. Prior to his term as Governor, he defended over 400 charged with a capital offense, with none being executed. He was firmly against capital punishment, and had a substitute to act for him while Governor on appeals of the death sentence.
He served his area and the state as a member of the House of Delegates, State Senator, Lt. Gov., and Governor from 1923 to January of 1950. In 1953 he became Fifth District Congressman, serving until 1912. Except for three years he served continuously for 49 years, never being defeated.
It has been over 50 years since he was inaugurated Governor, the only one from Halifax County. He was one of the most prominent, respected and loved, citizens from this area. He was noted for remembering faces and names and called you by your first name (He was Bill to everyone until after being Governor). At first meetings he found out who your parents and grandparents were. He loved people, rich and poor and socialized with all. When in his presence he made each person feel they were the most important person in the whole world.
He was a master of the superlative, the overkill, the overstatement, and even the understatement. He could quote freely from the Bible and Shakespeare, all apt to the then situation.
In 1945 Howard H. Carwile came to South Boston as an independent candidate for Govemor. Carwile put up posters in South Boston on Saturday and said they were all taken down by Monday, except one in a colored shoe shop. Carwile said he found the atmosphere quite tense and hostile. A local citizen informed Carwile that anyone who had the gall to run against Bill Tuck did not belong in the State of Virginia.
Bill had two overpowering fears. Primarily, it was ghosts. The Aaron's Creek Baptist Church BYPU (Bapt. Young Peoples Union) knew he was courting Miss Viola Barrett one Saturday and prepared for his return from taking her back to where she boarded, the Woltz' home. As he neared the church a white-sheeted body crossed the road and lay down the other side of a grave mound, appearing to go into the ground. This was disconcerting enough but a concealed young man in a tree slowly lifted a stuffed dummy up into the tree as he got in front of the church. Bill hightailed it to his cousin Bob Smith's home, knocked on the door begging to spend the night, that he would sleep anywhere.
The next fear was of snakes. Most people are afraid of snakes, but his fear was of the highest degree. My husband, his nephew, (both lived at the old Tuck home of Bill's father), said that once someone gave him a green and white reticulated toy snake which Bill promptly stomped to pieces.
The Court at Halifax is said to have ordered adjournment on one occasion so that the judge could cry in privacy after listening to arguments by Bill during a murder trial. My husband, Bob, was once allowed to attend a 1938 sensational murder trial in Halifax. A red headed man from the northern part of the county was charged with killing his wife, tried and convicted in local gossip and newspapers. The dead woman's family had hired expert lawyers from of the county to assist in the prosecution. Bill hired McKinney & Settle to assist, McKinney questioninig friendly witnesses. Bill also hired Don Bagwell, not then a partner, to cross-examine opposing, witnesses - he could make a liar out of Mother Teresa. Bill's partner, Gus Mitchell, and Settle kept quiet but passed notes to the others.
Bill summed it up to the jury, reading letters the deceased sent during previous separations, quoting from the Bible and eloquently proclaiming, "Gentlemen of the Jury, this woman cries from the grave, please save my husband!" Bob, sitting on the steps, leading to the judge, says he looked over the courtroom, the audience was crying, the jury was crying, the defendant was crying, the prosecution was stony faced and the judge looked like he had heard this story before. The jury returned after half an hour with a not guilty verdict.
Once while, campaigning in a lackluster election for Congress he was in Carroll County. He thought he had some friends there but those people were rabid Republicans and Democrats, both of the worst kind - Mountain Republicans and National Democrats. Stopping at a general store he asked the owner how things were going for him. The reply was that there was little interest and the less there was the better off he would be.
Bill Tuck met a lot of important people in his lifetime but he never forgot his humble beginnings in Halifax Co. He loved to ride over the farm where he was born and carry friends with him. He loved "Buckshoal" like Scarlet O'Hara loved "Tara". He was born a Southern Gentleman and lived as a true Southerner to the end.
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South Boston, Virginia
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