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Dickinson remembered as ‘Virginia gentleman’

R. DuVal Dickinson, who helped start Dickinson Equipment and was active in the community, local government and the Republican Party, died Sunday at “Wilburn,” the Spotsylvania County home where he had been born.

He was 91.

Dickinson grew up at Wilburn, which was then on his family’s dairy farm on Bragg Road. His parents, William Streit and Christine Duval Dickinson, instilled in him the family tradition of giving back to the community.

He graduated from James Monroe High School and attended three universities before coming home to work on the family farm. He and his father developed a nationally recognized herd of Guernsey cattle, and he and his wife, Anne, later started Dickinson Equipment on a part of the farm behind what is now Spotsylvania Crossing Shopping Center.

Their business originally specialized in farm equipment, but made the shift into lawn and garden equipment and supplies as the rural farms of his boyhood, including his family’s, gave way to commercial growth and suburbia. Both Spotsylvania Crossing and the now closed Giant Food are built on land that was once part of the Dickinsons’ property, as is Sheraton Hills subdivision.

“Helping customers was in his nature,” Clay Dickinson, one of two sons who now run the business, wrote in an email. “DuVal got great pleasure from searching for a small part for a customer even when the customer did not purchase the equipment from his business. He instilled that sense of service in the employees, some of whom worked their entire career with Dickinson Equipment and truly became part of the family.”

The Fredericksburg Regional Chamber of Commerce, of which he was a longtime member, recognized the company as a small business of the year for service to the community.

According to a profile of Dickinson that ran in The Free Lance–Star in 1993, he saw the need for growth—and the balance between business, industry and homes. “As long as you have that, you have the income to pay for the services needed,” he said.

That attitude was reflected in the numerous civic, business and government positions he held for many years, and for which Spotsylvania County awarded Dickinson and his wife the annual Governor Spotswood Award in 2010.

Those positions included many offices at Trinity Episcopal Church in Fredericksburg and the presidency of the Virginia Farm Equipment Dealers Association. He also served as president of the Chamber of Commerce and chairman of the Spotsylvania Service Authority, which helped bring water and sewer services to the county, from 1964 to 1977.

Dickinson chaired the Spotsylvania County Republican Committee for a decade, until religious conservatives disenchanted with the GOP leadership staged a coup. A major reason for their revolt was the old guard’s opposition to Christian right candidates such as Oliver North, who unsuccessfully sought a U.S. Senate seat in 1994, according to an article that appeared in The Free Lance–Star in 1999.

“It was a very difficult time personally and politically, and he handled it with tremendous class and remained a supporter of the Republican Party his entire life,” said Del. Robert Orrock of Caroline County.

Orrock, who has known Dickinson since he was a child, said he saw the elder man as a mentor and sought him out for his political counsel and input.

“DuVal was the epitome of the Southern gentleman,” he said. “Through the years of my interaction with local politics, sometimes they can get rather contentious. I never saw DuVal become rude. He served as a model for how I feel those in politics should conduct themselves. You can disagree, but you don’t have to be disagreeable.”

Glenn Graves, treasurer of the Fredericksburg Agricultural Fair, had a similar impression. Dickinson was one of the original stockholders in the fair and served on the board until recently.

“He was probably one of the last of what I would classify as the Virginia gentlemen,” he said. “He was always gracious, always kind, just an all-around good fella.”

The fair, which Dickinson first attended at age 6 when his 6-month-old calf was entered in competition, renamed its cattle barn in his honor about three years ago. “The community will really miss him,” Graves said.

Besides his wife and son Clay, Dickinson is survived by a daughter, Anne-Marie Garrison; two other sons, Robert and Harry Dickinson; seven grandchildren and five great-grandchildren; and numerous nieces and nephews. A celebration of his life will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday, March 16, at Trinity Episcopal Church. The Rev. Kent Rahm will officiate.

Cathy Jett: 540/374-5407