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Longtime Spotsylvania supervisor retires

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Emmitt Marshall

Emmitt Marshall

Emmitt Marshall says a lot of people ask him how he won nine elections to the Spotsylvania County Board of Supervisors.

The answer is simple, he says. He loves his constituents.

“And I don’t think there’s anyone in the county that loves and respects the people they represent more than I do,” said Marshall, 85, who voluntarily stepped down from his Berkeley District seat when his term ended at the end of 2013.

He wore a lot of hats throughout those 34 years in office: farmer, hunt club member, auctioneer, lumber-business owner, timberland owner and church deacon.

“Not bragging, but I suspect more people know me in Spotsylvania than any other man,” he says. “And that’s because I’ve been here so long.”

And though he has his critics, Marshall notes that four of his opponents went on to support him in subsequent elections.

“You know why?” Marshall says, his eyes fixed on a reporter. “I didn’t have anything bad to say about them during the campaigns. I run on my own record.”

Keith Campbell, who challenged Marshall in 1987, is among those opponents-turned-supporters. Campbell didn’t have any specific complaints about Marshall during his campaign against him, but accused the Board of Supervisors as a whole of not “looking out for the little people,” according to a Free Lance–Star article in October 1987.

Now Campbell has nothing but positive things to say about Marshall.

“Anytime I needed anything . . . he’d give me a call and do whatever he could to help me,” said Campbell, who owns Campbell’s Towing in Thornburg.

His race against Marshall “never got personal,” he said. “It was just one person running against another person.”

Marshall, the longest-serving supervisor in Spotsylvania history, closed out his career as the only native Spotsylvanian on the current Board of Supervisors. He was a Democrat when he started but later became an independent with supporters from both parties.

“I’ll compromise in a heartbeat, especially if I think I might lose,” Marshall said with a laugh.

His father, E. Solon Marshall, also represented the Berkeley District from 1964 to 1976.


A lot has changed since Marshall first took office in 1980. The county’s population has more than tripled, from 34,435 then to 125,684 in 2012, according to the latest figures from the U.S. Census Bureau.

The county is now a member of the Virginia Railway Express, which Marshall opposed. In fact, when Spotsylvania supervisors discussed a proposed commuter rail service in 1985, Marshall was quoted as saying, “I’m not going to spend our taxpayers’ money on that. As far as I’m concerned, they can ride a bike to work.”

“Or a donkey,” another supervisor muttered at the time, according to a Free Lance–Star article in January 1985.

Marshall later apologized if he hurt anybody’s feelings but said his views of the project hadn’t changed. Now he says he has to accept the county’s VRE membership.

“We belong to it now, so I have to take a little different approach,” he said.

The faces on the Board of Supervisors have also changed—many times over, in fact.

At his final board meeting in December, Marshall proudly rattled off a list of the 32 people he has served with. That includes his good friend Hugh Cosner, who lauded Marshall at the same meeting.

“He’s so dedicated to the people, to the community and his family,” said Cosner, a well-known developer who was a supervisor for 22 years. “We just don’t find people like that anymore.”

Mary Lee Carter, a current Planning Commission member and former supervisor who served with Marshall, also had kind words for him at the meeting.

“You should’ve had a plaque that stated, ‘the people down home,’ because that’s what you always referred to the people in Berkeley District,” she said.

During his first year on the Board of Supervisors, Marshall was on a committee that negotiated an annexation agreement with the city of Fredericksburg. Spotsylvania retained what was then the Spotsylvania Mall in the agreement but lost the land that went on to become the Central Park shopping center.

Marshall said he’s proud that the supervisors allowed him, a rookie at the time, to take part in those negotiations.

“We prevailed, Cosner,” he said at his last meeting. “We saved the mall.”

Cosner also represented Spotsylvania in the contentious annexation talks.

Another highlight for Marshall is Spotsylvania’s purchase of the old FMC cellophane plant, which is now home to the Bowman Center that includes A. Smith Bowman Distillery.

Voters overwhelmingly approved a $6 million bond referendum in 1980 to buy the plant. Later, Marshall notes, he successfully pushed for FMC Corp. to repay the county $600,000 for toxic waste cleanup at the site.

Kimball Payne, Spotsylvania’s county administrator at the time, recalls presenting Marshall with an oversized check.

“Emmitt was the initiator of that, he pushed it, and it was really a pleasure to present him with the check,” said Payne, now city manager of Lynchburg.

Marshall, he said, “had a great knack for always finding four votes to get something done. He could always pull together a coalition.”

And speaking of accomplishments, Marshall points out that he lobbied against a proposal in 2001 to sell the old Rappahannock Regional Jail for just $1. The property off Lafayette Boulevard had received an appraisal of negative $350,000.

Marshall didn’t agree with that appraisal and suggested that the jail be put on the market. It ended up selling for $520,000 at an auction, and Spotsylvania split the proceeds with Fredericksburg and King George County.


So does Marshall have any regrets?

“I’m sure I’ve made mistakes, but we all do,” he said. “The only way you’re not going to make any mistakes is to do nothing.”

Like any elected official, Marshall had some spats, including a feud with the Spotsylvania Volunteer Fire Department in the 1980s. In fact, then Fire Chief Thomas Oesterheld supported an opponent of Marshall’s.

But at a meeting in December, Marshall had kind words for Oesterheld, who retired after 50 years as chief of the volunteer department. The two stood next to one another in a group photograph.

“If you’re a good politician, you don’t hold a grudge,” Marshall said.

He also scolded county staff in mid-1991 for not notifying the Board of Supervisors about a hire to the animal warden’s office. Marshall had recommended three Spotsylvania residents for the job, but a candidate from Stafford County was chosen instead.

Marshall said at the time that he didn’t have a problem with the choice but thought he should’ve been informed of it.

“You better understand who’s the government in this county,” Marshall was quoted as telling staff at the time.

Fast-forward more than 22 years and he has nothing but kind words for county staff, including County Administrator Doug Barnes, who Marshall said “knows more about this county than any man I know.”

“I couldn’t recommend anyone higher than I do Doug Barnes,” Marshall said.

Christy Jett, clerk of the Circuit Court, even shed tears at his last meeting. She met him in 1991, when she became deputy clerk in the county’s General District Court.

“Emmitt always was very open to listening to our needs and, especially, he tried to look out for the county employees,” she said in an interview.

This past year, for instance, Marshall successfully pushed for a $250,000 budget allocation to help defray rising health insurance costs for county employees.

Marshall said his wife of 65 years, Viola, was the first person he talked with about retiring from the Board of Supervisors. He says she was a “tremendous help” during campaigns, driving him from door to door to meet voters.

“When you reach a certain age in life, it’s time to go home and be with your family,” said Marshall, who has two grown children and two grandchildren.

Still, the “Re-elect Marshall” sticker on his Ford Mercury is there to stay.

“That’s how I find my car,” he said.

Jeff Branscome: 540/374-5402