Watkins Moorman Abbitt
|Member of the U.S. House of Representatives|
from Virginia's 4th district
February 17, 1948 - January 3, 1973
|Patrick H. Drewry|
|Born||May 21, 1908|
|Died||July 13, 1998 (aged 90)|
|Resting place||Appomattox, Virginia|
|Spouse(s)||Corinne Hancock (d. 1989)|
Mary Ann Schmidt
|Children||Watkins Abbitt, Jr., Anne Abbitt Kerr, Corinne Abbitt Hynes|
|Alma mater||University of Richmond (LL.B.)|
Watkins Moorman Abbitt (May 21, 1908 - July 13, 1998) (nicknamed "Wat") was an American politician and lawyer. He was a member of the United States House of Representatives from Virginia from February 17, 1948 to January 3, 1973. He was a top lieutenant within the Byrd Organization, the political machine named for its leader, U.S. Senator Harry F. Byrd.
Abbitt was born in Lynchburg, Virginia to George Francis Abbitt and Otway C. Moorman Abbitt. He graduated from Appomattox Agricultural High School in Appomattox, Virginia in 1925. He earned an LL.B. from the University of Richmond in 1931 and began the practice of law in Appomattox. He married Corinne Hancock on March 20, 1937, and they had a son and two daughters who survived infancy.
Upon admission to the Virginia bar, Abbitt had a private legal practice, and was also a bank executive. In 1931 he was elected Commonwealth's attorney for Appomattox County and served from 1932 to 1948. He also was elected member of the Virginia Constitutional Convention in 1945.
When U.S. Representative Patrick H. Drewry died in office, Abbit won the special election to fill the vacancy. A Democrat, Abbitt was reelected to the twelve succeeding Congresses (February 17, 1948 – January 3, 1973). He was a member of the agriculture committee, and supported farm subsidies as well as fiscal conservatism and opposed increased federal intervention in state affairs. Abbitt became known for his opposition to school desegregation in the 1950s, as the Byrd Organization advocated Massive Resistance, and he was a signatory to the 1956 Southern Manifesto. He was a delegate to the 1964 Democratic National Convention, and chairman of the state Democratic party from 1964-1970.
Abbitt announced his retirement after being redistricted into the same congressional district as fellow Democrat Dan Daniel, and Republican Robert Daniel won the seat in a 5-candidate general election field, becoming the first Republican to represent Southside Virginia in the century.
Despite his former segregationist views, Abbitt endorsed L. Douglas Wilder, who became Virginia's first black governor in 1989, and noted the influence of his children. His son, delegate Watkins Abbitt Jr. noted that his father always worked for free for any black church that needed his services, and a black minister spoke at the funeral.
Abbitt survived one wife, but died from leukemia in Lynchburg, Virginia on July 13, 1998. He was survived by a widow, son and two daughters, and interred at Liberty Cemetery in Appomattox, Virginia. A park in Appomattox, Virginia is named for him.