A great loss to Suffolk

Published 9:49 pm Friday, March 6, 2015

For many people in Suffolk, Thursday truly felt like the end of an era.

Though she had not lived in this city for many years, Katherine Godwin still existed in the minds of many as a connection to a time of gentility that often seems lost to history today. Mrs. Godwin, the widow of Virginia’s only two-time governor, died Thursday.

In its own way, the loss of Mrs. Godwin will be felt as strongly by those who knew her as was the loss of her revered husband, Mills E. Godwin Jr., in 1999.

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She was remembered on Thursday as a woman whose devotion to supporting her husband overcame her desire to live a private life.

“She was not one to be out and about in the public eye on her own,” Trudy Norfleet, who grew up next door to the Godwins and later served as secretary to the governor’s assistant during Mills Godwin’s second term in Richmond, told the News-Herald’s Tracy Agnew. “Mrs. Godwin was a devoted wife and believed her role was (to) support her husband.”

“She never asked for a public life and to some degree was a reluctant participant in the political sphere, but she took on her role with consummate grace and was absolutely gracious to everyone that she had contact with,” Suffolk attorney Whitney Saunders, a relative, said of the former first lady of Virginia. “She approached all of her duties as wholeheartedly as you could and performed them all incredibly admirably.”

In 1977, Mrs. Godwin authored “Living in a Legacy, Virginia’s Executive Mansion,” recounting the history of the residence of the commonwealth’s governors since 1813, and offering a collection of stories of others who have called the historic house home, as well as reflections on public life and sharing her secrets for successful entertaining. She concluded, “If I am to be remembered at all, I hope it will be in a role supportive to my husband.”

She clearly also will be remembered for her graciousness, thoughtfulness and warm and natural personality.

When the Godwins were residing in the governor’s mansion, they had a tradition of inviting many of the people of their hometown of Chuckatuck to visit during receptions.

“She brought out the best in everyone,” said Barbara Warren, who had served as Mrs. Godwin’s personal secretary and was formerly the governor’s secretary. “Her warm, hospitable personality and genuine interest in others will always be remembered.”

Few people have had as much of an impact on Suffolk as the Godwins. Suffolk will greatly mourn this loss.