Longtime U.S. Senator John Warner dies at 94

Longtime U.S. Senator John Warner dies at 94
(From left to right) Leslie Ariail, Sen. John Warner and former AHS Executive Director Katy Moss Warner at the 2006 American Horticulture Society gala at River Farm. (Photo/Louise Krafft)

By Cody Mello-Klein | cmelloklein@alextimes.com

John Warner, a former five-term Republican U.S. senator known for his moderate views and ability to find bipartisan support, died at his Alexandria home on Monday due to a heart ailment. He was 94.

Born on Feb. 18, 1927, in Washington D.C., Warner grew up in the nation’s capital before enlisting in the U.S. Navy in 1945, right before he turned 18, and serving during World War II.

Warner entered the University of Virginia Law School but put the brakes on his law school education and returned to military service, joining the Marine Corps in 1950, after the start of the Korean War. He would eventually finish his law degree at George Washington University in 1953 and serve as an assistant U.S. attorney and private practice lawyer until he was appointed as Secretary of the Navy in President Richard Nixon’s administration in 1972.

Warner first ran for a seat in the U.S. Senate in 1978. With his relatively moderate politics, Warner came in second to the more conservative Richard Obenshain at the Virginia Republican Party convention. Obenshain ultimately died in a plane crash two months into his first term as senator, and Warner replaced him.

At the time, Warner’s politics were not the only thing that made him notable: His relationship with actress Elizabeth Taylor, who he married in 1976, attracted some publicity as well. Warner would go on to divorce Taylor in 1982 and, in 2003, marry his wife Jeanne, who he remained married to until his death.

Throughout his five terms as senator, Warner at times differed from the more conservative majority of his party. As a result, he was known for being able to work across the isle with Democrats as well as Republicans.

“John’s bipartisan spirit that put country and Commonwealth over party epitomizes what Virginians want in their leaders, and his fairmindedness and generosity were legend,” U.S. Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA) said in a statement. “He was a lovely man, and I will miss him.”

Warner was a consistent supporter of gun control legislation and was one of only three Republicans to sponsor a 10-year extension of the federal assault weapons ban in 2004.

He also supported the Roe v. Wade decision, although he voted in favor of restrictions on abortion procedures. Warner voted to expand hate crime laws to include and protect those of different sexual orientations but later supported a constitutional amendment to ban same sex marriage.

Drawing on his past military experience, Warner remained committed to the country’s armed forces as a senator. He served as chair of the Senate Armed Forces Committee and provided support to President George W. Bush during the Iraq War. Although he supported the war effort and led his party’s opposition to the Democrats’ attempt to withdraw troops in 2007, Warner would eventually disagree with the subcommittee’s later support of increasing military force in Iraq.

Sometimes at odds with the rest of his party, Warner nonetheless supported every Republican president during his time on the Senate: Ronald Reagan and both George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush.

“In Virginia, we expect a lot of our elected officials,” Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), who unsuccessfully ran against Warner in 1996 and eventually took his place in 2009 after Warner retired, said in a statement. “We expect them to lead, yet remain humble. We expect them to serve, but with dignity. We expect them to fight for what they believe in, but without making it personal. John Warner was the embodiment of all that and more. I firmly believe that we could use more role models like him today.”