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Colgate Darden Jr., Governor of Virginia during WW II and just about everything else, is one giant I never met. Many, including the Pilot’s Guy Friddell, thought he was the greatest Virginian since Thomas Jefferson
Katherine Darden gave this cookbook by the Garden Club of Virginia to her big brother in 1942. She inscribed the book—“Colgate, A ‘conversation piece’ when you are engaged in conversation by members of this worthy organization. Katherine.”
This is the central staircase to Colgate and Connie Darden’s home on Flicker Point
Thanks to Frank and Jane Batten’s son, I was able to photograph the home before it was demolished.

The Dardens And The Battens
Crossing Paths With Greatness


By Gary Ruegsegger
Downtowner Senior Editor


Norfolk is teeming with incredible people and you never know when you’ll bump into one or two. I’ve written about mayors, soldiers and journalists, but I’ve met many other great folks in the Mermaid City.

Colgate Darden Jr., Governor of Virginia during WWII and just about everything else, is one giant I never met. Many, including the Pilot’s Guy Friddell, thought Colgate was the greatest Virginian since Thomas Jeerson. e Governor and is wife Connie DuPont Darden lived on Norfolk’s Flicker Point. I always wished I’d met them.

The closest I came to meeting them was at Connie’s funeral. Her nephew Harvey Lindsay delivered the eulogy. His mother Katherine Darden Lindsay was Colgate’s sister and perhaps the state’s greatest Democrat.

I never met her either, but I have a cookbook by the Garden Club of Virginia she gave her big brother in 1942. She inscribed the book—“Colgate, ‘A conversation piece’ when you are engaged in conversation by members of this worthy organization. Katherine.” I am told she is the reason there are no billboards on Virginia’s Interstate Highways.

To say Harvey Lindsay is a gifted speaker is an understatement. At the funeral I asked him for a copy of his remarks and in two days it arrived in the mail. at was typical of Mr. Lindsay.

I once was doing a Compass story on one of the many honors the community had bestowed on Harvey. I left a message on his answering machine and two days later he called me and apologized for not immediately returning my call. He had just had knee surgery.

One of Harvey’s uncles was the Governor of Virginia and the other one (Pretlow Darden) was the Mayor of Norfolk. Proving the acorn doesn’t fall far from the tree, Pretlow’s son Josh was another community giant.

The late Josh Darden led the Norfolk Community Foundation for years and as owner of Colonial Chevrolet he helped countless folks get into the automobile business. Once when I was doing a Compass article on Priority’s Dennis Elmer, Josh’s name came up and Elmer proudly said, “I’m one of Josh’s boys.”

The countless stories of Josh Darden just seemed to come to me. Celestyne Diggs Porter remembered when Josh as a little boy accompanied his father and his uncle the Governor to her uncle African American attorney J. Eugene Diggs’ home to go over some papers establishing Norfolk State on the old Community Golf Course.

Josh’s childhood tree house was across the street from his family home on Commonwealth Avenue. Roy B. Martin Jr., a future Norfolk mayor, bought the property and had the tree cut down to build his home. When I recalled the story to Josh, it was about the only time I didn’t see him smiling.

I once had lunch with Josh at the Town Point Club. By the way, if you didn’t know, Josh’s club number was 007. He really liked that number. The last time I saw Josh was when he was going back to work after attending the groundbreaking for the Slover Library.

He asked me if I was going to the library. I told him I wasn’t invited. He said, “You should go. If anyone asks, just say, ‘Josh sent me.’” Nobody questioned. Jane Batten signed the program for me.

Now, that brings us to the Batten family. I met the late Frank Batten, longtime owner and publisher of the Virginian-Pilot, at the Norfolk Central School Oces. Superintendent Simpson started to introduce me to Mr. Batten when the publisher said, “I already know Gary.”

Josh Darden and Frank Batten co-founded the ACCESS Scholarship Program over lunch one day. ACCESS has leveraged over $500 million in nancial aid and scholarships for students in South Hampton Roads. All students in Norfolk, Virginia Beach, Portsmouth, Chesapeake, Suolk and Northampton County public schools are eligible to apply.

Like his good friend Josh Darden, Frank Batten has been very generous to the local area. Norfolk’s downtown Slover Library was a gift from the Batten family. The library is named for Sam Slover, Frank’s uncle, a former publisher of The Virginian Pilot and a once Mayor of Norfolk.

Bill McIntosh, arguably the greatest photographer Hampton Roads has ever produced, fondly recalls the three portraits he took of Mr. Batten.

“Frank was always gracious and easy to photograph with a good smile. I asked him if he received phone calls from customers when they did not receive their morning paper. He said, ‘From time to time,” remembered Bill McIntosh with a smile.

I met Frank’s wife at George Tucker’s annual birthday parties. She was one of the sponsors and a great friend of George. Tucker said, “She’s a member of my sewing circle.” Mr. Batten and George often ate together in the Virginian-Pilot’s cafeteria. Frank
and Jane’s son Frank is just as generous and down to earth as his parents.

I once called him at the Pilot when I heard that he bought Colgate Darden’s old home at Flicker Point and because of structural damage was going to have to tear down the house. I asked if I could take a few photos of the home. He agreed and met me at the residence the next day.

I wrote Frank Sr. a note saying what a surprising and unselfish gesture that was. The father sent me a note back saying both he and Jane were very proud of their son. He even made a reference to my good friend George at the end of the note: “Yes, very proud and George—well, he’s as sprightly as ever.”

My memories of the Battens and the Dardens are just as alive and “sprightly as ever.”

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June 2017
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