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William B. Spong, Jr.
United States Senator
from Virginia

In office
December 31, 1966 – January 3, 1973
Preceded by A. Willis Robertson
Succeeded by William L. Scott
Personal details
Born (1920-09-29)September 29, 1920
Portsmouth, Virginia
Died October 8, 1997(1997-10-08) (aged 77)
Portsmouth, Virginia
Nationality American
Political party Democratic

William Belser Spong, Jr. (September 29, 1920 – October 8, 1997) was a Democratic Party politician and a United States Senator who represented the state of Virginia from 1966 to 1973.

Spong was born in Portsmouth, Virginia, and attended public schools, Hampden-Sydney College in Hampden-Sydney, the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, and the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. He studied law, and was admitted to the bar in 1947, commencing practice in Portsmouth soon thereafter. During World War II, Spong served in the Army Air Corps, Eighth Air Force from 1942 to 1945. After the War, Spong was a lecturer in law and government at the College of William and Mary from 1948 to 1949.

Spong entered Virginia politics as a member of the Virginia House of Delegates from 1954 to 1955, and afterwards as a member of the Virginia State Senate from 1956 to 1966. While in the Senate, Spong was chairman of the Virginia Commission on Public Education from 1958 to 1962.

In 1966, Spong was personally recruited by President Lyndon Johnson to mount a primary challenge against 20-year incumbent Senator A. Willis Robertson. Johnson was angered at Robertson's opposition to the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts. Spong defeated Robertson in one of the biggest upsets in Virginia political history and breezed to victory in November. Robertson resigned on December 31, 1966; Governor Mills Godwin appointed Spong to the seat, giving Spong higher seniority than other senators elected that November. Spong's primary victory marked the beginning of the end of the Byrd Organization's long dominance of Virginia politics.

However, Spong's Senate career was short-lived. He was narrowly defeated in 1972 for reelection by 8th District Congressman William L. Scott. Spong probably would have won had it not been for Richard Nixon's gigantic landslide that year; Nixon carried Virginia by almost 38 points, winning all but one of the state's counties and independent cities in the process.

After his Senate career, Spong returned to the practice of law, and also served as a law professor and the dean of the Marshall-Wythe School of Law at the College of William and Mary from 1976 to 1985. For 1976, Spong was president of the Virginia Bar Association. He was appointed interim president of Old Dominion University in 1988, and was a resident of Portsmouth until his death. He is interred at the University of Virginia Cemetery in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Humor

A popular Internet joke claims that William B. Spong of Virginia and Hiram Fong of Hawaii sponsored a bill recommending the mass ringing of church bells to welcome the arrival in Hong Kong of the U.S. Table Tennis Team after its tour of Communist China. The bill failed to pass, cheating the Senate out of passing the Spong-Fong Hong Kong Ping Pong Ding Dong Bell Bill.

In fact, Senator Spong never sponsored such a bill, but he did have some fun with the press soon after arriving in Washington, D.C. As described in an article by his cousin, the Rt. Rev. John Shelby Spong, Senator Spong

"was invited with the other freshman senators to address the National Press Club. Fearful that someone on radio or television would call him Senator Sponge, he used his brief five-minute introductory speech to that body to secure proper name identification. His first act as a senator, he announced in his southern drawl, would be to introduce a bill to protect the rights of songwriters in Hong Kong. He would be joined in this effort by the senior senator of Louisiana, Russell Long, and the senior senator from Hawaii, Hiram Fong, and together they would present the Long Fong Spong Hong Kong Song Bill. His name was never mispronounced by members of the media."

References

  • Spong, John Shelby (May/June, 1998). "My Cousin Bill". Human Quest, p. 3. page
United States Senate
Preceded by
A. Willis Robertson
U.S. Senator (Class 2) from Virginia
December 31, 1966 – January 3, 1973
Served alongside: Harry F. Byrd, Jr.
Succeeded by
William L. Scott
Academic offices
Preceded by
(predecessor)
Dean of the College of William & Mary Law School
1976 – 1985
Succeeded by
Timothy J. Sullivan
Preceded by
Dr. Joseph M. Marchello
President of Old Dominion University
1989 – 1990
Succeeded by
Dr. James V. Koch

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