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William B. Spong Jr.
17th Dean of William & Mary Law School

In office
1976–1985
Preceded by James P. Whyte Jr.
Succeeded by Timothy J. Sullivan
United States Senator
from Virginia

In office
December 31, 1966 – January 3, 1973
Preceded by A. Willis Robertson
Succeeded by William L. Scott
Member of the Virginia Senate
from the 3rd district

In office
January 12, 1966 – December 31, 1966
Serving with William Hodges & William Kellam
Preceded by Gordon F. Marsh
Succeeded by Willard J. Moody
Member of the Virginia Senate
from the 10th district

In office
January 11, 1956 – January 12, 1966
Preceded by James D. Hagood
Succeeded by Edward E. Willey
Member of the Virginia House of Delegates from Portsmouth City

In office
January 13, 1954 – January 11, 1956
Serving with John A. MacKenzie
Preceded by R. Winston Bain
Succeeded by Willard J. Moody
Personal details
Born William Belser Spong Jr.
(1920-09-29)September 29, 1920
Portsmouth, Virginia, U.S.
Died October 8, 1997(1997-10-08) (aged 77)
Portsmouth, Virginia, U.S.
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Virginia Wise Galliford
Alma mater Hampden–Sydney College
University of Virginia
Signature
Military service
Allegiance  United States
Service/branch U.S. Army Air Forces
Years of service 1942–1945
Unit 93rd Bombardment Group
Battles/wars World War II

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.

Biography[]

Early life and education[]

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.

State politics[]

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.

Spong during his tenure in the U.S. Senate

National politics[]

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. Spong's Senate career was short-lived; in 1972, he was narrowly defeated for reelection by 8th District Representative William L. Scott. Spong would be the last Democrat elected to the Senate from Virginia until Chuck Robb's victory in 1988. Spong's Senate colleague, Harry F. Byrd Jr., became an independent in 1970.

Later life and death[]

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. In 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.

Personal life[]

Humor[]

A popular Internet joke claims[1] 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.

Family[]

Spong married the former Virginia Wise Galliford. They had two children, Martha and Tom.

References[]

Party political offices
Preceded by
Absalom Willis Robertson
Democratic nominee for U.S. Senator from Virginia
(Class 2)

1966, 1972
Succeeded by
Andrew P. Miller
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
James P. Whyte Jr.
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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