by Charles McGuigan
Editor’s note: These interviews with Delegate Chris Peace were conducted two weeks before the presidential election.
You know you’re in Hanover County, particularly in its rural reaches, when you begin seeing the large handmade signs with red and black type against a field of Gadsen yellow. Slogans are generally attacks on liberals, or perceived liberals (Eric Cantor not long ago), and many suggest democracy may be on the verge of collapse. One reads, “How many times will you pass this sign and do nothing for your Country? WAKE UP AMERICA!” You sense pent up anger-turned-to-rage in these messages, not unlike the written rants scrawled on placards by participants in another movement a few years back called Occupy Wall Street. In all I count a total of sixteen yellow signs from the point I cross the Chickahominy on Meadowbridge Road till I make the turn off Old Church Road down a gravel drive to the home of Chris Peace.
It’s a mid-nineteenth century brick house that has undergone a complete architectural renovation, and Chris walks me in to a room with a hearth scooped out of a bygone era. When we settle in for this interview, and another one at his law offices in Mechanicsville, Chris starts his story at the beginning. Tempered in the crucible of his own experiences, Chris Peace would emerge as something of an anomaly, a thoughtful conservative with a deep love of Constitutional law, a student of history, and a man of compassion.
The three women who raised him in the modest Cape Cod in Ashland were Janie, who stayed with him while his mother was at work and would become his “best friend”; his grandmother, Nina Kathryn Kilgour Himmelsbach, a great friend and advisor; and, of course, his mother, Nina Kilian Peace, an independent woman, a lawyer, a judge, a supervisor, and something of a force of nature. At age 25, Nina Peace graduated law school and won the Democratic primary for the Ashland District seat on the Hanover County Board of Supervisors. That same year she was made assistant to the dean at T.C. Williams, her alma mater, and later that fall became the youngest and only (at that time) woman ever elected to the Board of Supervisors in Hanover.
She had found her home in Ashland, absolutely adored the county, and was bound and determined to protect it. As the only liberal, and a woman at that, on the good-old-boys Board of Supervisors, Nina had her work cut out for her. It was a joy to watch her debate, running circles around the men who often looked confused at the end of it all. She employed her acid wit, impeccable logic and dagger tongue, and gladly locked horns with fellow supervisors. After her departure from the Board, the meetings lost much of their fire.
Chris recalls a critical moment in both his life, and his mother’s career. It exposed him to the underbelly of partisan politics, to the ruthlessness and vengeance sometimes employed by politicians.
“My first exposure to the General Assembly was essentially 1996 and my mother’s unsuccessful reappointment (as juvenile and domestic relations court judge),” he says. “I was a junior at Hampden Sydney College and I remember going to one of the large hearings and walking in the General Assembly building and seeing posters with my name with a big red line through it. It was hard for me at that time to understand that there might be people who would feel that way about my mother, knowing her as I did. It was a great lesson.”
When I ask him if he believes these hearings were politically motivated, Chris nods. “I would say it was political,” he says. “I would say that my mother probably could have mitigated a lot of that unpleasantness. She chose to take the stand in her defense and I think any good criminal attorney would recommend not doing that. She was not going down without a fight, and unfortunately that episode only reinforced what her accusers were saying which was ‘a lack of temperament and demeanor.’” He pauses momentarily, then adds, “That’s always an easy out though with a female. Even now people talk about a woman’s temperament and demeanor not being judicial. We had a female that was appointed to the 9th District General District Court, the first female from my district to be appointed, and she’s a tough lady. That was the criticism through the process. Does she have the demeanor? It was really an old boy network rising up to protect its turf and keep it in house. It shouldn’t happen.”
Chris returns to 1996 and that day at the General Assembly. Among those he met that morning was Sumpter Priddy, a legendary lobbyist from Hanover, who was instrumental in establishing Virginia’s under the late Governor Mills Godwin. He took the young Chris Peace aside and said, in reference to what was happening to Nina, “Don’t let it get to you.”
Outside the General Assembly building, Chris had earlier encountered another Hanover Republican, the grand lion of the Party, Delegate Frank Hargrove, a man known for his civility and gentlemanly demeanor. Later, he approached Chris in the lobby and said, “You should always defend your mother, no matter what.”
Frank Hargrove would later take Chris under his wing and guide him through the sticky and intricate web of Virginia state politics. Whenever Chris was home from college he would visit Frank at the General Assembly. “Frank actually ended up getting me my very first job out of college working for Herb Bateman who was a 1st District Congressman and a Virginia gentleman, and kind of a moderate at the time,” Chris remembers.
After college, Chris, who took to politics like a bird to the sky, applied to law school, but he was wait-listed. “I probably had too much in college,” he says with a smile. So he worked for Herb Bateman for a year, and then as legislative aid for Eric Cantor, who was a delegate at the time. “In my first interview with him, he brought up my mother and said, ‘A lot of people might find it curious that you are a Republican and that you are your mother’s son. And I said, ‘Well coming from my family it’s really not curious because we are all very independent. We were raised to be educated and to think for ourselves.’” Chris worked for the Delegate Eric Cantor until he ran for Congress.
“I peddled my resume on the Hill, met Ted Kennedy, got a job offer from John Warner, and declined it,” says Chris. He’d finally been accepted to law school. He spent his first year at Regent University, and his final two years at University of Richmond, his mother’s alma mater.
His decision to go into law did not sit well with his mother. “She didn’t want me to become a lawyer,” he says. “She said, ‘It’s become more of a business as opposed to a profession or a calling.’ She said, ‘It’s not what it was when I started.’”
While still in law school, Chris worked as a part-time lobbyist, honing his skills, and ultimately going to work for McGuire Woods Consulting. And though he graduated, it would be some time before Chris began practicing law.
”I took the bar the summer after I graduated law school,” he says. ”But I didn’t do my due diligence in the bar exam, and I didn’t pass.”
It was a bleak time. “Do I go back to Ashland?” Chris said to himself. “I failed the bar exam, my mom’s a lawyer, she’s been kicked out of a judgeship, our family must suck. You start telling yourself this narrative of what other people think about you.”
Chris would take the bar exam the following February, and again, he would fail. “I was O for two,” he says.
But in between those dark clouds of failure there appeared a silver lining that would light the way for Chris Peace. It started as a chance encounter in Carytown. Alone, on a brisk November Friday night, Chris did what a lot of lonely men and women would do, in those days, at week’s end.
“I was still living on Monument in this apartment at Sheppard, and I went to the Blockbuster in Carytown,” he says. “I see this girl with this guy and I’m by myself, and I’m like, ‘I’m such a loser.’ So I get two movies and go home. I didn’t talk to her, I was like, ‘Well maybe it’s her boyfriend, maybe it’s her brother, and maybe it’s her gay friend and she’s not dating anyone.’”
But the image of this young woman would not leave his mind. Although a cradle Episcopalian, Chris attended other churches. “So, on Sunday night I was going to this thing at WEAG (West End Assembly of God) which was like a GenX meeting,” says Chris. “It was called Exile and I was there and this girl walks into the church and I said, ‘That girl looks familiar. How do I know this girl?’ And then it came to me, she was at Blockbuster.’”
Chris approached her and told her that he was not a stalker. He asked if by any chance she had been at Blockbuster with her boyfriend two nights ago. She nodded, but said, “Oh no, not my boyfriend.” And Chris pounced on the opening. “Great, let’s go out sometime,” he said.
“It was a leading question,” Chris says, recalling the incident. “It was the only time up until that point that I used my law school education, and it worked out.”
That Tuesday night they went out and talked for hours, hit it off, and before Chris went to visit his father in Georgia a couple days later, he left flowers at the young woman’s house. In Georgia, Chris got a call from her. She told him she was in Northern Virginia visiting a guy she had been dating. “I don’t know why I’m calling you,” she said. “But I just broke up with him, and I want to see you when I come back.”
The two met up at the White Dog, and again talked for hours. Turns out she was from Hanover, and though she had never met Nina Peace, she knew a lot about Chris’s mother.
“I’m tired of fishing expeditions, just dating, I don’t want to date unless it leads to something,” Chris told her. “Would you have any problems being a minister’s wife or a governor’s wife?”
“No,” she told him. “I wouldn’t have any problem with either one of those.”
“Good,” said Chris. “Either way you’re living in public housing.”
Her name was Ashley. After dating for seven months, the pair were engaged. Nina threw a river party for them just before Hurricane Isabel struck. It was followed by an engagement party hosted by Chris’s future in-laws. All through their courtship, the pair would drive up to Chevy Chase, Maryland and visit Chris’s grandmother. Nina would drive up separately. They did the same thing on a cold night in late February.
“And so we went up,” Chris says. “We had a great dinner out at the country club on Friday night, went home and went to bed.”
On Saturday, Chris joined his mother, grandmother and fiancé for a day of shopping. His mom insisted that all the women in the wedding party wear the same kind of shoes, and they found just the right ones.
“It was a long day,” Chris recalls. “At the end of it we were all kind of tired so we ordered Chinese, and watched the Matthew McConaughey movie ‘How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days’.”
On Sunday morning, Chris left the house early, and as he pulled the door shut behind him, jiggling the knob to make sure it was locked, a warmth spread through him when he thought of the three women in the house, still sleeping, safe and secure.
After church, as they were making ready to leave for Richmond, Chris and his mom talked in the front yard of his grandmother’s house. He told her that he and Ashley, born a Catholic, had disagreements on where they were to be married. They weren’t clicking on it. It wasn’t anything major, not a deal-breaker, but it concerned Chris. Nina hugged her son, and said, “No matter what you do, no matter what you decide, I will always support you.” That was the last day of February 2004, a leap year.
As Ashley and Chris crept along the Beltway, merging south at the Mixing Bowl, which was still under construction, they could see the red running light of Nina’s car in front of them as they approached the Springfield exit. His cell phone rang, but Chris decided to let it ring over. The traffic was ungodly, so they got off the interstate, and made their way over to Route 1 where the traffic thinned. Chris pulled over to the shoulder and checked the message on his cell phone. It was from Nina. “Hey guys, I’m just calling to tell you I love you, and how good it was to be with you guys this whole weekend,” she said.
After returning to their apartment on Monument Avenue and unpacking, Chris and Ashley returned to their car for night services at WEAG. On the sidewalk, an inexplicable wooziness washed over Chris like the first wave of a panic attack. He felt as if his knees were going to buckle. He was light-headed, sensed he might faint. Chris had never experienced anything like it, before or since.
They attended services, and on their way back down Monument Avenue, Chris received a call from Ed, Nina’s husband at the time. “Your mom’s had a heart attack,” Ed said. “You need to go to the hospital.”
By the time Ashley and Chris arrived at the hospital, Nina was dead. It was congenital heart failure, not induced by lifestyle; Nina’s heart had literally exploded.
Unbeknownst to Chris, Nina had done two things over that final weekend in Maryland that seemed to indicate she had a sense she was not long for the world.
“Without my knowledge, my mother gave Ashley a file and said, ‘If anything should ever happen to me these are all the things I want for my funeral’,” Chris says. “So that was amazing, and it was all good stuff and really helped because we were losing it.”
The next thing Chris and Ashley had to do was tell Nina’s mother what had happened. They didn’t want to call her on the phone, so the next morning Chris’s future in-laws drove the couple back up to Chevy Chase. As the car proceeded north on Route 301 and passed Hanover Courthouse, Chris’s heart fluttered in gratitude. Hanover Circuit Court Judge John R. Alderman had had the flags lowered to half-mast in honor of Nina Kilian Peace, who had spent much of her professional life at the courthouse complex, whether representing her constituents at the Board of Supervisors’ meetings, sitting on the bench of the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court, or representing clients, many on a pro-bono basis.
Once Ashley and Chris arrived and told Nina’s mother about her daughter’s death, the family began making funeral arrangements for the next Saturday. At some point during that week, Ed, Chris’s stepfather, called and told him he had gone to Nina’s law office on England Street in Ashland to search for her will. He came up empty-handed.
“Listen, buddy,” Chris told him. “I’m focused on all this other stuff, I don’t know why you’re focused on that now. And I don’t know why you know where it is because I don’t know where it is. We have to let that go for now; we’ll figure it out later.”
Nina Peace was buried in the family cemetery in Hillsboro, just off Route 9, in Loudon County. On the way back to Chevy Chase from the graveside surface, a rainbow appeared, spanning the road like a bridge. Back at his grandmother’s house, exhausted and drained, Chris, with his fiancé, retreated to the bedroom his mother had grown up in. He sat on the edge of the bed, his head lowered. “I don’t think we’re going to find that will,” he said, turning to Ashley.
And then he looked across the room at a chest of drawers topped with a mirror. Tucked between the frame and the glass were several sheets of yellow legal pad paper, tri-folded. He rose from the bed, removed the papers from the mirror, unfolded them, then began to read. “This is her will,” he said to Ashley.
“It was so bizarre,” says Chris. “So she had not only given Ashley the file for the funeral planning, but she had thought to take the will from her office and put it in the only place that we would find it. Isn’t that eerie and strange. She was really well when we visited, and we had a great time, and then she goes home and dies. That was almost supernatural. When you start to think about all these things, who you’re surrounded by, whose input, what your life trajectory is. I have a very unusual name. Christopher, bearer of Christ, and Peace. The blessed life, the experiences, the women, the failures to persevere and to overcome, the redemption stories. All of these thing, and my wife has always said: ‘We have some calling, some future calling, some destiny to fulfill.’ All of these things can’t just happen out of nothing.”
Adjustments were hard with the passing of his mother, but Chris got back in the saddle. “I just carried on,” he says. “I started my own lobbying company. I had an office down on Main Street. I got a great job at McGuire Woods Consulting. Ashley and I were married and we built a house in Hanover.”
Then in 2005 an opportunity to run for House of Delegates arose when State Senator Bill Bolling ran for lieutenant governor. His vacated seat would be sought by Delegate Ryan McDougle, who represented the 97th District. “I said, ‘Carpe diem’,” says Chris. “Mom’s not here anymore. What else do I have to lose?”
And then a funny thing happened. Virtually every one of Nina Peace’s political enemies offered Chris assistance in his desire to be elected. “Kirby Porter (Hanover commonwealth’s attorney) was the very first elected official to host a fundraiser for me for my first election at his home,” Chris says. “Frank Hargrove, as I said, helped me get my first job, and Bill Bolling endorsed me for office. Bill was probably the catalyst, if not the vehicle, to have my mother not reappointed as judge. And Stuart Cook (Hanover sheriff) ended up endorsing me as well.”
When I ask him why this was so, Chris says, “I sort of think that nature tries to seek some balance, and I just wonder if people’s conscience weighs on them, or they see it as an opportunity to make something good out of something that wasn’t. There is sort of this redemptive thing.”
In the special election held that fall, Chris Peace was elected delegate, winning by 220 votes. He’s held the seat ever since. And, incidentally, Chris would ultimately pass not only the Virginia bar, but the D.C. bar, as well, and like his mother before him, hang his shingle and create a lucrative law practice.
Many years ago, Chris’s grandmother, Kathryn Himmelsbach, who just died a couple years ago, imparted sage advice to her grandson. “I try to be somewhat measured,” he says. “A lot of that developed out of my experience with my mother’s judgeship and my grandmother, who was a great friend of mine, advising me that, ‘Your mother’s a wonderful person, she’s brilliant, she’s very capable, but she can be her own worst enemy.”
Chris has earned a reputation at the General Assembly as a leader who will work with his peers across the aisle. “Jennifer McClellan and I are very good friends,” says Chris. “We’ve done education reform, we’ve done domestic violence. We carried the marriage bill this year that changed the legal marriage age. And I didn’t see it as Democrat or Republican, although that’s there. We’re frankly different in every way on paper. She’s an urban delegate, I’m a suburban delegate; she’s black, I’m white; she’s a woman, I’m a man; she’s a Democrat, I’m a Republican. But it’s not strange or foreign to me because of the home I grew up in. My newsletter is called the Peace Progress.”
He takes to heart what his constituents, through their votes, have entrusted in him. “I’m conservative and I’m not,” Chris says. “I think the labels are kind of irrelevant. Because the policy is what’s important, and the people are what are important. We should be solving problems and we should be recognizing what the problems are.”
In recent years, he has seen a steep rise in Tea Party supporters, and the use of one symbol to supplant another. “It’s pretty clear, and I’ve commented on it many times,” says Chris. “In areas of the state where prior to Obama’s election there were Confederate flags, immediately after (the election) every single one of those became a yellow one because it was more politically acceptable, and that’s a tribal issue.”
Despite his support of conservative issues and his endorsements by conservative groups some within his own party have dubbed him moderate. “I have an A-plus NRA rating, I’ve had close to 100 percent from the Family Foundation, I was endorsed by the CPAC group,” Chris says. “All the conservative credentials one could want, along with the voting record, but because of the way I carry myself and some of the issues I pursue like mental health reform, foster care reform, domestic violence, chairing the commission on Youth, I could go on and on, housing and homelessness, some of my colleagues actually perceive me to be a moderate, and it’s not just when I wear bowties.”
Chris mentions a book he’s currently reading, “Dominion of Memories: Jefferson, Madison & the Decline of Virginia”, by historian Susan Dunn, which traces the decline of the Commonwealth, which had produced the brightest luminaries of the Republic—Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Mason, Marshall, and so on.
“It’s the second or third generation after the Founders, and every time those second and third generation people are faced with significant questions about whether we progress or whether we retreat, we chose the wrong thing,” says Chris. “Whether that was building a canal to Ohio which never came to fruition because the General Assembly stopped the funding. Whether it was having rail that couldn’t connect because the gauges were different throughout the state. Whether it was abolition in 1831 which failed and actually solidified slavery as an industry. You know, all of these things compounding and getting us to 1860. You look even at Calhoun. I mean he was a national progressive, but then retreated. Washington urged us to avoid entangling alliances, to avoid political faction, and to join a national federal movement. So instead of us offering universal education like New England was, we didn’t and we were illiterate by and large. People who came through Virginia during that period were impressed by the lack of books and libraries.”
He looks at Virginia’s history in increments of 50 years. “Start at 1860 and then you’re in the teens and you have the suffragist movement, you’ve got Jim Crow, eugenics,” he says. “Fifty years later you’ve got massive resistance and civil rights. And then another fifty years and here we are. And you wonder, what are the questions today? And the most dominant voices in the public square right now are to progress or go backwards.”
Retreat is commonly caused by fear, often very real fear. “This notion of Make America Great Again is a romantic notion,” Chris continues. “I think we’re overly romantic. So you think of things from 2008—international conflict crisis, funding of wars, domestic economic collapse, no peace and insecurity, both abroad and at home, civil unrest, Fergusson, etc. All of this stuff. It’s understandable human nature wants to go back to a place where they feel safe and secure again. It’s like the person who goes into the hole with the lights on and thinks they’re enlightened. It’s the opposite of Plato in ‘The Republic’. He talks about the light that will lead man out of the cave.”
The picture he paints is grim. “Well, the light of enlightenment, there isn’t that right now, there doesn’t seem to be,” says Chris. “I think we’re retreating to the cave in many respects, into tribalism and that really endangers us.”
One of his favorite Civil War heroes was James Longstreet, a man much maligned because he challenged a veritable deity in the minds of many white Southerners. “He was a Confederate general, but he was willing to question a god essentially, (Robert E.) Lee, in his decision-making,” Chris says. “After the war he goes to Mexico, he becomes a Republican, and he helps to essentially establish the Union, and also fights for equal rights for African-Americans. Jubal Early and others lambasted him and he was the scapegoat post-war when people were writing the narrative of the Lost Cause.”
Politicians like Longstreet have a particular appeal to Chris. “I’ve always liked that type of person,” says Chris. “I liked McCain in 2000 because he was the maverick. I got on board with Bush. I loved Kaisich for that very reason. One of my favorite political people is John Danforth, Here’s a guy who was ambassador to the UN, he’s an Episcopal minister, he was attorney general of Missouri, US senator, a Renaissance man. And people say he’s a moderate. Not really. In his AG’s office in Missouri two of his deputies were John Ashcroft and Clarence Thomas so hardly a liberal, hardly a moderate. Moderate now means weak and squishy.”
A man of considerable faith, Chris mentions a sort of foundation embraced by his religious denomination. “The Episcopal Church believes in tradition, reason and experience, the three-legged stool,” Chris says. “And so those all need to shape our politics, our discourse.”
But those legs that support the seat of that stool seem to be weakening. “We are falling to the lowest common denominator now, which is easier, it’s more comfortable,” says Chris. “It’s harder in the grey, people want to have certainty. That’s why the tribalism has emerged post-recession. People were very vulnerable. They lost their homes. They lost everything in many cases. And so they wanted things to go back to where they were—predictable, certain, safe, and so it’s understandable.”
He hopes there comes a time when Republicans will embrace the notion of not alienating whole demographic voting blocks. “The Republican Party now, I think, can also take a lesson from the past in terms of how it positions itself to grow by inclusion rather than the opposite, which is where we are now,” Chris says. “People may think a lot of things about Carl Rove, but I don’t think anyone will not deny that he’s a political genius, and in 1999 and 2000 he positioned George W. Bush as the compassionate conservative.”
He considers the Republican nominee for president, and the movement that has propelled him. “I think that the rise of this movement has more in common with the French Revolution than the American Revolution,” Chris says. “The American Revolution was not a populist movement. The other one was based on mob rule, hysteria, inflaming passions, and they wanted to blame someone. I mean we have similar arguments now, Occupy Wall Street, the Tea Party, who are not politically, totally dissimilar. And so you know what I would be concerned about? Where do we go from here? Do we have a storming of the Bastille, are we going to turn inward against each other because of fears of what is outside the gate. And the concern is how do we react to it? Do we react positively and move forward and persevere? Or do we blame each other, turn against each other, and divide?”
He pauses for a long time. “We’ve seen that happen before, and it was very costly,” says Chris. “I would hope that does not happen again. The Civil War was the biggest example of it. And we’ve had political disagreements and discourse and there have been rough campaigns throughout American history. But I think our leaders also bear responsibility to know that when passions are inflamed, tempers are close to the surface, not to stoke them further.”
Within his own party in Virginia, he has noticed changes that prevent both sides from working together. “I had an interesting conversation when Tim Kaine was selected [as Hilary Clinton’s running mate],” Chris says. “My experience with him as a person has always been very positive. He conducts himself well. He was the first governor I served with and he did everything the right way in the mansion in terms of courtesy, respect, hospitality. No controversy, so scandal, no criminal action, and we disagreed on policies because he wanted to raise the gas tax when I was running; I was opposed to that. Those were his principals and ideology from a political perspective, but I never questioned him as a person and would say that he was a class act. And I got a lot of blow back for that, and people questioned my bona fides as a conservative and as a Republican. You can’t say anything nice about somebody if they happen to be on the other side of the aisle, and I think that’s unfortunate.”
As Chris Peace sees it, the Republican Party needs to build out its base. “We have to build by inclusion and coalitions,” he says. “You can still be a very strong conservative, pro-family, pro-life, anti-tax and all those things, and still reach out to communities of need, communities that have been oppressed, communities that have low socio-economic standing, and build bridges there. So whether it’s homeless advocacy, or domestic violence, or foster care and youth issues, or the environment. There are so many opportunities for our party to grow and to achieve, except for the fact that we have people who will say, ‘Well, you’re not a real Republican if you do this.’ It’s not something you can speculate about, it is a real phenomenon. If you’re thought of as thoughtful, compassionate, reasoned, reasonable, willing to work with people, compromise, those are all bad words.”
For years, in one way or other, Chris has been an historic preservationist. He was executive director of the Historic Pole Green Church Foundation. “Pole Green Church was where Patrick Henry learned about religious freedom,” he says. “During my time we raised well over several million dollars. We built the visitors’ center, we acquired the birthplace of Patrick Henry, Studley.” And then Chris created the Road to Revolution Heritage Trail connecting all the historic sites in Hanover. “Ultimately we expanded that to the entire state,” he says. “Mount Vernon, Monticello, Stratford Hall, all of these are part of the Road to Revolution.”
Chris is currently working on a tribute to a group of Virginians often neglected by the powers that be. He has worked with his good friend Chief Ken Adams of the Upper Mattaponi on this project. “Ken came to me after the Civil Rights monument was erected and said Virginia Indians are missing here at Capitol Square and so I put up a resolution set up a commission and in 2007 we did an inventory of all state capitals and what they do to recognize native peoples,” he says. “We visited every reservation we visited every tribe.”
This will be different than any of the other monuments in Capitol Square. “One it should be a tribute, it shouldn’t be a memorial, because Virginia Indians are still living and contributing so it’s not looking backwards, it’s contemporaneous and forward-looking, and that tribute should be reflective of their spirituality, of nature, and respect for the Creator,” says Chris. “So the landscape architecture installation will be built into the slope going from the Bell Tower towards the Poe statue along Ninth, and it is as though you sliced a nautilus shell in half and it’s the spiral, and in the middle will be a constant flowing basin with Virginia river names on it. So we’ve raised a little over $300,000 and our goal is $500,000.”
He considers the three women who raised him and instilled in him a sense of justice, and a love of the rule of law. These three women—the two Ninas and Janie—are now all dead. “I’m certainly no Ted Kennedy,” Chris says. “But I’ve now had to give a homily or eulogy for all three of the women who helped raise me. My mother, my grandmother and Janie.”
And he thinks of his wife, Ashley, and their daughter, Nina Camden, and the family dog, who also happens to be female. “The women of my life,” he says and adds. “In an age of conflict, in an age of strife and polarization, and fracturedness and brokenness, don’t you need peace? Isn’t that what you need? Peace be with you.” Chris entertains the idea of one day running for a higher elected office.
He invites me to imagine a train pulling into the old Ashland depot on Railroad Avenue. As the engine grinds and hisses to a halt, the Shiloh Baptist Church Choir begins to sing “He’s Done Enough”, slowly building momentum in call and response until reaching the resounding crescendo that transcends the world itself. And then there is a silence like eternity. That’s when the door on the caboose opens and a man dressed in a suit and bowtie makes his way across the narrow platform. He grabs the rail that is festooned with red, white and blue bunting. He begins talking to those who have gathered, hearkening back to old-time political campaigns, to candidates like Lincoln and Truman, men who always sought common ground and reached out to the people in their own towns and villages. Across the tracks, and just to the south, in front of the Dick Gillis Library, sits the bronze bust of Nina Kilian Peace that seems to stare over at the bronze likeness of Jay Pace, the voice of Hanover County for generations, a journalist’s journalist, an editor’s editor, a man who honored the fourth estate and worked diligently to keep government transparent. And to the north of the caboose there is the college—towers to secondary education, buttresses that ensure the health of a republic. Flanking the tracks, both sides of this wide street are packed with successful, privately-owned, independent businesses, the economic prowess of a free market economy.
“I love the Cat Stevens’ song,” says Christopher Peace. “Can you imagine? Get on the Peace Train. So, how good would that be?”