|Intro||Louisiana Republican national committeewoman, 1964-1968|
|Birth||4 December 1915, Alexandria|
Mary Virginia Wheadon deGravelles (born December 4, 1915) is a retiree from Lafayette who was the Louisiana Republican national committeewoman from 1964 to 1968, a position which constitutes automatic membership on the Republican National Committee. Her husband, Charles Camille deGravelles, Jr. (1913–2008), an oil and gas landman, was the state party chairman from 1968–1972 and is considered to have been one of the founders of the modern Louisiana GOP. In 1968, when Mrs. deGravelles (pronounced DE GRA VELLES) vacated the national committee position, her state party had only 28,427 registered members, barely 2 percent of the state's voters.
For a brief time in 1968, both deGravelleses were on the Republican National Committee, a husband-wife combination that has not since repeated itself.
Family and education
Virginia deGravelles (pronounced De GRA Vell) was born in Alexandria, the seat of Rapides Parish and the largest city in Central Louisiana, to John Samuel Butler Wheadon (1883-1952) and the former Anna Kilpatrick (1887-1970) and are interred at Mt. Olivet Episcopal Cemetery in Pineville. Her father managed the former Rapides Hotel, built in 1898 at the intersection of Second and Washington streets. Its three stories contained sixty-four rooms and an excellent restaurant. An elevator was added in 1914. Wheadon also leased the Stonewall Hotel at Third and Jackson streets. The building was torn down about 1960. Mrs. Anna Wheadon was a homemaker and a legal secretary. Virginia lived next door for a time to the family of Nauman Steele Scott, I. Nauman Scott, II (1916–2001), with whom she recalls having ridden tricycles together, became a Republican-appointed U.S. District Judge in the Western District of Louisiana, based in Alexandria. Virginia's grandfather was a sheriff, and her great-grandfather was a judge. She graduated from Bolton High School in Alexandria in 1931, then the only public high school available, and attended Northwestern State University (then Louisiana Normal School) in Natchitoches for two years. Thereafter, she transferred to Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, where she received her degree in education and met Charles, who grew up in Thibodaux, the seat of Lafourche Parish. In 1960, Mrs. deGravelles completed graduate studies at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
On September 14, 1935, the couple eloped and were wed by a justice of the peace in Woodville in Wilkinson County, Mississippi. They had five children, twin sons from Baton Rouge (born 1949) and three daughters, one, Mary Alix deGravelles, deceased. The sons are Charles Nations deGravelles, a former Episcopal archdeacon, and John Wheadon deGravelles, an attorney and a Democrat who in 2014 became a judge of the United States District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana, under appointment of U.S. President Barack H. Obama. The daughters are Elizabeth Claire Cloninger (husband Spike Cloninger), a writer of books and contemporary Christian music in Fairhope in Baldwin County near Mobile, and Virginia Ann McBride Norton of Bali, Indonesia. Son-in-law Ed Norton works for the Nature Conservancy on ecological issues, while Ann is a photographer with her own company, Photo Voice.
A deGravelles' granddaughter, Margaret McNair deGravelles (1979-2016), a daughter of Charles and Angela deGravelles, was a veterinarian who practiced equine medicine in a brief career which took her to Alaska, Wyoming, and Washington. She was a daughter of Charles
The deGravelleses became active in local, state, and national politics. In 1941, they became the first two whites in many years to register as Republicans in Lafayette Parish. The only declared Republicans then were a few African Americans, who were then frozen out of the pivotal Democratic primaries. She is hence among the small number of the oldest living Republicans in the state of Louisiana. Francis Grevemberg (1914–2008) of New Orleans, the Republican candidate for governor in 1960, did not join the party until 1959, the same year that former Lafayette Mayor Dud Lastrapes, as a 30-year-old, switched parties. In time, Republicans even came to dominate Lafayette Parish.
Early in 1964, the deGravelleses supported Charlton Lyons, an oilman from Shreveport in Caddo Parish in northwestern Louisiana, for the governorship. Lyons was the first GOP gubernatorial candidate since Reconstruction to wage an active campaign for the office. Grevemberg four years before Lyons was mostly ignored by voters and the media. Mrs. deGravelles recalls Lyons as "a wonderful, compassionate man," who pioneered the development of the two-party system in Louisiana. Charles deGravelles succeeded Lyons as state party chairman. Mrs. deGravelleses was a delegate to the 1964 Republican National Convention, which met in the Cow Palace in San Francisco to nominate then U.S. Senator Barry M. Goldwater for the American presidency, considered to have been a breakthrough by conservatives.
Organizations and honors
Mrs. deGravelles, who is Episcopalian, is a member of the Huguenot Society. She has been a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution for more than a half-century. She is also affiliated with the Louisiana Genealogical and Historical Society, and Kappa Delta sorority.
Charles and Virginia deGravelles won several joint awards, primarily for their two-party and Republican activities. They were honored by the conservative Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge (Pennsylvania) and by the Louisiana GOP for lifetime achievement. On January 27, 2007, the deGravelleses were inducted into the Louisiana Political Museum and Hall of Fame in Winnfield, traditional home of the Long political dynasty. They were the first couple honored together by the organization, which was established in 1993 to recognize Louisiana political powerhouses.