James J. Kilpatrick dies at 89

James J. Kilpatrick in Sperryville for the 1969 marriage of his son. Photo courtesy of Sharon Kilpatrick.

As this newspaper went to press, funeral arrangements had not yet been announced for James J. Kilpatrick, renowned journalist and one-time Rappahannock resident, who passed away on Sunday.

Kilpatrick was being treated for congestive heart failure at George Washington University Hospital, where he died. He was 89.

Nationally known for his conservative columns and commentary, here in Rappahannock his wit and journalistic observations were more likely to be focused on truths revealed in rural life and the joys of country living. Some of his essays on this subject were collected in a book called “The Foxes’ Union.”

His syndicated column often carried the dateline of Scrabble, Va., but his postal address was actually Woodville. He explained:
“Scrabble is a community two miles on down the road toward Culpeper. But what writer with an ounce of poetry in his veins would choose Woodville as a dateline, when with a spark of honest larceny he would latch onto Scrabble instead?”

Often on the other end of political spectrum from Kilpatrick was his Rappahannock friend and neighbor, the late Eugene McCarthy, former Democratic senator from Minnesota who had run for president in 1968. The two good-naturedly sparred over such issues as what to do about groundhogs, in point-counterpoint essays appearing in Mid-Atlantic Country Magazine during the late 1970s and early 1980s.

“The man is not locked into a mold. He’s not just the curmudgeon you see on TV,” McCarthy said of Kilpatrick in a 1973 interview in The Washington Post. “Kilpo,” as he was affectionately known to many, had “kind of a country manor style,” McCarthy said.

At his Woodville home, as reported by the Post, Kilpatrick flew two flags, the Stars and Stripes and alongside it one from the era of the American Revolution bearing the image of a snake and the inscription “Don’t Tread on Me.”

Born in Oklahoma, Kilpatrick got his journalistic start at the Richmond News-Leader with the fabled editor Douglas Southall Freeman as mentor. Kilpatrick became the paper’s editor in 1951.

In 1966 he left his editing duties behind to focus on his column “A Conservative View,” which was carried by newspapers throughout the country until 1993. He also wrote regular columns called “Covering the Courts” and “The Writer’s Art.”

In the 1970s, Kilpatrick became a fixture on television’s “60 Minutes,” as a fierce and articulate debating partner in that news program’s “Point-Counterpoint” segment.

Of his time here in Rappahannock County, his daughter-in-law Sharon Kilpatrick recalled: “He loved everything about Rappahannock County and made many friends here from various walks in life. He was a wonderful father-in-law to me and a wonderful grandfather to my children.”

She pointed out that “his legacy here will live on in the James J. Kilpatrick Writing Award, a scholarship given each spring to an upcoming Rappahannock County High School graduate selected by the English faculty as the best writer in the senior class. He cared deeply about good writing, and I am so pleased that in our last conversation he praised a piece I wrote for our church newsletter . . . .”

Kilpatrick’s first wife, the former Marie Louise Pietri, pre-deceased him. He is survived by their three sons, seven grandchildren, and two great-grandsons. In 1998, he married Marianne Means, also a columnist, who survives him, as do his stepchildren.