The week of April 30 was a busy one for the General Assembly. After three years and $104.5 million, it was time to see the renovated Capitol building.
Although we were supposed to move into it in January, the delay – due to the intricacies of restoring an historic property – was worth it.
On Monday, April 30, we were invited to a Preview Gala of the Capitol and newly constructed visitor center.
Built into the hill on the south side of the historic Capitol, it will be the new entrance to the building for tourists.
It is a magnificent structure and includes a gift shop and café. There is ample space for interactive displays, lectures, and meetings.
There are now graphics along the walls and one of the copies of the plaster of Paris model of the Capitol is on display.
The original model was commissioned by Thomas Jefferson, who designed the building, and produced in France in the 1780s.
By next year, more extensive exhibits and interactive computer displays will be installed by the Virginia Capitol Foundation.
That non-profit corporation was formed to raise private funds to assist with the renovation, including a brick pathway leading to the new entrance.
There is a beautiful skylight in the center of the visitor center under which will be erected a statue of Thomas Jefferson.
Quotations from Mr. Jefferson are inscribed in the granite walls throughout the Visitor Center. This new structure alone was well worth the expense of the renovation.
The next day saw a rededication of the Capitol building with speeches from House and Senate leaders and Governor Kaine.
There was also a ceremonial blessing of the Capitol by Stephen Adkins, Chief of the Chickahominy tribe.
The day began with the presentation of colors by a combined color guard of cadets from VMI and Virginia Tech.
Coming two weeks after the horrible tragedy in Blacksburg, it was a moving scene to see the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets there.
I was told that the VMI cadets were originally slated to be the lone color guard, but that their Commandant invited the Hokies to join them.
The Virginia Tech cadets traveled to VMI to practice together with the Keydets in Lexington the day before.
Tours of the renovated Capitol followed and it is a magnificent job. The House and Senate chamber wings look as they did when built in 1906.
The chambers have been painted in the original colors and long hidden murals have been reproduced and installed on the walls.
While the look has been preserved, the feel is quite modern as new electronics were installed in each member’s desk.
We now have electronic voting boards with Jumbotron type screens on the top that will show the closed circuit feed of our daily sessions.
The interior rotunda has also been brought back to its original bright color scheme and the statuary of our early leaders has been cleaned and restored.
I invite you all to come to Richmond to see your beautifully restored Capitol. Tours are now given seven days a week.
A Royal Welcome
Two days later saw a visit by Her Royal Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II of England, on her way to honor Jamestown.
We knew that she had accepted an invitation to view Jamestown on its 400th anniversary, so the General Assembly invited her to Richmond.
We did that by passing a resolution in April at the annual Veto Session, which she accepted. It was her first state visit to the U.S. in 16 years.
She addressed a joint session of the General Assembly in a speech lasting about six minutes. She praised Virginia, but also mentioned the negative aspects of colonialism.
The Queen brought up the issue of slavery, which she noted was banned in Britain in the early 1800s, and talked of the injustices to the Native American people perpetrated by the colonists.
Yet, she expressed her pride that the struggling English colony had survived against many hardships and brought democracy to the Western Hemisphere.
After her speech, she had a private meeting with the survivors of the Virginia Tech shooting, who had traveled up from Blacksburg.
The Queen had asked to see them and we are told that she was most gracious and caring in her comments to them.
Then, she was off to Williamsburg, Jamestown, the Kentucky Derby, and back to London. It was a whirlwind for her and a heady week for us colonials.