Remembering Gov. Gerald Baliles

Remembering Gov. Gerald Baliles

The former Miller Center director led a life dedicated to public service

After a four-year battle with cancer, Gerald Baliles—the 65th governor of Virginia (from 1986 to 1990), a champion of education, and an alum of the University of Virginia’s School of Law—passed away October 29, at age 79.

“In the Commonwealth, we knew Governor Baliles as a public servant of the highest caliber, working on behalf of all Virginians,” said Miller Center Governing Council Chair Alice Handy. “Here at the Miller Center, we also knew him as our former director and we knew him as a friend.”

The governor led the Miller Center—a nonprofit affiliate of the University of Virginia, dedicated to presidential scholarship, public policy, and political history—for eight years (2006–14).

“Jerry brought wisdom and integrity to everything he did,” said current Miller Center Director Bill Antholis. “His record of service to the Commonwealth and the nation is extraordinary. His commitment to the University and the Miller Center set the standard that we all strive to maintain. The governor’s wife and family are in our thoughts and prayers.”

Born in Patrick County in 1940, Baliles attended Wesleyan University and the University of Virginia School of Law. He was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates in 1975. Six years later, he was elected attorney general of the Commonwealth. He won the governorship in 1985, earning 55% of the vote.

A look back on his life and career reveals a steadfast dedication to public service. His term as governor featured a particular focus on education—culminating in an historic National Summit on Education at the University of Virginia in 1989. That event featured the meeting of then-President George H. W. Bush and then-Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton. During his governorship, he also made notable strides in transportation, competitiveness, and environmental protection.

After serving in Richmond, Governor Baliles went into private practice at Hunton & Williams and also was appointed by President Clinton as co-chair of the National Commission to Ensure a Strong Competitive Airline Industry.

In 2006, Governor Baliles was recruited to serve as director and CEO of the Miller Center, where he served until December 31, 2014. While leading the Miller Center, Governor Baliles compiled an impressive record of achievements—and the nation continues to reap rewards from his hard work. 

Most notably, he established the National War Powers Commission, co-chaired by James Baker and Warren Christopher. The group developed a proposed revision of the War Powers Act, which was submitted for consideration by Senators Tim Kaine (D-VA) and John McCain (R-AZ). Baliles also initiated the David R. Goode National Transportation Policy Conference which led to a commission report presented to President Obama in the White House Rose Garden. Baliles also oversaw a series of other commissions on competitiveness, entrepreneurialism, health policy, and higher education. And he kicked off a national discussion and debate series (broadcast on ABC News and PBS) and created the American Forum television program, which ran for six years.

Under his leadership, the Miller Center launched the George W. Bush Presidential Oral History Project (to be released to the public this Friday, November 1, 2019) and the Edward M. Kennedy Oral History Project (which was released in 2015). He also oversaw the public release of the George H. W. Bush Oral History Project and the Bill Clinton Presidential History Project, and laid the groundwork for the Barack Obama Presidential Oral History Project, which the Miller Center is currently conducting.

Baliles also oversaw the publication of more than a dozen transcript volumes from the John F. Kennedy, Lyndon. B. Johnson, and Richard M. Nixon White House tapes, the release of four narrative works based on those tapes, and the establishment of the Presidential Recordings Digital Edition for the further publication of Miller Center scholarship on the tapes.

In 2018, the Miller Center established the Gerald L. Baliles Professorship in Presidential Studies to honor the governor’s service and dedication to the organization and to promote nonpartisan and pragmatic study of the institution of the presidency. “To have an endowed chair is the highest honor a professor can have,” said Miller Center Director of Presidential Studies Barbara Perry when she became the first to hold the title. “I have had two chairs previously, but this is the first I’ve had that is named for someone who not only hired me at the Miller Center but whom I considered to be a mentor and friend.”