It was around New Year’s Day some time back – 86 years, to be exact – that a remarkable end of an era came to Fairfax County.
As the calendar flipped from December 1935 to January 1936, F.W. (Frederick Wilmer) Richardson ended his service as the elected Clerk of the Circuit Court, a political career that had dated back an amazing 55 years, to 1880.
Even more amazingly, F.W. had succeeded his father, F.D. (Ferdinand Dawson) Richardson, who had served as clerk of court for the preceding 45 years, with the exception of the period when Fairfax was under occupation by Union troops during the Civil War (or, as it likely was known to the Richardson family at the time, the War of Northern Aggression).
Count an additional two years that F.D. had served as Clerk of the Fairfax County Court, a separate post, from 1833-35, and that’s a total of 102 nearly uninterrupted years that pere et fils served their fellow county residents.
An article noting the retirement of F.W. Richardson in an early-January 1936 edition of the Northern Virginia Sun (predecessor of the Sun Gazette) noted that he was known as “Uncle Tudie” to one and all.
But an answer to the obvious next question – why “Uncle Tudie”? – may be lost to history.
Heather Bollinger, the Historic Courthouse/Historic Records Manager for the Fairfax Circuit Court, says her office has a good deal of correspondence from that period that confirm the nickname.
“We have letters to him from colleagues, lawyers, etc., while he was Clerk, and many are addressed ‘Dear Tudie,’” she said.
For edification, Bollinger checked with local historian Lee Hubbard, whose family can trace its Fairfax roots back to the 1700s.
Hubbard “remembers his parents and folks around Fairfax Station called F.W. Richardson ‘Tudie’ from a very young age, and then it progressed into ‘Uncle Tudie,’” she said. “Unfortunately, he does not know how he got the name.”
A photo, provided by Hubbard to Bollinger, shows a young man with “Tudie” written below. Whether that is Richardson is not known.
Now a behemoth of 1.1 million, Fairfax County in the 1830s-40s was a largely rural backwater of less than 10,000 residents (free and enslaved). F.D. Richardson, who had been born in 1808, was tapped as assistant clerk of the county court in 1826, moving up to County Court Clerk in 1833 and Circuit Court Clerk in 1835.
(The chronology of events comes from work by Victoria Thompson, who in 2017 created a guide to the Richardson-era papers archived in the Fairfax Circuit Court Historic Records Center.)
The elder Richardson was an avid farmer and a captain in the Virginia Militia. He voted in favor of secession in 1861, “and courthouse lore has it that he took George Washington’s will down to Richmond for safekeeping,” Thompson’s guide notes. Little else is known about his Civil War years.
After the war, while retaining his Circuit Court position, Richardson also served as clerk to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.
Upon his death in October 1880, Richardson’s son F.W. (born 1854), who had served as assistant clerk in the Office of Clerk of the County Court since 1871, became interim Clerk of the County and Circuit Courts. In 1881, he was elected Clerk of the County Court, and when it was abolished in 1903 became Clerk of the Circuit Court.
He also at various times served as clerk of the Board of Supervisors and county treasurer, as well as a probate judge, and served on a host of other public bodies while being active in the Democratic Party and accumulating a degree of wealth and enjoying the good life with his wife Millie and their children.
“Newspapers from F.W.’s time also record his active social life, attending many dinners and other functions,” the Thompson guide notes. “Especially notable are bank and Bar Association dinners.”
Unlike his father, who died in office, F.W. Richardson decided in 1935 that the time had come for retirement. Unfortunately, it was a brief one, as he died on April 23, 1936.
While the record of two family members serving a combined century in (largely) the same elected office seems insurpassable, the Richardsons might have outdone even themselves and carried the post into a third generation – had fate not intervened.
One of F.W. Richardson’s sons, Marcus Bayly Richardson, served his father as deputy clerk, a position that might have put him in line for succession.
Tragically, Marcus was killed in 1917 when his car hit a streetcar.
Instead, Richardson was succeeded in 1936 by John M. Whalen; the post, still a position elected by voters countywide, today is held by John Frey.
The F.W. Richardson papers occupy 3.25 linear feet in the Historic Records Center, providing a paper trail for historians on topics as wide-ranging as the Civil War, Reconstruction, World War I, Prohibition and the life events of the Richardson family.