Downing, Thomas N.

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Downing represented the first district of Virginia in the 86th through 94th Congresses; served on several House committees including the Committee on Merchant Marine and Fisheries and its Subcommittee on Merchant Marine; and served on the board of directors for the Mariners Museum since 1979.

From the description of Papers : of Thomas N. Downing, 1959-1976. (The Mariners' Museum Library). WorldCat record id: 30820802

Thomas N. Downing served Virginia's First District in the House of Representatives from the 86th through the 94th Congresses. He was the grandson of the late state Senator Thomas J. Downing of Lancaster County (see also Accession Nos. 22035 and 22037, the Downing Family Letters).

Downing was born in Newport News on 1 February 1919. He received his public education in that city, graduating from Newport News High School. He completed his undergraduate education at the Virginia Military Institute, graduating in 1940. During World War II, Downing served as a Combat Troop Commander of Mechanized Cavalry with action in France. He earned a Silver Star for his rescue of two men during a reconnaissance operation in Northern France, and commanded the first of General Patton's Third Army troops to enter Germany. After the war, he earned a law degree from the University of Virginia (1948).

Downing practiced law in Hampton and Warwick, and served as a substitute judge for the Municipal Court for the City of Warwick. In 1958, he won election to the United States House of Representatives as a Democrat. He was elected to the following eight congresses before declining to run for re-election in 1976.

At the time of his retirement, Downing's constituency included seventeen counties (Accomack, Charles City, Essex, Gloucester, James City, King George, King and Queen, King William, Lancaster, Mathews, Middlesex, New Kent, Northampton, Northumberland, Richmond, Westmoreland, and York) and four cities (Hampton, Newport News, Poquoson, and Williamsburg). The geographic and socio-economic nature of the district caused Representative Downing to place special interest and emphasis on such areas as marine life and quality, military and technological affairs, and agricultural considerations; his years of membership on the Merchant Marine and Fisheries and the Space Science and Technology (formerly Science and Astronautics) committees were important vehicles toward serving those interests. Additionally, his advocacy for re-opening the investigations into the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. led to his being appointed the first chairman of the House Select Committee on Assassinations.

After his retirement in 1976, Downing resumed his law practice in Newport News. He was a member of organizations including the American Bar Association, the Lions Club, the American Legion, and the Veterans of Foreign Wars. He served on the Board of Visitors of the Virginia Military Institute, 1985-1993, and as president of the Board of Directors of the Mariner's Museum in Newport News.

Thomas N. Downing died on 23 October 2001 of complications from intestinal surgery, and is buried in Peninsula Memorial Park, Newport News.

The first box of the Downing Papers contains a small group of records from Downing's two immediate predecessors in the First District congressional seat. Schuyler Otis Bland of Gloucester County (1872-1950) served in Congress from 1918 until his death in February 1950. His seat was filled by Edward John Robeson, Jr., who was born in Haywood County, North Carolina (1890), spent his childhood in Georgia, and settled as an adult in Newport News. Robeson served in the 81st through the 85th congresses; he was then defeated for renomination by Thomas Downing. He died in 1966 and is buried in North Carolina.

From the guide to the Thomas N. Downing Papers, 1947-1977, (The Library of Virginia)

Role Title Holding Repository
Place Name Admin Code Country
United States
Merchant marine
Fishery law and legislation
Maritime law


Birth 1919-02-01

Death 2001-10-23



Ark ID: w6pp049m

SNAC ID: 8875005