Former U.S. Sen. John Warner of Virginia dies at 94

John Warner
Posted at 7:57 AM, May 26, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-26 22:56:44-04

Former United States Sen. John Warner (R-VA) died Tuesday night at the age of 94.

According to the Associated Press, Warner's longtime chief of staff Susan A. Magill says he died Tuesday of heart failure at home in Alexandria with his wife and daughter at his side.

Warner, a former Navy secretary, served 30 years in the U.S. Senate, and was the last Virginia Republican to be elected to the Senate. He left office in 2007, endorsing a Democrat, current Sen. Mark Warner, as his successor.

As we honor Warner, here's a look at his extensive Navy service:

  • Served in the Navy during World War II
  • Served in the Marine Corps during the Korean War
  • Was both Under Secretary of the Navy and then Secretary of the Navy under Nixon
  • Twice served as chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee
  • Was one of the few people to have a Navy vessel named in his honor while he still alive with the commissioning of the USS John Warner submarine in 2015
  • The USS John Warner is homeported at Naval Station Norfolk

Warner was also married to actor Elizabeth Taylor from 1976 to 1982.

Governor Northam released a statement Wednesday morning saying Virginia and America lost a giant and ordered that the Virginia state flag be flown at half-staff over the Virginia Capitol on the day of his funeral. He went on to say:

"As a sailor, a senator, a statesman, and a gentleman, former U.S. Senator John Warner spent his life in public service. A World War II veteran of the Navy, he served as Secretary of the Navy, led the Senate Armed Services Committee, and was a respected voice in Washington on military affairs. John helped build up his political party and always remained an independent voice. He used that voice in the Senate to forge bipartisan compromise, knowing how and when to reach across the aisle. And he always put Virginia first. John Warner truly was the best of what public service and elected leadership should be, and his loss leaves a deep void. Pam and I join the Commonwealth in mourning his death. Our prayers for comfort go out to his wife Jeanne, his three children, grandchildren, scores of friends, and all those who loved him.”

President Biden released a statement on Warner's death, recognizing his life of service and accomplishments:

From his enlistment in the Navy at age 17, to his service with the Marines in the Korean war, to his time as Secretary of the Navy, to his five terms in the United States Senate, John Warner lived an extraordinary life of service and accomplishment.

I had the privilege of serving alongside John in the Senate for three decades. The John Warner I knew was guided by two things: his conscience and our Constitution. And, when acting in accordance with both, he neither wavered in his convictions nor was concerned with the consequences.

From fighting for international rules and norms to help keep the peace among nations, to his principled stances to oppose torture and support our Armed Forces and our national security, I always knew that John’s decisions were guided by his values—even when we disagreed on the policy outcomes. When told that if he voted in a way that was not in line with his party’s position—as he did numerous times on issues of rational gun policy, women’s rights, and judicial nominees—that “people would say,” his favorite rejoinder was, “Let ‘em say it.”

Indeed, that was his response when, in one of the great honors of my career, he crossed party lines to support me in the 2020 election.

When Senator Warner left the Senate, he asked that the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem, O Ship of State be read into the Senate Record.

In that poem is the stanza:

In spite of rock and tempest’s roar,

In spite of false lights on the shore,

Sail on, nor fear to breast the sea!

Our hearts, our hopes, are all with thee.

Through his service in uniform and the Senate, John Warner deftly helped guide our ship of state. Today our hearts and prayers are with his family.

U.S. Senator Tim Kaine released a statement on Warner's death, calling him an "unmatched leader" and a "dear friend."

"Not having John Warner to go to for advice leaves a big hole in my life. But we can all celebrate a public servant who stood on principle, made us proud, and exemplified the best of what politics can be."
U.S. Senator Tim Kaine (D-Va.)

U.S. Senator Mark Warner, who took John Warner's seat in 2009, released a statement reflecting on John Warner endorsing him twice for re-election.

“In Virginia, we expect a lot of our elected officials. We expect them to lead, yet remain humble. We expect them to serve, but with dignity. We expect them to fight for what they believe in, but without making it personal. John Warner was the embodiment of all that and more. I firmly believe that we could use more role models like him today. There’s little I’m prouder of than the fact that he twice endorsed me for re-election."
U.S. Senator Mark Warner (D-Va.)

Rep. Elaine Luria released a statement on Warner's death via Twitter.

"John Warner always put his country and the Commonwealth before himself. Deeply committed to our military and our troops, I was proud to get to know him the last few years. He’s a towering figure in Virginian and American life. May his memory be a blessing," Luria wrote.

Rep. Bobby Scott said Warner "set the tone" for how Republicans and Democrats could work together.

“It is with a heavy heart that I learned of the passing of John Warner. A veteran of World War II and the Korean War before he served in the Senate, John dedicated his life to serving his country and the Commonwealth of Virginia," Scott wrote. "John served as the dean of Virginia’s congressional delegation for many years and set the tone for how Democrats and Republicans should work together for the betterment of all Virginians. That is a tradition that our congressional delegation strives to continue today. In the Senate, John was always focused on what was best for the Commonwealth, and he could always be relied on to prioritize the people he served, not party or politics. I send my deepest condolences to John’s family and loved ones and all those who were impacted by his life of public service."
Rep. Bobby Scott

Rep. Rob Wittman called Warner a "champion for the American ideal," and said Warner's work continues to influence him.

“I’m sad to say Virginia lost a giant today. Senator Warner was a statesman among statesmen, whom I had the honor of serving alongside early in my career in the House of Representatives. Senator Warner quickly became a friend and mentor, never hesitant to share his vast knowledge or experience. Most of all, he served as an example of how American and Virginian politics should work with his level-headed, bipartisan approach to the legislative process.

“Senator Warner lived a life of service. From his service in the United States Navy and Marine Corps, to his service in the United States Senate, Senator Warner was a champion for the American ideal. His work to provide for our national defense and his stewardship of the Chesapeake Bay continue to influence and guide my work each day. Though he may be gone, his service to our nation must not be forgotten. In a time of such bitter partisan divide, we must continue to look to his example as a servant leader who challenged our Commonwealth and Nation to grow and change for the better with each passing day. The Commonwealth of Virginia and the United States of America will him dearly as Virginia’s leaders strive to carry on his legacy.”
Rep. Rob Wittman

Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III released the following statement after Warner's passing:

Today, on behalf of the Department of Defense, we mourn the loss of Senator John Warner and celebrate his life of extraordinary service to our country. From his early days serving in the military to his distinguished careers at the Pentagon and in the United States Senate, Senator Warner set an enduring example of principled leadership.

Senator Warner served as an enlisted sailor during World War II, then as a Marine Corps officer during the Korean War. In 1969, President Nixon appointed him as under secretary of the Navy. In 1972, the future senator went on to serve as Secretary of the Navy, where, among other achievements, he signed the Incidents at Sea agreement with the Soviet Union. At the height of the Cold War, this bilateral pact helped keep our country safe by reducing the chances of unwitting escalation.

He drew on his defense experience and expertise in the Senate, where he represented Virginia for five terms. As chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, he became known for independence and for building bipartisan partnerships, earning the respect of his colleagues on both sides of the aisle. He pushed hard for legislation banning the torture of alleged terrorists, and he opposed the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. Throughout his long public career, Senator Warner stood up for our men and women in uniform and made lasting contributions to our national security.

Charlene and I send our deepest condolences to the Warner family. Senator Warner will be missed, but his legacy of service will continue to inspire the next generation of leaders to serve our great nation.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III