The Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC) recently launched a new police patrol vessel in honor of the agency’s longtime commissioner.
A ceremony was held recently to dedicate the W. A. Pruitt to former VMRC commissioner William A. (Bill) Pruitt.
State leaders, Tangier Island dignitaries, family, friends and colleagues attended the affair on Tangier to honor Pruitt and officially commission the new VMRC marine patrol boat.
The new vessel will be stationed at Tangier Island, where Pruitt was born and raised. A VMRC news release said that the honor was awarded Pruitt for his “dedicated service to the Commonwealth.”
Pruitt retired in 2006 after 25 years as head of VMRC. He served under seven governors. The commissioner’s longevity in the position is notable because he held the job in a state where Democrats and Republicans switched back and forth in the governor’s mansion quite a few times.
Starting with Governor Charles “Chuck” Robb in 1982, each governor thereafter appointed Pruitt with very little debate, no matter on which side of the aisle they sat.
When state officials began to look for a replacement for Dr. James Douglas as head of VMRC, several oyster packers and others lobbied for Pruitt’s name to be included in the list of applicants.
Pruitt was interviewed but Robb reappointed Douglas. A couple months later Douglas resigned. Governor Robb then created a 23-member search committee and went nationwide trying to find a new head of the commission. Pruitt was encouraged to resubmit his name and he did. There were 35 strong applicants from all across the country and it was narrowed down to five. Pruitt made the interview cut and went before the selection panel.
During his interview, he went through the expected questions like everyone else but at the end of the session the opportunity came for Pruitt’s anecdotal wit to present itself.
Chairman of the panel was the late H. R. “Peck” Humphreys, Jr., then a powerful man in Virginia’s menhaden fishery. At the end of Pruitt’s interview Humphreys asked if anyone had any questions for the young man.
One board member said, “I’ve got a question.”
He continued, “Bill, I’m a beer distributor. That’s how I make my living. Why do you think the governor appointed me to be on this board?”
Pruitt recalls, “I came right back with an answer. I said,’Sir, anyone who’s ever eaten Chesapeake Bay steamed crabs know that we need you around. When you eat a steamed crab you’ve got to have a pitcher of beer with it.'”
“The place broke up with laughter,” Bill says.
“Then Mr. Humphreys says, ‘I got a question for him. Bill, how are you going to feel as our commissioner about having to answer to a woman?'”
At that time, the state’s Secretary of Natural Resources was Betty Deiner, who Pruitt would report to.
“I said, ‘Mr. Chairman, I’ve been answering to them all my life’.”
His quick wit helped him land the job. “I had one panel member tell me that when they got around the table to decide, the majority wanted me because of the answers to those two questions.”
The new patrol boat W. A. Pruitt will be serving the waters of the Eastern Shore of Virginia.