11 quick things you might have missed from the Washington Post’s new candidate profile on Ralph:
- Ralph Northam is an Army doctor and pediatric neurologist who often visits Remote Access Medical Clinics in rural Virginia to treat patients.
Then Northam, a pediatrician, pulled out his stethoscope and ducked into a trailer to see patient. Here he came to life. A 6-year-old girl with a blond ponytail clung to her mother, so Northam bent down and spoke with her — softly, earnestly, even sweetly, like a bushy-browed Mr. Rogers. She warmed to him instantly.
2. Ralph Northam is different — he’s led a life of service.
Northam is different. An Army veteran from an old family on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, he built a successful medical practice in Norfolk and was a prominent community volunteer before entering politics a decade ago.
3. He is also a son of the Eastern Shore.
He grew up on the Eastern Shore, one of the most remote locations on the East Coast, where his family lived for centuries. The peninsula straddles the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean, a flat strip of farm fields and fishing villages, pine trees and crape myrtles and marsh grass. When Northam was born in 1959, the area was connected to the rest of Virginia only by ferryboats; the 20-mile Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel linked the region to Norfolk in 1964.
4. Ralph Northam was voted president of his honor court at Virginia Military Institute — a big honor.
By his senior year, Northam had reached the pinnacle of life at VMI — he was voted onto the honor court and then selected by leaders as its president, a position known as “the pope.”
Much as his father had done as a prosecutor and judge in their home town, Northam was now passing judgment on his friends, overseeing who would be expelled for honor code infractions.
5. Pam Northam on her soft-spoken husband: “I would say you are confusing kindness with weakness.”
For those who find the political Northam to be too gentle in his manner, supporters cite the honor court background as a rebuttal. His wife, Pam, said Northam’s style is deceptive.
“I would say you are confusing kindness with weakness,” she said.
6. Not only is Ralph a pediatric neurologist, but he’s a small business owner and a volunteer medical director of a children’s hospice center.
He and four other doctors started a practice that now has more than 200 physicians in different pediatric specialties, and Northam spent 19 years as volunteer medical director of a children’s hospice.
7. Ralph is an all-in “commitment to mission” kind of guy.
But he also won, by more than 8 points. Friends say the harsh tone was a sign of what some call Northam’s “commitment to mission” — a military-bred tendency to go all in once he’s decided to act. It’s also evidence of a lifelong competitive streak.
He still boasts about batting .600 in high school, and he makes the hard-to-prove claim that he was the first person to dunk a basketball on Tangier Island. Last year when the General Assembly held a FitBit challenge to see who could pile up the most exercise steps, Northam won — by 70 miles over the next-closest competitor.
8. Ralph used his medical background to set his legislative priorities as a state senator.
Kaine later asked Northam to carry a major piece of legislation — a restaurant smoking ban — and credits Northam for putting together a coalition to get it passed. Northam also used his medical background to torpedo Republican efforts to require women to get an invasive ultrasound procedure before getting an abortion, giving him enduring status with women’s health advocates.
9. He has worked throughout his political career to lift up other Democrats who are looking to serve in elected office.
Northam went on to build a reputation as one of the most generous Democrats in Richmond in terms of helping other party candidates around the state. Vivian Paige, a longtime Democratic activist in Norfolk, said she felt that Northam was atoning for his dalliance with the Republicans.
“This is his evolution,” Paige said.
10. Unlike his opponent, Ralph likes to listen to music.
Before debates, to get himself psyched up, he listens to Elvis Presley’s version of “My Way.”
11. Ralph remains a hometown boy who stays true to his Onancock values — no matter what people may think.
Once in a while, Northam takes refuge from the campaign back in Onancock, where he can tinker on his classic cars or take the boat out into the bay. His brother lives in the house where they grew up, down a tree-lined lane through fields of sorghum.
Wescott Northam, 93, has heard people say that his son lacks a killer political instinct; he heard the same thing about himself 40 years ago. “When you get this kind of criticism, it really hurts,” he said.
But you have to be true to yourself, he said. And if you’re ambitious, you have to be willing to take the criticism and sacrifice some comfort in life.
“It takes balls to give that up,” he said. “He can handle it. Better him than me.”
BONUS: If 6-year-olds could vote, Ralph could probably win in a landslide.
If 6-year-olds could vote, Northam would be the prohibitive favorite in this year’s race for governor.