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In Memoriam | Winter 2021

In Memoriam: Leigh B. Middleditch Jr.

Leigh B. Middleditch Jr.

Civic-minded alumnus remembered for his service to UVA and beyond

In the Virginia procedures class that he taught at UVA’s law school, Leigh Middleditch Jr. (Col ’51, Law ’57, Darden ’58) would often end an important point by punctuating it with “K?” before quickly moving on. With his hand in so many activities, which eventually included spearheading a Virginia-wide effort to stop political gerrymandering and co-founding UVA’s Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership, Middleditch didn’t have time to waste—not even for the first syllable in the word “OK.”

“He was a man of action, and he really did not sit around talking,” said Charles “Skip” Fox IV (Law ’80), a student and, later, law colleague, who remembered the quirk.

Middleditch, a one-time UVA legal adviser and Board of Visitors member, died Oct. 3, just days after his 92nd birthday and shortly after he was diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumor. He was remembered as a consensus-builder and connector who took advantage of his vast network to launch nonprofits and populate boards. His service work began as he started his legal career at what is now McGuireWoods. At the time, lawyers couldn’t advertise, so he was encouraged to do good works around Charlottesville to meet potential clients. 

“He certainly went far beyond that,” said Bob Gibson (Col ’72, Educ ’14), former executive director of the Sorensen Institute. “He became someone who hatched a good idea, got 10 or 12 volunteers to join him in discussing how to pursue something, and then let them take off and do it. He didn’t micromanage, and he was not someone who was a very forceful, vocal leader. He was a quiet, strong leader.” 

Middleditch wasn’t one for the limelight; he even asked that his obituary not list his civic work. “If you ever met my father and asked him what he did, he would say he was a country lawyer,” said his daughter, Katherine McDonald (Col ’80). “He never expounded upon himself or what he did.” 

But his efforts were broad, working with the Charlottesville Free Clinic, the Virginia State Bar and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, among many others. He helped build and served as a trustee for the Claude Moore Charitable Foundation, a nonprofit that’s doled out nearly $80 million since 1991, including to UVA’s nursing and medical schools.

And he initiated the OneVirginia2021 Foundation, which seeks to stop the practice of drawing legislative district lines to advantage a political party or individual. The effort led to a successful 2020 referendum that set new redistricting rules and established the Virginia Redistricting Commission. 

At UVA, his resume includes his service as president of the Law School Alumni Association and UVA Alumni Association Board of Managers and chairman of the UVA Health Services Foundation. He taught for decades at both the law school and the Darden School of Business. And he took a break from his practice at McGuireWoods from 1968 to 1972 to serve as UVA legal adviser during a particularly heady time amid integration, coeducation and Vietnam War protests.

“You would go to Leigh and say, ‘These are the issues from my vantage point, where am I wrong?’” recalled Ernest H. Ern, who was UVA’s admission dean at the time and became a close friend of Middleditch’s. “And he’d tell you. He really would.” 

No single effort was Middleditch’s favorite, McDonald said, but UVA remained close to his heart. As an undergraduate student, Middleditch, originally from Michigan, played center halfback on the varsity soccer team and was a member of Alpha Tau Omega. He served in the U.S. Navy during the Korean War and eventually retired as a Naval Reserve captain in 1972. In 1986, he received the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award, which honors individuals for excellence of character and service to humanity.

Middleditch was also a man of few words at home, where he and his wife, Betty G. Middleditch, raised three children, McDonald said. But he always made clear that it was the responsibility of citizens to give back and that, in his own life, he was forever grateful for his education from UVA. 

“When my father gave a grace,” McDonald remembered, “he would stand up and he would always be thankful, and he would say, ‘God bless our soldiers, God bless our nation, and God bless the University of Virginia, for they have done the most wonderful things for me.’”

Middleditch is survived by his wife and three children. 

—Sarah Lindenfeld Hall