RICHMOND, Va. — Ralph Northam, a pediatric neurologist, was sworn in as the 73rd governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia Saturday.
In his inaugural address, Northam talked fondly about growing up on a farm in rural Onancock on Virginia’s Eastern Shore.
I was blessed to grow up on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, and to call it my home.
As a kid I spent hours behind our house, crabbing and fishing on the Chesapeake Bay. To this day that is where I find peace.
When I was just old enough to take to the water myself, my dad helped me build a rowboat and launch it, with strict instructions: stay close to home.
As I grew and became more comfortable, I began to take longer trips away from the shore, until I was ready to head out into the open water.
I remember standing with my father as I prepared to embark, and like all good Dads, he knew I was nervous even before I did.
He said, Ralph, remember—when you get out there, you can always trust your compass.
If things get dark or foggy, if you can’t find your way—keep your eye on the compass.
It’ll always bring you home safely.
He was right about that compass.
As I got older and took various jobs on the water, working on a deep sea fishing boat and as the captain of a ferry to Tangier Island, I came to trust that compass to guide me when the way ahead was not clear.
My dad’s advice stayed with me when I reached the Virginia Military Institute and was given a different kind of compass, in the simple words of the VMI honor code:
“A Cadet will not lie, cheat, steal, nor tolerate those who do.”
Those words have stuck with me all these years because they’re so clear.
They have become a kind of moral compass for me.
They always call me back home safely.
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Northam credited his parents with instilling values that still ring true today.
My mother taught children who were learning English as their second language how to read
She worked in health care, nursing sick people back to health on Virginia’s Eastern Shore.
She volunteered with the hospice, comforting people in their final hours.
She taught me that, no matter who we are or where we come from, we are all equal in the beginning – and in the end.
My father, who grew up on a farm on the Eastern Shore, served in the Navy during World War II, a member of America’s greatest generation.
He became a Commonwealth’s Attorney and a judge just as his father had before him.
Before my brother joined the Navy and I joined the Army, my father always encouraged us to play sports.
I think he knew we would learn the importance of teamwork and the fundamental truth that success isn’t about one person’s individual contributions, it’s about the team.
Watching the things my parents did, for our family and for our community, taught me a lot growing up.
But the greatest lesson I learned came from watching how they did those things. Their humble and steady service to the people around them taught me what strength looks like.
It taught me that you don’t have to be loud to lead.
In addition, Northam said those vital lessons are sorely needed.
Virginia and this country need that more than ever these days.
It can be hard to find our way in a time when there’s so much shouting,
when nasty, shallow tweets take the place of honest debate,
and when scoring political points gets in the way of dealing with real problems.
If you’ve felt that way, I want you to listen to me right now:
We are bigger than this.
We all have a moral compass deep in our hearts.
And it’s time to summon it again, because we have a lot of work to do.
After the inaugural parade, which featured the entire VMI corps of cadets, Northam signed three executive orders.
Executive order one “prohibits discrimination based on race, sex, color, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, age, political affiliation, or against otherwise qualified persons with disabilities in Virginia state government,” according to the Northam administration. The two other executive actions gave power to Northam’s chief of staff, Clark Mercer, and allows Northam to declare a state of emergency in Virginia.
Northam said his administration was sent to Richmond by voters to look past political parties and focus on solving problems in areas like health care, gun violence and income inequality.
“The guiding principle of this administration will be simple, we will work together to make our Commonwealth work better for all Virginians, no matter who they are or where they are from,” Northam said.