Northam family dog headed for Governor's Mansion

Virginia Governor-elect Ralph Northam holds a press conference on the morning after his electoral victory over Republican Ed Gillespie.

CHINCOTEAGUE, Va. (Delmarva Now) -- When Ralph Northam moves into the Governor's Mansion in Richmond in January, he won't be the only one from the Eastern Shore of Virginia to take up residence there.

Murphy, a black Labrador retriever that is part of the Northam family, will be coming along, according to Northam's father, retired Circuit Judge Wescott Northam.

Northam, 93, said Murphy "is really a people dog" and likely will enjoy the attention he'll receive as Virginia's first dog.

The dog, whose formal name is "Murphy of Chincoteague," hails from Chincoteague Island. He came to live with the Northams in 2009 after police officer Brian Lewis gave the 6-month-old pup to Tom Northam, an Accomac attorney and Ralph's brother.

"It was supposed to be Tom's dog and ended up my dog — how, I don't know," said Wescott Northam.

The dog was the elder Northam's companion until about six years ago, when a lengthy stint Wescott Northam spent in the hospital after a fall resulted in Murphy going to live with Ralph Northam's family.

That's where he has remained ever since.

Murphy's first venture into politics was campaigning for Northam, who was elected first to the state Senate, then as lieutenant governor, before winning the governor's race in November.

"Now, he can devote his full time to being the governor's greeter," quipped Wescott Northam, who has in his Onancock residence a framed photograph of the dog, taken at the polls on the day his son was elected lieutenant governor.

Murphy is wearing a campaign T-shirt in the photograph.

Northam's win last month marked the first time an Eastern Shore native was elected to serve as Virginia governor since before the Civil War.

The last governor from the region was Henry A. Wise, who won the election in 1855.

Northam in the election outperformed expectations by beating Republican Ed Gillespie by nearly 9 percentage points.

Northam has said when he takes office he will focus on improving the economy in rural parts of the state, as well as fighting the opioid crisis, expanding health care access and promoting diversity.

According to Wescott Northam, Murphy is not the first Northam dog to make news.

That honor goes to Rebel, another black Lab the family acquired in the early 1960s, when Tom and Ralph were young children.

The dog belonged to Tom Bowers, an Episcopal minister in Accomac at the time. When Bowers moved to Washington, D.C., Rebel did not adjust well to city life, so the dog was given to the Northam family.

But before that, Rebel was accompanying Bowers on a trip to visit his parents in Hampton Roads when the dog became a newsmaker.

During the ferry ride across the Chesapeake Bay — this was before the Chespeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel was built — the Lab jumped out of an open car window and into the bay.

"They gave him up for lost, but, fortunately, a Navy minesweeper found him swimming in the bay and picked him up. There was a picture in the Norfolk paper of Rebel in a sailor's cap, looking out a porthole," said Northam.

He recalled the first "famous" Northam dog as being very smart, and recounted an incident in which Rebel protected Ralph, who was a toddler at the time.

"We had a big woodpile. You know how kids will climb all over a woodpile. A log rolled on him and pinned him down. He wasn't hurt, but he was pinned down and couldn't get out — and Rebel stood right with him" until his mother, Nancy, could get to the boy.

"When he died, I had a tombstone for him placed in the yard, I thought so much of him," said Northam.

© Gannett Co., Inc. 2017. All Rights Reserved


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