Danville Hall of Fame

Danville Hall of Fame

The Hall of Fame was established by the Danville Museum in 1974 to recognize and honor citizens of the area whose achievements have been outstanding. Specific criterion for election to the Hall of Fame are persons of note who have worked within the area and who by achievement in their respective field have attained national stature as to reflect credit upon themselves and consequently upon Danville and Pittsylvania County.

Lady Astor
Lady Nancy Langhorne Astor

Lady Nancy Langhorne Astor was born in Danville, Virginia on May 19, 1879 to Chiswell Dabney Langhorne, better known as “Chillie” of Lynchburg, and Nancy Witcher Keene of Danville. Always known to her family and friends as Nannie, she rose to fortune as the wife of Waldorf Astor, and to fame as the first woman to sit in the British House of Commons.

            When Nancy Astor was six, her father was forced to leave Danville to seek financial stability, and in Richmond he was awarded contracts for the construction of railroads; on each one he turned a handsome profit. Soon the Langhornes became part of the quiet, anti-bellum South, moving into the handsome “Mirador,” a fine brick house in Albermarle County. But life at “Mirador” was far from quiet: emotions ran high, with quarrels, tears, reconciliations, and in the end, laughter. As a result, Nancy Astor, at an early age, learned to hold up her end in a fight, a trait that held her in good stead, especially in politics. Read More...


Ronnie BelcherRonnie Wayne Belcher  

When you consider all the ways to serve your family and your country, a career in the Armed Forces is an honorable way to do both. Your military career might begin with no exact direction but possibilities were limitless. This is the adventure of a young 21-year-old farm boy’s path into manhood serving the highest office in the country, the President of the United States of America at the White House. This is the course of Master Sergeant E-8 Ronnie Wayne Belcher’s life.

Ronnie Wayne Belcher was born in Sutherlin, Virginia on August 7, 1941 to Thomas Belcher and Ruby Woodall Belcher. He was the 10th and last child born to the family who were already raising Rainie, Charlie, Aileen, Alease, Robert, Mozelle, Margaret, Nell and the youngest beloved sister Marie. The family all grew up farming tobacco as sharecroppers and as part of Danville’s tobacco industry before Ronnie’s birth and after he left for the Army, 60 plus years. They had moved around to different residences in and around Danville. Ronnie attended Dan River High School for 2 years and then moved to Alabama where he lived with his sister, Mozelle Floyd, and her family to complete high school. Soon after, Ronnie Belcher followed in the footsteps of his older brothers, Charlie Belcher (Army) and Robert Belcher (Army and Navy) by enlisting in the Army in August of 1962. Part of Ronnie’s motivation was to send money home to his struggling mother and father back in Danville, VA. Read More...


J. Nelson Benton, Jr.J. Nelson Benton, Jr.

 A native of Danville, Virginia, Nelson Benton was born in 1924. He married the former Milli Patterson, and together the couple had one son, Joseph Nelson Benton, III. Benton attended the University of North Carolina, and received his Bachelor of Science degree in 1949. Prior to receiving this degree, he served as a fighter pilot in the United States Army Air Force from 1942-1945. Read More...


Sarah Archie Swanson BeverleySarah Archie Swanson Beverley

For thirty-three years Mrs. Sarah Archie Swanson Beverley served as principal of the old Whitmell Farm Life High School, and on her retirement in 1951 she had participated in the White House Conference on Rural Education in 1944, and served in 1927 as the Virginia representative to the South Atlantic Regional Conference at Rural Virginia Polytechnic Institute for contributions to agriculture. But the depth and scope of Mrs. Beverley’s achievements in education are almost impossible to imagine.

Born on May 28, 1881 to Sarah Payne and Frank Archer Swanson, she was given the odd name of “Archie” because her family was set on having a son as the seventh child. She attended a two-room school at Whitmell, and then went to Randolph-Macon Institute in Danville before entering Randolph-Macon’s Woman’s College at Lynchburg. It was in Lynchburg that Mrs. Beverley said she came to the realization that she had to become a teacher, for here, she had to compete with students from all over the country and although this gave her no disrespect for her rural upbringing, it made her aware of the disadvantages that she faced because of her limited background. It was this that made her resolve to give her pupils the educational opportunities denied her. Read More...


Dan DanielW.C. “Dan” Daniel

 If there were ever a story of the American Dream, it is that of W.C. “Dan” Daniel, Congressman from the Fifth District of Virginia and a native of Pittsylvania County. Born on May 12, 1914 in Chatham, Virginia to Reuben Earl and Georgie Grant Daniel, his father was a tenant farmer and Dan Daniel was raised in a log cabin in Mecklenburg County. One of eight children, he left home in 1932 to join the Civilian Conservation Corps.

            During the Great Depression, many Americans who had previously enjoyed an easy life began to criticize the American political system, saying it had failed the citizenry. However, Dan Daniel found that a welfare state, such as that represented by the C.C.C. camps, was good only to keep a person from going hungry temporarily. Dan Daniel commented: "We should strengthen our free enterprise system so we can make our own way, unhampered, without being carried along and directed by an army of bureaucrats who, while running our lives for us, make an excellent living for themselves, using our tax money to do so." Read More...


Carson DavenportCarson Sutherlin Davenport

Carson Sutherlin Davenport was born in Danville, Virginia on February 14, 1908 to Mr. and Mrs. John T. Davenport. His father was an engineer for Southern Railway. It was Mrs. Clara Lee Cousins who persuaded him to study art at Stratford College and encouraged him to enter the Corcoran School of Art in Washington. He did additional study at the New York School of Fine and Applied Arts, and at the Grand Central School of Art, where Wayman Adams and George Pearce recognized his ability and gave him further encouragement. He then attended the Ringling School of Art and spent two summers at the Eastport Summer Art Colony. Read More...


Harriet FitzgeraldHarriet Fitzgerald

Miss Harriet Fitzgerald, a Danville native, and the daughter of the late Mr. and Mrs. H.R. Fitzgerald distinguished herself as an artist, exhibitor, and a much sought-after lecturer.

            Born in 1904, she attended Stratford Hall in Danville and went on to graduate from Randolph-Macon Woman’s College in Lynchburg, Virginia. Much of her training as an artist came in two and a half years of study at The Art Student’s League of New York, principally in the class of John Slogan, and in the private classes of Maurice Stern and the cubist painter Ambrose Webster. This formal training was supplemented by a period of independent study in Europe during which Miss Fitzgerald studied the chief art galleries there. Read More...


Archer T GammonArcher T. Gammon

“A hero: a man of distinguished valor or performance, admired for his noble qualities”… such is the definition ascribed by Webster’s Dictionary, and such is a man like the late Archer T. Gammon. He was born on September 11, 1918 on a farm near Chatham, Virginia in Pittsylvania County, and was one of fifteen children born to Walter and Cordie Gammon.

            As remembered by his brother Calvin, Archer was just a quiet country boy; if there was a job to be done, he did it. His main interests growing up, as his brother recalls, were girls and cars. He is remembered as showing no particular qualities that would allude to the heroism that he exhibited in World War II. Read More...


Mary Virginia GaverMary Virginia Gaver

On December 10, 1906, in Washington D.C., one of this nation’s foremost pioneers in library service was born to Clayton Daniel and Ruth Lydia (Clendening) Gaver. Mary Virginia Gaver moved to Danville, Virginia at an early age and attended Randolph-Macon Institute, graduating in 1923. From there she went on to take a Bachelor’s degree at Randolph-Macon Woman’s College and a BLS and Master’s degree in library science at Columbia University.

            Mary Gaver’s first position, which she held for ten years (1927-1937), was as a librarian at George Washington High School in Danville. Like so many Americans who were products of the Great Depression of the 1930’s, Mary Gaver became involved with the W.P.A., serving as Technical Director for the Statewide Library Project in Virginia for the term 1938-39. Read More...


Irene Langhorne Gibson

Irene Langhorne was born to Chiswell (Chillie) Langhorne and Nannie (Nanaire) Witcher in Danville, Virginia in 1873. Her father, a Virginian gentleman and Civil War veteran, struggled for a living in Danville working as a tobacco auctioneer. He and his wife raised nine children, all of whom, with the exception of the youngest daughter Nora, experienced considerable poverty. It was not until Colonel Langhorne became a railroad manager, through a lucky personal contact, that the family moved to “Mirador,” their estate in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Of the nine children, the girls seemed to possess the edge in both personality and numbers, and it was through this advantage that so many of them were able to find success. Irene Gibson’s most famous sibling was Lady Nancy Astor, the first woman to sit in the British Parliament. Read More...


Emmet and Emily GowinEmmet and Emily Gowin

 Emmet Gowin was born in 1941 in Danville, Virginia. He received a BFA in Graphic Design from the Richmond Professional Institute (now Virginia Commonwealth University) in 1965 and an MFA in Photography from the Rhode Island School of Design in 1967.

While at RISD, Gowin studied with photographer Harry Callahan, who became one of his mentors and greatest influences. Following his marriage to Edith Morris, also of Danville, in 1964, Gowin began making memorable portraits of her as well as his family members. In addition to his work in portraiture, Gowin has explored landscape and aerial photography since the 1980s, documenting sites in the Czech Republic, Mexico, the Middle East, Japan, and the United States. This series addresses concerns over, among other issues, the global impact of irrigation and industrial scale agriculture, natural resource mining, and military occupation and weapons testing on the environment. Read More...


Janis MartinJanis Martin

Janis Martin was a Danville resident, who was known nationally as well as internationally. Today she is known worldwide as “The Rockabilly Queen” and “The Female Elvis”

 Martin was born in Sutherlin, Virginia, and at the age of eleven she began her musical career as a member of the WDVA Barndance in Danville, VA. She was spotted performing at the Tobacco Festival in South Boston at the age of thirteen and soon became a regular on the Old Dominion Barn Dance in Wheeling, West Virginia. She had her own radio show on WHEE in Martinsville, VA. In March of 1956, at the age of fifteen, she cut her first RCA session and became known as “The Female Elvis.” She was voted the “Most Promising Female Artist of 1956” by the annual disc jockey convention for the Billboard Magazine Award. Janis performed on the Ozark Jubilee and the Grand Old Opry. She also became known through television media as a guest of the “Tonight Show,” the “Today Show,” the “Grand Old Opry” and “American Bandstand.” Read More...


Julian Rtherfoord MeadeJulian Rutherfoord Meade

Julian Rutherfoord Meade was born in Danville, Virginia on February 4, 1909, the son of Edmund Baylies and Helen Douthat Meade. His father, at one time, served as Mayor of Danville.

            As he grew up, Julian became a tall, angular young man, one of rare sensitivity and superior intellect. He attended Danville Public Schools, where he had the reputation of being an excellent student. Following what has been referred to as “a miserable year spent at Virginia Military Institute,” he went to the University of Virginia where he was awarded both the bachelor and master’s degree. At first, Julian seemed to have a deep yearning for a career on stage, and for a few weeks in the mid-twenties he tried his theatrical “wings” in New York but came away disillusioned and gave up the idea. After a summer in France in 1929, he returned to Danville to begin teaching French at George Washington High School. Read More...


Andrew Jackson Montague Andrew Jackson Montague

To the citizens of Danville today, the name Andrew Jackson Montague probably means little. Montague itself is a street in the western section of the city. Yet, less than a century ago, Andrew J. Montague was a rising political figure in the Old Dominion.

            Born on October 3, 1862, near Lynchburg in Campbell County to Judge and Mrs. Robert Latane Montague, he attended public and private schools and studied with tutors. At an early age he developed a taste for the best of English literature – historical, biographical, and poetic. Following a year in the grammar school at the College of William and Mary, he entered Richmond College at Richmond, Virginia, and in due time graduated from several of the schools of that institution. While at Richmond College, Mr. Montague distinguished himself as an orator and debater in the literary societies. After graduation, he displayed a great talent for education when he served as a private tutor from 1882-1884. In the summer of 1884 he became a law student at the University of Virginia under Professor John B. Minor, and in 1885 took his Bachelor of Law degree. Read More...


James RobertsonDr. James Irvin “Bud” Robertson Jr.

Robertson was born on July 18, 1930, and raised in Danville, Virginia. He earned his bachelor’s degree at Randolph-Macon College in 1955, and his master’s degree and PhD. at Emory University in 1956 and 1959 respectively. He earned his Litt.D. at Randolph-Macon in 1980.

 Known as an excellent public speaker, Robertson made his career teaching thousands of college students in his Civil War and Reconstruction course at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, in Blacksburg, VA, as the Alumni Distinguished Professor in History from 1967 to 2011. Read More...

 


Wendell ScottWendell Oliver Scott

Wendell Oliver Scott, born August 29, 1921 in the “Crooktown” section of Danville, Virginia, was a remarkable man and accomplished many feats. Scott was the first African-American to compete in and own a NASCAR team.

            Wendell Scott began his career, as did many drivers of the era, off the track. He gained seat time driving a taxi in Danville as fast as it could go, and hauled moonshine whiskey at night. Scott accumulated 13 speeding tickets in his taxi, which caused him to lose his chauffeur’s license. Hauling bootleg was exciting to him; he could buy liquor for 55 cents a pint and sell it for twice that amount, plus he had practice racing from the police and leaving them in a cloud of dust. He often bragged about how he could out run the police, for instance getting so far ahead and hiding in the shadows of the night until the police would come flying by. He was not always lucky though, and once was caught and placed on probation. Read More...


Frances Kipps SpencerFrances Kipps Spencer

Frances Kiku Kipps Spencer was born of missionary parents in Karuizawa, Japan on July 8, 1917. When she was three years old, her family returned to the United States, and she was reared in various cities and towns in Pennsylvania, where her father served as a Lutheran minister. She attended Lenoir Rhyne College in Hickory, North Carolina, and graduated from Averett College in Danville, Virginia. In 1940, she married Harry Wooding Spencer, a Danville native who died in 1973. She lived at 13 Chestnut Place in Danville for the greater part of her married life.

            Mrs. Spencer held various positions at L. Herman’s Department Store in Danville throughout most of the 1940’s. When she left the store in 1948, she was Training Director and Fashion Coordinator. Later, she worked as a freelance artist in television and other commercial areas. Her most important contribution, however, was in a volunteer activity: the origination and development of the Chrismon idea.

            In 1957, Frances Kipps Spencer began thinking of a way to decorate the Christmas tree in her church that would be more suitable for a sanctuary. She thought that the usual brightly colored Christmas ornaments were just not appropriate for a setting of worship. So, she began researching and looking for something that would reflect the Christian faith. Read More...


Claude Augustus SwansonClaude Augustus Swanson

The late Claude Augustus Swanson came from a Virginia family that was an integral part of the history of Pittsylvania County. In 1768, the year after Pittsylvania became a county, Claude Swanson’s pioneer ancestor, William Swanson, had moved from Abermarle County to the frontier of the Old Dominion, near what is now Swansonville. His great-great grandfather, William Swanson, represented Pittsylvania County in the General Assembly of Virginia for eight terms, from 1818 until 1836. It was this William Swanson, along with another of Pittsylvania County’s distinguished sons, Whitmell Tunstall, who secured state aid for building the railroad from Danville to Richmond. It was with this lineage that Claude Augustus Swanson was born on March 31, 1862 at Swansonville. His parents were John and Rebecca Pritchett Swanson, the former being a farmer who entered into the manufacturing of tobacco. Read More...


Camilla WilliamsCamilla Ella Williams

Each person has his concept of what an angel’s voice sounds like, but certainly an angel’s voice can be no clearer, nor have a more vibrant quality, than that of the internationally acclaimed operatic soprano Camilla Williams.

            Camilla Ella Williams was born in 1920 in Danville, Virginia to Cornelius Booker and Fannie Cary Williams. She was the youngest of four children. Her father was a chauffeur, and her grandfather, Alexander Cary, was a singer and choir leader. Miss Williams’ youth, in relation to music, is best recalled in notes she penned for her entry into the first edition of Who’s Who in the World. She wrote, “My grandparents and parents were self-taught musicians; all of them sang and there was always music in our home. From this, at an early age, was born a desire to be a concert singer.” She was singing in Danville’s Calvary Baptist Church at the age of eight. “All my people sing,” Miss Williams has said. “We were poor, but God blessed us with music.” Read More...