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Retired Justice George M. Cochran passes away at 98

Retired Virginia Supreme Court Justice George Moffett Cochran died Jan. 22 at his home in Staunton. He was 98.

A native of Staunton, he attended the University of Virginia, earning his undergraduate degree in 1934 and his law degree two years later. As an alumnus, he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa and the Raven Society. He served as president of the University of Virginia Law School Alumni Association and as a trustee of its law school foundation.

He worked at a Baltimore law firm for two years before returning to practice law in Staunton.

He served on active duty with the U.S. Navy from 1942-1946, where he rose to the rank of Lt. Commander. On returning from the Navy, he practiced law with his father, Peyton Cochran, until 1964 when he became one of the founding partners of the law firm of Cochran, Lotz and Black.

Justice Cochran was a member of the House of Delegates from 1948-1966 and during his last term was chairman of the Courts of Justice Committee. He served in the Virginia Senate from 1966-1968.

He served as president of the Virginia Bar Association in 1965-1966. He was a Fellow of the American Bar Foundation, a Fellow of the American College of Probate Law, a Charter Fellow of the Virginia Bar Foundation, and a member of the Judicial Council of Virginia.

Gov. Mills E. Godwin Jr. appointed Justice Cochran to the Supreme Court of Virginia in 1969, where he served until his retirement in 1987. After retirement, he worked to preserve the history and culture of his native Staunton. He and his wife Lee received the Outstanding Virginian Award in 1995.

He was chairman of the Woodrow Wilson Centennial Commission of Virginia, a member of the Board of Visitors of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University 1960-1968, a trustee of Mary Baldwin College 1967-1981, a trustee of the Virginia Historical Society and a member of the Board of Trustees of Stuart Hall for 31 years, during which he served a chairman for 17 years. He is a former chairman of the board and founder of Frontier Culture Museum of Virginia. For many years he served on the vestry and at the time of his death was a trustee of Trinity Episcopal Church.

As a legislator, Justice Cochran advocated for keeping schools open during Virginia’s “Massive Resistance,” the state-sanctioned response to the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision that made segregation in public schools unconstitutional.

“He was one of just a small handful of people that had the courage to buck the dominant opinion in Virginia of massive resistance,” historian Katharine Brown told the News Leader of Staunton. “That took courage and was a remarkable thing that he did.”

In addition to his wife of 62 years, family members include two sons and daughters-in-law, Moffett and DuPre Cochran of New Canaan, Conn., and Stuart and Emily Cochran of Staunton; four grandchildren, Carter Cochran and his wife, Jodie of Charleston, S.C., Alexander Cochran, Peyton Cochran and Lee Cochran, all of New York; and two great-grandchildren, Caroline and Kate Cochran.

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