Longtime state senator Robert Venables has passed away at the age of 88.
Sen. Venables was a Democrat who represented District 21, Laurel, in the Senate for 26 years from 1989 to 2015. He served as co-chairman of the General Assembly’s Joint Bond Bill Committee, which is responsible for writing the annual capital bond bill.
“He was a great, great guy. He was a Democrat by registration, but he was just an all-around great senator,” said Dale Dukes, a longtime member of Sussex County Council. “I can’t say enough good about Bob.”
Sen. Venables was elected to the Senate in 1989, the year Mr. Dukes began his tenure on the Sussex County Council that lasted until 2009.
“Bob ran for Senate and I ran for (county) council, both in 1988. He had a joint fundraiser then, and we both won. We ran together. We always went to SCAT (Sussex County Association of Towns) meetings and everything,” Mr. Dukes said. “We always rode together. We always picked him up. We were pretty tight for all those years.”
Mr. Dukes’ son, House Rep. Tim Dukes, R-Laurel, said Sen. Venables was supportive of him when he decided to make a bid for office.
“When I was thinking about running, I called Bob and went to his house and talked to him and told him my interest in running for the House. And when I got up to leave, he looked at me and said, ‘I think you would be a fine House member,’” Rep. Dukes recalled.
In a statement released Sunday, Senate President Pro Tempore David Sokola, D-Newark, praised Sen. Venables for being an environmental steward and advocate for Delaware’s working families.
“Whether it was fighting to protect Delaware's vital family farms, our beautiful state parks, our thriving wildlife areas or expanding our network of bike trails, nobody worked harder to preserve our natural resources and enhance our quality of life than Bob during his 26 years of public service,” Sen. Sokola wrote.
The "Bob Trail," a 4.6 mile trail used by hikers and cyclists at Trap Pond State Park, was renamed in Sen. Venables honor in 2015.
“My thoughts are with the Venables family, his loved ones and his former constituents as they mourn the loss of a father, grandfather, civic leader and friend,” Sen. Sokola wrote.
Sen. Sokola worked with Sen. Venables on the Bond Bill for several years. He wrote that Sen. Venables was committed to “prudent investments across our state” while also fighting for his “beloved Sussex County to get its share.”
Dale Dukes praised Sen. Venables for bringing a lot of money back to Sussex County.
“I never saw anybody that could quote you the budget like he could. He knew the numbers of every year,” Mr. Dukes said.
Calling him a gentleman, Mr. Dukes also praised Sen. Venables for earning bipartisan respect among voters.
“Regardless of your party, he was well respected by both Democrats and Republicans, because he didn’t play politics,” Mr. Dukes said. “If he could help you, he would do anything he could for you. Bob brought a lot of money back to Sussex County. He was a good statesman.”
Rep. Dukes echoed his father’s sentiments, saying Sen. Venables was honorable and honest in his politics.
“Bob Venables is one the finest men that ever worked in Dover,” Rep. Dukes said. “I wouldn’t call him a politician, but I’d call him a statesman. He was as honorable and as honest as a politician could be. He represented the Laurel community with pride and dignity, and always worked hard to make sure that things were done fairly and equitably in the state of Delaware.”
Sen. Bryant Richardson, R-Laurel, who defeated Sen. Venables in the 2014 Senate election said he was an “old school Democrat” that represented the working class.
“I certainly had voted for him myself a few times during his tenure in office,”Sen. Richardson said. “He was a man I deeply respected. I know that he always had the best intentions of the people of the 21 District in mind when he made his decisions.”
This story has been updated.