RICHMOND — Anne Holton was a girl when her family left Virginia’s Executive Mansion for the last time on a cold morning in January 1974.
Thirty-two years later, she will become the first child resident of the 192-year-old mansion to live in it again as first lady. Her husband, Democrat Timothy M. Kaine, will be sworn in as governor Jan. 14.
“We kind of treated the place as a big play yard,” Mrs. Holton said during a recent stroll through the great arched hallway of the federal-style home that is the oldest U.S. governor’s residence still in use.
In one corner, a large, decorated evergreen awaits the final Christmas season that departing Gov. Mark Warner and his family will spend there.
Mrs. Holton, her sister and two brothers awoke Christmas mornings to trees much like it when her father, Linwood Holton, was the state’s first Republican governor since Reconstruction.
On the walls are framed photos of her brothers as boys frolicking on the grounds: Dwight climbing up a treehouse in a great oak near the mansion; Woody adjusting roller skates in a tunnel that linked the mansion to the Capitol about 400 feet away.
In the years since, Mrs. Holton has visited the mansion as a guest. She was active in Richmond’s public scene while she was a juvenile court judge and Mr. Kaine was a City Council member and, most recently, lieutenant governor. She resigned from the court immediately after the election to avoid any appearance of a conflict.
It wasn’t until Mrs. Holton, 47, recently returned to the mansion after her husband’s come-from-behind victory last month that she realized the attachment to her childhood home, where they will live with their sons, Nat, 15, and Woody, 13, and 10-year-old daughter, Annella, for the next four years.
“I wasn’t really expecting it to be that emotional, but … we came in for something or other a week or so after Election Day, and I was just overwhelmed,” she said. “Thinking about what it will be like to have my children here, it was — I think surreal is the word.”
What she’s about to do is unprecedented in Virginia.
The research staff at the Library of Virginia found only one other governor’s daughter who became the state’s first lady.
That was Martha Jefferson Randolph, daughter of Thomas Jefferson — Virginia’s second governor and the nation’s third president — and wife of Thomas Mann Randolph, who was governor from 1819 to 1822.
Under Jefferson, Virginia’s fledgling government moved from Williamsburg to Richmond to elude British capture in 1780, 33 years before the Executive Mansion was completed. Martha Randolph lived sparingly there with her husband, traveling often to Monticello to care for her elderly father.
Virginia is the only state that denies its governors consecutive terms, and return residencies at the mansion are rare.
The only modern Virginia governor to do it was Mills E. Godwin, whose two terms in the late 1960s and mid-1970s bracketed Mr. Holton’s single term.
Though the Holton children lived in a tourist venue at the seat of government, they felt happy and secure.
The turmoil of the time — the Vietnam War, Watergate and their father’s successful quest to finally desegregate Virginia’s public schools — seemed distant.
Motion detectors, then cutting-edge security gear, were installed on the mansion’s exterior, she said, and the kids confounded the security detail by dangling objects out their windows to trigger the sensors.
And then there was dad himself, who urged the kids to savor their time there, as she will tell her children.
“Dad used to wake us up with — and we’d throw pillows at him when he did — but he’d wake us up with, ‘It’s opportunity time,’” she said. “And that’s not a bad line.”
Her father, now 82, has given his grandchildren the same advice he gave her and her siblings.
“My dad has already said to my children, ‘Just for four years,’” she said.