Dictionary of Virginia Biography

Blair Joshua Fishburn

Blair Joshua Fishburn (25 June 1876–13 June 1962), civic leader, was born Joshua Blair Fishburne in the town of Big Lick (after 1882 the city of Roanoke) and was the son of Reuben Harvey Fishburne, a tobacco manufacturer, and Emma Virginia Phillips Fishburne. During his childhood the family inverted the order of his given names. After traveling through Europe and the Holy Land in 1892 with an uncle, the banker and civic leader Tipton Tinsley Fishburn, he enrolled in Randolph-Macon Academy, in Front Royal. In 1896 Fishburne began working as a bookkeeper at his father's Roanoke tobacco company. He joined S. P Hite. Company, Inc., a drug company, in 1905 as secretary and treasurer. Fishburne had become manager by 1912 and president by 1918. He also served as secretary and treasurer for the Crystal Investment Corp. In 1948 he stepped down as president at S. P. Hite and from then until 1962 served as vice president of Peoples Federal Savings and Loan Association.

Fishburne entered public service in May 1907 when he was appointed to the city council to fulfill the unexpired term of an uncle. Elected to his own term the following year, he served continuously for the next decade. He sat as city council president from 1916 to 1918, when the city adopted a city-manager form of government and he declined to seek reelection.

Established as a Roanoke civic leader, Fishburne won election as mayor on 1 September 1922, though not without controversy. On the day of the general election in June he and two other Citizen's Ticket candidates had captured three of the five seats on the city council. Under the city-manager form of government, the council members chose the mayor from among their own number. Although most residents expected that the councilman who had received the most votes in the election would become mayor, Fishburne won by a vote of 2 to 1, with 2 abstentions, even though he had garnered only the fourth-highest vote tally. The lingering controversy helped ensure that he lost in the Democratic primary in 1926. During his term as mayor, in mid-October 1922, Fishburn dropped the e from his surname, in a fashion similar to other family members.

Fishburn returned to politics as one of two men representing the city of Roanoke in the House of Delegates for the 1932–1933 and 1934 assemblies. During both terms he sat on the Committees on Appropriations, on Retrenchment and Economy, and on Enrolled Bills, and in 1934 he also served on the Committee on Privileges and Elections.

Like his cousin Junius Blair Fishburn, a local entrepreneur and philanthropist, Fishburn was a prominent figure in Roanoke's business and civic community. He held offices in many organizations, including as treasurer of the Roanoke Community Fund and president of the Traveler's Aid Society. A vice president of the Roanoke Hospital Association, he also sat on the board of the Memorial and Crippled Children's Hospital (later Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital), which the association owned and operated. He served as a director of the First National Exchange Bank.

Late in the 1920s Fishburn helped found the Roanoke Playground and Recreation Association (later the Roanoke Recreation Association) and served for a number of years as its president. The organization helped create in 1929 and fund a full-time director of the city's play and recreation department, one of only four such positions in Virginia cities at that time. Fishburn purchased more than twenty-seven acres of land and in April 1935 donated it to the city for use as what he requested be named Fishburn Park.

After retiring from business and public life in 1961 because of failing health, Blair Joshua Fishburn, who never married, died of a heart attack in a Roanoke hospital on 13 June 1962. He was interred in Evergreen Burial Park. Symbolic of his services to the city, a bust of Fishburn stands at Roanoke's educational television station, which was built on land he had donated.

Sources Consulted:
Biographies in George S. Jack, History of Roanoke County, and E. B. Jacobs, History of Roanoke City and History of the Norfolk and Western Railway Company, (1912), 193 (portrait), National Cyclopędia of American Biography (1891–1984), 48:144, and William Couper, History of the Shenandoah Valley (1952), 3:63–65; Birth Register (name recorded as Joshua Blair Fishburne), Roanoke Co., Bureau of Vital Statistics, Commonwealth of Virginia Department of Health, Record Group 36, Library of Virginia; Roanoke Times, 7 May 1907, 1 Sept. 1918, 1, 2 Sept. 1922, 20 Aug. 1926, 21 Apr. 1935 (editorial), 9 June 1957, 16 Sept. 1967; Roanoke World-News, 20 Apr. 1935; Raymond P. Barnes, A History of Roanoke (1968); obituaries and editorial tributes in Roanoke World-News, 13, 14 June 1962, and Roanoke Times, 14 June 1962.

Image courtesy of the Library of Virginia.

Written for the Dictionary of Virginia Biography by Christopher J. Tucker.

How to cite this page:
Christopher J. Tucker,"Blair Joshua Fishburn (1876–1962)," Dictionary of Virginia Biography, Library of Virginia (1998– ), published 2016 (http://www.lva.virginia.gov/public/dvb/bio.asp?b=Fishburn_Blair_Joshua, accessed [today's date]).

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