by Tim Loughran
McGlothlin gift to spur growth of VCU medical school
As odd as it may sound, the nearly 230,000 people who visited the blockbuster Pablo Picasso exhibit at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond this past spring may have the bad back of a wealthy executive to thank for the experience.
James W. McGlothlin, founder of The United Co. in Bristol, and his wife, Frances, announced in April a $25 million gift to Virginia Commonwealth University to help build a 12-story, 200,000-square-foot medical classroom building. University officials say that, starting in 2013, the $159 million James W. and Frances G. McGlothlin Medical Education Center will enable VCU’s medical school to expand its clinical training abilities, increase annual admissions from 200 to 250 students and help correct a national shortage of physicians.
In announcing the gift, McGlothlin said he first came to VCU in 1998 to be treated for “terrible, terrible back pain” by Dr. Harold Young, head of the neurosurgery department. While he was recuperating at the hospital, the McGlothlins met another patient, Sydney Lewis, and his wife, Frances, the founders of the Best Products Co. who in the 1980s had donated much of their modern art collection to the art museum.
One day Frances Lewis took Frances McGlothlin to the museum for a tour. After their return, Frances McGlothlin told her husband, “We have to get involved with the museum,” and “from that [day] our relationship with the museum got started,” the executive recalled.
Six years ago, the couple gave the museum $10 million in cash and their $100 million collection of late 19th- and early 20th-century paintings by American masters. The gift helped spearhead fundraising for the museum’s $150 million renovation. The four-year facelift and expansion was completed last year to national acclaim.
Museum officials say that without the nearly 170,000 square feet of additional gallery space in its McGlothlin Wing the VMFA would never have been able to host the 176-object Picasso exhibit. “Jim and Fran’s gift — from the physical collection they donated, to the money they helped raise — literally transformed the museum,” says VMFA director Alex Nyerges. “It lit the fire under the campaign of private donations. Their gift inspired so many others to do the same.”
Tech engineering contributions total $45 million
Three people touched by Virginia Tech’s College of Engineering have contributed a total of $45 million to ensure that the school’s next generation of engineering students have the benefit of scholarships, noted professors and top-notch facilities.
The $45 million includes a $25 million anonymous gift, a bequest of more than $17 million from the estate of Robert “Bobby” Hord of Richmond and $3 million from Alpha Natural Resources Chairman Michael J. Quillen of Bristol.
Hord, a Tech engineering alum and former railroad employee who died last December, endowed a professorship and an undergraduate student scholarship in the mechanical and chemical engineering departments. The money came from a fortune that Hord accumulated over more than 40 years in a series of conservative, long-term investments in the stock market.
Hord used a good portion of his profits to support charities, says cousin Judy Godsey, the trustee of his estate.
“Bobby was an extremely, extremely brilliant person … every day he read The Washington Post, New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Chicago Tribune,” says Godsey. “But he hardly ever spent any money on himself … he looked like he lived [among the homeless] in Monroe Park [in Richmond] … and he never forgot that the professors at Tech were the ones who were smart enough to teach him everything that he knew.”
The anonymous $25 million gift, the largest single donation in Tech history, and the $3 million from engineering school alum Quillen, will go toward the $100 million Signature Engineering Building. A member of the university’s board of visitors, Quillen and his family previously donated most of the money used to build the Quillen Academic Center to help Hokie athletes keep up with their studies.
“I started to get more involved at Tech about 10 years ago … and most of what I do is with the physical facilities. I focused on that aspect of the campus because some of the classrooms were the very same ones I studied in during the 1960s,” says Quillen, who earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Tech. “It was an easy decision to come to. I wanted to pay Tech back for everything they gave me that got me started.”
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