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Generous couples

Alumnis’ gifts make a big difference at Virginia schools

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Print this page by Robert Powell
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Mary and Willis Blackwood have supported the Virginia Tech Program
in Real Estate since it began. Courtesy Virginia Tech

A major philanthropic gift can make a big difference in the growth of a nonprofit program.

A case in point is the $2 million gift by a Richmond couple, Willis and Mary Nolen Blackwood, to the Virginia Tech Program in Real Estate.

The donation, announced in January, will be used to name and endow the director’s position at the program, which began with only four students in 2013. Now more than 200 undergraduates are enrolled in the program, a unit of Tech’s Pamplin College of Business. Forty-one students graduated from the program last spring. Its curriculum includes planning, construction, finance, property management and sales.

The Blackwoods, who are Virginia Tech graduates, have supported the program from its inception. In 2014, they endowed the Willis and Mary Blackwood Junior Faculty Fellowship. Willis Blackwood is the founder and president of Blackwood Development Co. Inc., a privately owned real estate firm.

Another recent significant donation was made by bestselling author David Baldacci and his wife, Michelle, to Virginia Commonwealth University. The $1.1 million gift will enable students in VCU’s College of Humanities and Sciences to pursue internships, attend conferences, conduct research, travel abroad and develop entrepreneurial projects.

The gift also will be used to create the Baldacci Political Science Endowed Scholarships supporting undergraduates majoring in political science.

As with the Blackwoods’ ties to Tech, Baldacci is a loyal VCU alum, graduating with a political science degree in 1983. He has published more than 35 novels.

The Blackwoods and the Baldaccis follow in the tradition of other generous alumni couples whose gifts have had a transformative effect on Virginia colleges and universities.

Perhaps the best-known of these Virginia donors are Macon and Joan Brock, who were named the nation’s Outstanding Philanthropists by the Association of Fundraising Professionals in 2015. Their many causes included their alma maters, Randolph-Macon College and Longwood University.

Macon Brock, a co-founder of Chesapeake-based Dollar Tree Inc., where he also served as CEO and chairman of the board, died at his home in Virginia Beach in early December.

The Brocks were the subject of the Virginia Business cover story in June, the magazine’s annual philanthropy issue. The charts on the following pages are a statewide survey of donations for 2016.

Philanthropy charts

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