Tonight, Major League Baseball holds its annual all-star game, pitting the best players from the American League against the best players from the National League. In the same spirit, we pause to recognize those who have starred in our community this year.
On Monday, we named an all-star team of elected officials. Today, we recognize an all-star team of unelected officials and private citizens.
1. Keith Perrigan, Bristol school superintendent. Until earlier this year, Perrigan was superintendent in Norton — and in that position served as spokesman for a delegation of school officials from the coalfields who were trying to call statewide attention to their unusual plight. Basically, as the coal economy collapses, so has funding for schools in Virginia’s coal counties. The situation has gotten so dire that the Dickenson County School Board found itself debating how to save a mere $40 by switching to a different type of paper. State government, dominated by the urban crescent, finds it easy to ignore the coal counties. Perrigan tried to make them harder to overlook. He and his fellow superintendents achieved a temporary respite when Del. Nick Rush, R-Christiansburg — one of Monday’s all-stars — authored a tweak in the state’s funding formula. Still, the fundamental problem remains. We recognize Perrigan as a way to highlight that.
2. Steve Agee, federal appeals court judge. On Monday, we cited Attorney General Mark Herring for winning an important legal victory against President Trump’s travel ban. Just as baseball’s all-star teams include players from rival teams, so do ours. Agee — a former Republican state legislator from Salem — authored one of two dissents in the appeals court’s 10-3 ruling against Trump. When the case goes before the U.S. Supreme Court, Trump’s lawyers will essentially be arguing that Agee was right.
3. Philip Stone, former president of Sweet Briar College. Stone, the former president of Bridgewater College, came out of retirement two years ago to take over Sweet Briar after its alumnae won a spectacular legal victory that kept the college from closing. Stone returned to retirement in May, having done what seemed nearly impossible. The school is not only still open, it seems to be thriving. Enrollment is up, so is fund-raising. Under the old board, the school was raising less than $1 million a year. In the last fiscal year, the school raised $28 million. Stone’s tenure there was brief, but he leaves a legacy that will be studied by colleges everywhere.
4. Nancy Gray, former president of Hollins University. Let’s rewind to the late 1990s. Hollins had a smaller endowment than Sweet Briar and was shrinking. So was enrollment. Hollins went through a few more tumultuous years before Gray became president in 2005. Since then, she’s reversed the enrollment decline, eliminated the school’s debt and grown the endowment by 73 percent. The 2016-17 school year was Gray’s last; it also saw the largest incoming class in 22 years. As Gray retires, she leaves Hollins in a position that other private colleges envy.
5. Donna Henry, chancellor of the University of Virginia’s College at Wise. The modern economy recognizes colleges as not simply educational institutions, but economic engines. Henry has tried to make her school just that — and more. She’s convened a series of economic summits to bring together community to talk about how to build a new economy in the coalfields. She’s also positioned her institution to be a catalyst for helping create that new economy. For instance, the college now has a cybersecurity program — and has inked a deal with a business group in Northern Virginia to introduce cybersecurity companies to the region. Building that new economy may take decades, but this is surely how that process begins.
6. Richard Pattisall, retired Roanoke judge. Pattisall, who once sentenced drug offenders to prison, has become an unlikely advocate for an unlikely economic solution for rural Virginia, and the coalfields in particular: Medical marijuana. West Virginia recently became the 29th state to legalize medical marijuana. Aside from whatever therapeutic benefits there may be, there are definite economic advantages from medical marijuana. These aren’t pot farms; these are really pharmaceutical factories, where marijuana is grown indoors and then processed into pills, ointments, and the like. There are already 100,000 to 150,000 people working in plant-growing operations nationwide. Forbes projects that by 2020 those numbers are expected to grow to 250,000 jobs. Why shouldn’t some of those jobs be in Virginia? Illinois offers one intriguing model: It disperses medical marijuana facilities around the state to make them easier for police to monitor, thus guaranteeing some are in rural areas.
7, 8: Helen Dragas, former University of Virginia board of visitors member, and former Old Dominion University president James Koch. Dragas created a stir last year when she alleged that the University of Virginia had amassed a small fortune of capital reserves at the same time it was raising tuition. Since then, Dragas — along with Koch — have devoted themselves to making the case that tuition at Virginia’s state colleges and universities is too high. Their critics blame the General Assembly for not providing enough funding; they say that’s too simplistic an answer. Either way, Dragas and Koch have done Virginia a great service for trying to force public discussion over why the state now has the sixth-highest tuitions in the country.
9. Stephen Moret, president, Virginia Economic Development Partnership. The state’s new economic development chief has done something his predecessors didn’t seem to: Pay attention to Southwest Virginia. He’s laid out some idea for what the coalfields need to turn their economy around; starting with expanded programs at the University of Virgina’s College at Wise. He’s also laid out the enormity of the challenge facing Southwest Virginia in a way no one else in state government has: To be economically successful in rural Virginia, we have to succeed where most others have failed.”