The State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) elected W. Heywood Fralin, a prominent Roanoke businessman and former rector of the University of Virginia, as chairman Wednesday.
Fralin replaces G. Gilmer Minor III, much beloved by SCHEV staff and fellow council members, who after two terms was ineligible for reappointment to the board. Minor, who also retired recently as chairman of medical distribution giant Owens & Minor, Inc., had been instrumental in persuading the McDonnell administration not to axe the once-troubled Council and then acted to restore its credibility with lawmakers.
“I look forward to working with my fellow Council members in leading Virginia’s system of higher education to even higher levels of excellence,” Fralin said. “Virginia is fortunate to have so many superb colleges, universities and career-training schools — they truly are our crown jewels. It is an honor to work with them for the good of the Commonwealth.”
The consummate Virginia gentleman, the 72-year-old Minor was known for his self-effacing leadership style and his penchant for praising the contributions and accomplishments of others. When introducing staff and other speakers at SCHEV meetings, he would always find something positive to say — often expostulating at some length. At his final board meeting in May, Fralin and SCHEV Director Peter Blake lauded him for his eight-year contribution.
Minor joined SCHEV in 2009, at a low point in its history. The legislature had established the Council as the state entity responsible for coordinating Virginia’s highly decentralized system of higher education. The council had seen significant turnover in its senior staff, Minor told Bacon’s Rebellion, and relations were strained with the colleges and universities it oversaw. Minor, who had just come finished a term as chairman of the Virginia Military Institute, said VMI almost regarded SCHEV as the “enemy.”
When Bob McDonnell came into office in 2010 on a platform of cutting state government, he gave serious consideration to eliminating SCHEV. Minor made it his mission to save the council and rebuild its credibility. Thanks in large part to Minor’s efforts, McDonnell spared the council. Minor spent considerable time with legislators, explaining SCHEV’s role and advocating the interests of higher education. SCHEV has functioned without major controversy ever since.
Fralin will bring a different style to SCHEV — from my few months of covering the council, he seems more blunt-spoken than Minor — but I expect the 62-year-old chairman of the Medical Facilities of America, a provider of skilled nursing and rehabilitation services — to play a similar role as advocate for Virginia’s higher-ed system.
In addition to serving as rector, Fralin has given generously to UVa, most notably a 40-piece art collection, which includes works by John Singer Sargent, Mary Cassatt and Robert Henri. The donation was the largest single art gift in the University’s history.