In Memoriam: Legendary Darden Professor John Colley

John Colley headshot

John Colley, a pioneering University of Virginia Darden School of Business faculty member well known to generations of students and alumni for his enduring devotion to the University and Darden communities, died Wednesday at his Charlottesville home.

Colley was a pioneer in both industry and academia. He formulated the influential concept of “job shop scheduling” at the Hughes Aircraft Company – helping to ensure tasks were accurately aligned with resources – and played a key role in helping to grow the Darden School to its current place among the world’s top-ranked business schools. Along the way, he taught and befriended thousands of Darden students, forming relationships that endured long after graduation.

Colley came to Darden in 1967 and helped lead initiatives to attract exceptional students and develop the school’s holistic approach focused on general management. In addition to teaching courses in quantitative analysis, corporate governance, strategy, and operations planning and control, Colley often brought influential alumni and business leaders into his classrooms for courses such as “General Managers Taking Action” and “Reading Seminars in Management.”

Colley received countless accolades at Darden and UVA through the years. He was notably elected a graduation faculty marshal by Darden classes in five different decades, and his name resonates across Grounds today through both the endowed John L. Colley Jr. Professorship of Business Administration (currently held by Darden Professor Jim Detert) and the John L. Colley Jr. Darden Jefferson Fellowship, which covers the cost of attendance for an outstanding student. Other legacies established in his honor include the Colley Raven Scholarships and the John Colley Award.

John Colley meeting with students and fellow faculty at The Tavern

He was the first Darden faculty member to receive UVA’s Thomas Jefferson Award for service to the University, the University’s highest honor given to members of the University community who have exemplified the principles and ideals of Jefferson. He also received the UVA Alumni Association’s Distinguished Professor Award, Darden’s Outstanding Faculty Award, the Dean’s Award for Excellence in Teaching Innovation, the Raven Society’s Raven Award, the IMP Society’s Distinguished Faculty Award, the Z Society’s Distinguished Faculty Award and the Society of the Purple Shadows’ Gordon F. Rainey Jr. Award for Vigilance to the Student Experience, among many others.

As Colley’s obituary stated, “The two great loves of Mr. Colley’s life were family and the University of Virginia.” The remembrance noted his membership in both the Raven Society and The Seven Society.

Colley lived in Pavilion VIII on the UVA Lawn for six years. He viewed the invitation to live on the Lawn as “an honor and one of the great highlights of his life,” according to the obituary.

John Colley Headshot

Asked in 2017, on the occasion of his retirement, to reflect on his enormous legacy, Colley said, “I would like for people to remember that I was single-mindedly focused on the development of a world-class, top graduate business school.”

In a message to the Darden community, Dean Scott Beardsley referenced Colley’s wish for Darden and said Colley’s focus had dramatically improved the school and lives of many.

Wrote Beardsley, “On this sad day, we honor his wish and take comfort in knowing that the legacy of John Colley lives on at Darden through the example he set, the alumni he taught, the over 330 cases and 15 books he wrote, the friendships he made, and the scholarships and professorships that students and faculty hold in his name.”

According to the obituary, a memorial service will be in held in Charlottesville at a later date, as coronavirus restrictions permit.

Read “John Colley: From the Beginning,” which was published on The Darden Report in 2017 as Colley approached his retirement.

For information on making a donation in memory of John Colley, contact Vice President for Advancement Kara Mullins.

Media Contact