University of Virginia leaders on Thursday remembered former Rector Joshua P. Darden Jr. as “one of the University’s all-time great leaders,” who gave generously and selflessly to his alma mater.
Darden died Wednesday night following a long illness. He was 77.
A Hampton Roads native, he served as a member of the Board of Visitors from 1982 to 1990 and as rector from 1987 until 1990. He chaired the first four years of the Campaign for the University of Virginia, which raised more than $1 billion between 1993 and 2000, and was a life member of the U.Va. Alumni Association. He was also a former board member of the University of Virginia’s College at Wise.
“Josh Darden was one of the University’s all-time great leaders – as rector, campaign chairman and a tireless ambassador for U.Va. and for higher education generally,” University President Teresa A. Sullivan said. “Josh embodied the values of honor, ethics, leadership and service that we espouse at this University and all of us in this community owe him a great deal of gratitude for his many contributions to U.Va.”
Darden was the son of J. Pretlow Darden, a former mayor of Norfolk, and nephew of Colgate W. Darden Jr., a former Virginia delegate, governor, Congressman and finally president of the University from 1947 to 1959. The Darden School of Business was named for Colgate Darden.
Josh Darden’s impact on Grounds was also great.
“In his numerous roles as University Rector, chair of the capital campaign and many others, Josh Darden provided extraordinary leadership at times when his influence was critically needed,” said Leonard W. Sandridge, who as former executive vice president and chief operating officer of the University worked closely with Darden. “He acted in a quiet but profound way and always with a singular focus on what was best for the University and the University’s College at Wise.”
Sandridge, now a senior adviser to the Board of Visitors, described Darden as a great mentor and special friend who took the time to understand what was needed and assumed the responsibility to carry that message to those who could do something about it.
“Josh once commented to me that so much could be accomplished if you did not worry about who got the credit,” Sandridge said. “He lived those words – always contributing but never taking the credit.”
Darden had wide-ranging interests, including the student experience, patient care, the performance of the University’s athletic teams and research.
“In every case, excellence in all that we did was the only acceptable outcome,” Sandridge said. “Josh was widely respected, influential in his public service and effective in any task he undertook. But what I will remember most is that Josh Darden was a humble, tireless servant who loved the University of Virginia and who made things better for others.”
U.Va. Senior Vice President for University Advancement Robert D. Sweeney worked alongside Darden beginning with the 1993 capital campaign. Sweeney praised him as “a true son of the University of Virginia.”
“His quiet elegance in both speech and leadership belied a driving passion for serving his beloved University,” Sweeney said. “Josh’s advocacy of the University led to his chairing one of the first billion-dollar campaigns in the history of higher education, resulting in the largest fundraising success ever achieved by a public university during that period.
“From boyhood, Josh was drawn to the mission, vision and values of the University. No one could have known at that time that Josh would chair almost every meaningful volunteer committee at the University, including Rector, the chair once held by Thomas Jefferson himself.”
A 1958 graduate of U.Va.’s College of Arts & Sciences, Darden was a Lawn resident. After graduation, he served as a paratrooper and artillery officer in the U.S. Army, then returned to Norfolk to work at Colonial Chevrolet, the company his father and uncle founded in 1930.
In 1974, he bought the business, and over the next two decades grew it to 10 dealerships as part of Colonial Auto Group. In 1986, he was named the TIME Dealer of the Year, the only Hampton Roads dealer to be so honored.
He sold Colonial Auto Group in 1995 and became president of Darden Properties Inc., a commercial real estate investment firm.
“Josh was always organized and expected a lot from the people he worked with, but he always gave more,” said Alexander Gilliam, University historian and former secretary to the Board of Visitors. “I observed him in action and he was a very good board member. He was very collegial and got members involved in things, but he was very businesslike.”
Gilliam, whose time as a student overlapped with Darden’s, said his former classmate had a good sense of humor, but also that he was willing to help people.
“People would call him for advice,” he said. “We talked a great deal while I was secretary, after he left the board. People were always calling him on things.”
One of the ventures in which he was engaged was then-Gov. Mark Warner’s advisory commission on higher education, which vetted recommendations for appointments to boards within the state. He also served on former Gov. Jim Gilmore’s Commission on the University in the 21st Century.
“Josh’s father was the mayor of Norfolk and he inherited a sense of great civic responsibility,” Gilliam said.
Darden included philanthropy among his civic responsibilities and he was involved in several fundraising campaigns for the University and for the Hampton Roads area. He co-founded the Tidewater Scholarship Foundation – ACCESS – with fellow U.Va. alumnus Frank Batten; helped raise funds for Children’s Hospital of the Kings Daughters and was a trustee and board member of Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.
“I learned how to raise money for good causes from him,” Gilliam said. “He knew how to do that.”
Darden is survived by his wife, Elizabeth, and his two daughters, Elizabeth Holley Darden and Audrey Darden Parrott. A funeral is scheduled for Feb. 1.