UVA Unveils New Portrait of President Emerita Teresa A. Sullivan

June 2, 2023 By Mike Mather, mike.mather@virginia.edu Mike Mather, mike.mather@virginia.edu

It was 2010 and the Rotunda – the University of Virginia’s architectural and academic heart – was falling apart. Teresa A. Sullivan, then the University’s new president, needed almost $60 million to fix it.

“As some of you know, by the time Terry became president, the Rotunda was in rough shape: The roof was leaking, the column capitals were crumbling, and the mechanical systems were going bad,” current UVA President Jim Ryan said Friday in a ceremony in the Rotunda to unveil the portrait of Sullivan, University president emerita.

Related Story

To secure state funding, Sullivan visited legislators in Richmond, toting a plastic baggie of debris from the Rotunda columns’ disintegrating tops. She returned with $30.2 million in state funding and, later, promises from donors to cover the difference.

“Those visits with legislators show us three things about Terry Sullivan,” Ryan said. “One: She has a great sense of humor. Two: She’s skilled in the art of persuasion. And three: She cares deeply about this University, its people, and the place itself.”

Teresa Sullivan stands and smiles at podium

Sullivan, the University’s first and only female president, tells the audience while she appreciates the honor the portrait represents, “many others needed to be depicted in it, because I could not have done the work without their support and advice.” (Photo by Dan Addison, University Communications)

Artist Ying-He Liu, who has painted portraits of several government and university leaders, placed Sullivan with the Rotunda’s Corinthian columns to memorialize the restoration, painstakingly capturing the details of the columns’ capitals. In the portrait, Sullivan holds a copy of “Marginal Workers, Marginal Jobs,” the first of her seven books.

The Rotunda restoration is perhaps the most visible of Sullivan’s accomplishments as the University’s eighth president. But it is far from her only one. Two years into her presidency, she launched what later became the “Cornerstone Plan,” a strategic road map for the University that incorporated input from 10,000 alumni, parents, students, faculty and others. The effort resulted in, among other things, a global studies major and an endowment that created the School of Data Science.

Under her direction, UVA strengthened its finances, improved faculty compensation, developed the Meriwether Lewis Institute for Citizen Leadership and bolstered the University’s academic advising.

President Ryan presenting Sullivan portrait to her and other viewers
UVA President Jim Ryan and Rector Whittington W. Clement helped unveil the portrait which will hang in the Rotunda’s North Oval Room. (Photo by Dan Addison, University Communications)

“Terry also cared about exploring the University’s past and telling the full story of its history,” Ryan said. “In 2013, she formed the President’s Commission on Slavery and the University and charged the group with bringing her recommendations on how UVA could commemorate its historical relationship with slavery.”

One result of that examination is the University’s stirring Memorial to Enslaved Laborers.

“And because of the commission’s work, we as a community now recognize the names of Henry Martin, William and Isabella Gibbons, and Peyton Skipwith among others – enslaved laborers who are honored with plaques or buildings named after them around Grounds,” Ryan said.

True to Sullivan’s penchant for redirecting praise to others, she said a portrait that focuses on her alone doesn’t tell the full story of her presidency.

“As much as I appreciate the recognition that this portrait represents, many others needed to be depicted in it, because I could not have done the work without their support and advice,” she said. “There are too many to name, and I am glad to see so many of them could be here today.”

The audience for the unveiling included Doug Laycock, Sullivan’s husband and self-described “trailing spouse.” Laycock is a nationally known attorney and legal luminary who recently retired from the faculty of the UVA School of Law. In less than two weeks, the couple will celebrate their 52nd anniversary.

Sullivan also noted the unveiling came just days ahead of what would have been her parents’ 75th anniversary. “Even though they aren’t here to see the portrait, I know they would have been so proud,” Sullivan told UVA Today.

The Hardest Working Icon: The Rotunda Enriches Student Life Daily
The Hardest Working Icon: The Rotunda Enriches Student Life Daily

Sullivan’s portrait will hang in the Rotunda’s North Oval Room. It will join a portrait of her immediate predecessor, President Emeritus John T. Casteen III, whom Sullivan also thanked in her remarks.

“I was fortunate when I arrived at UVA that my predecessor, John Casteen, had left a strong team in place,” Sullivan said. “Integrity was a hallmark of this group. I never worried that those people were still working for John, nor did I expect them to work for me. I knew that all of us were working for the University of Virginia. We accomplished a lot in the years we worked together, and the University continued to grow stronger as a result.”

Media Contact