The Tom Tom Founders Festival, for the fourth year, is recognizing nine people who have shaped Charlottesville through their leadership in business, education and community service.
“We’ve been incredibly honored to be talking to [the Founding Cville award recipients] in the past month and capturing their stories,” said Tom Tom Founders Festival Director Paul Beyer. “I think it really tells an inspiring story of people taking initiative, getting things off the ground, making sacrifices and making Charlottesville a better place.”
The 2017 recipients are:
» Martin Burks III, chairman of the Jefferson School Foundation
» Martin Chapman, founder, Indoor Biotechnologies
» Alice Handy, founder, Investure
» Bebe Heiner, founder, The Women’s Initiative
» John Hunter, founder, The World Peace Game
» Emily Morrison, founder, The Front Porch
» Michael Prichard, founder, WillowTree Inc. and Metis Machine
» Larry J. Sabato, director, University of Virginia Center for Politics
» Alison Webb, co-founder, The Virginia Institute of Autism
Beyer announced this year’s recipients on Wednesday morning at the Old Metropolitan Hall in downtown Charlottesville. Most of the recipients were present at a news conference Wednesday.
Beyer gave special recognition to Burks, who played a key role in establishing the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center. The multi-purpose civic center opened in 2013 following an $18 million renovation of the Jefferson School building.
Beyer said the community effort to preserve the Jefferson School — the only city school to remain open during Virginia’s “Massive Resistance” to integration — was especially relevant in the aftermath of the deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville on Aug. 12.
“We’ve had some horrible times here in Charlottesville in the past month,” Beyer said. “[Burks’] story is really the most meaningful to me at this point.”
Burks, a retired U.S. Army colonel, manages the J. F. Bell Funeral Home with his wife, Deborah Bell Burks. The funeral home, established in 1917, is Charlottesville’s oldest African-American-owned business.
“You have to be very responsive and caring in this business,” Burks said. “For three days, you have to pour out love to the family [of the deceased]. That’s what we do.”
Burks attended the Jefferson School through the sixth grade, and his mother taught at the school. He said he was proud to see that the building now houses the offices of nine local nonprofits.
“There is so much under one roof. There are always activities bustling within,” Burks said. “The whole Charlottesville community has been behind this project, and it has been wonderful.”
Beyer said the Founding Cville awards recognize “the whole breadth of founding,” including venerable institutions and successful new ventures. Morrison’s nonprofit roots music school, The Front Porch, was founded just two years ago.
“We like to catch people at all parts of the founding process,” Beyer said.
Webb co-founded the Virginia Institute of Autism in 1996 to help meet the educational needs of her two children with autism. “We were desperate for something that would be appropriate for them,” she said.
Today, VIA operates the James C. Hormel School in Charlottesville and offers an array of services for people with autism and their families. The institute also is collaborating with UVa’s Curry School of Education to expand autism research at the university, with the goal of establishing a UVa Center for Autism.
“We are hoping it will be a very productive partnership,” Webb said.
Handy managed UVa’s endowment for 29 years, helping it grow from $50 million to $2 billion during her tenure. She also was involved with the university’s real estate and business ventures, including the UVa Research Park, the Colonnade Club and the Boar’s Head Inn & Sports Club.
In 2003 Handy founded Investure, a private firm that operates as an “outsourced investment office” for 15 colleges and foundations. Investure currently manages approximately $13 billion in assets.
“My work in investment management has been extremely varied and fun,” Handy said. “There has never been a dull moment. As an entrepreneurial person, that was important to me.”
Hunter, a former school teacher, invented the World Peace Game in 1978 to give his students a hands-on experience with conflict resolution and nonviolent problem solving. The complex political simulation centers on a four-tiered Plexiglas tower that is occupied by four countries, each facing an assortment of crises.
Hunter now serves as executive director of the World Peace Game Foundation, which has trained teachers in more than two dozen countries to use the game in their classrooms.
Hunter said U.S. military leaders and Silicon Valley technology companies have observed children playing the World Peace Game.
“We adults haven’t figured out how to solve these problems,” Hunter said. “Adults are starting to ask the children how to do it.”
Hunter said he was honored to be recognized as a significant Charlottesville founder.
“It makes me realize that even ordinary people can be recognized for doing what they do well,” said Hunter. “If Charlottesville recognizes people in that way, that is a great city.”
All of the Founding Cville recipients will be publicly acknowledged at the Tomtoberfest block party in Emancipation Park on Sept. 22.