In memoriam: Bill Royall, former vice rector of the VCU Board of Visitors and longtime VCU benefactor

Bill Royall [View Image] Bill Royall was an integral part of VCU for half a century, serving as a mentor to students, donating millions of dollars, and helping advance scientific research. (Tom Kojcsich, University Marketing)

William “Bill” A. Royall Jr., former vice rector of the Virginia Commonwealth University Board of Visitors and benefactor to all facets of the university, died Thursday.

Royall was an integral part of VCU for half a century, serving as a mentor to students, donating millions of dollars to large university institutions and programs — including the Institute for Contemporary Art and Massey Cancer Center — and helping to advance scientific research.

An alumnus of the VCU School of Mass Communications (now the Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture), Royall served as executive editor of The Commonwealth Times, VCU’s independent student newspaper. He later served as a member of the school’s advisory board for nearly 30 years. 

In 2011, he joined the VCU Board of Visitors and served as vice rector from 2013 to 2016. 

“Bill was a kind and remarkable man, a visionary leader, and he made everything and everyone around him better,” said VCU President Michael Rao, Ph.D. “In myriad ways this includes VCU and VCU Health. His fearless leadership — including on our Board of Visitors and through his lifetime of benevolence — helped make us stronger, more intrepid, and more resolute in our mission as a 21st-century research university committed to a better human experience for everyone.

“Bill lived his life this way: fully committed to and wholly supportive of what matters most. His legacy at VCU and beyond is profound, as is the impact he made on all of us. We will miss him and are forever grateful to him. Our thoughts are with [his family] during this difficult time.”  Bill Royall, left, with Pam Royall and VCU President Michael Rao at VCU's May 2017 commencement ceremony [View Image]
Bill Royall, left, with Pam Royall and VCU President Michael Rao at VCU's May 2017 commencement ceremony. (Tom Kojcsich, University Marketing)

Royall was inaugural co-chair of the Institute for Contemporary Art’s Advisory Board with fellow philanthropist Steve Markel. A paragon of philanthropy and engagement at VCU, Royall and his wife, Pam, co-chaired the Institute for Contemporary Art fundraising campaign with Steve and Kathie Markel. The Royalls contributed $5 million to the project through personal philanthropy, and their solicitation efforts helped bring in an estimated amount of more than $30 million for the ICA. 

“Bill both felt and understood things deeply,” said Dominic Asmall Willsdon, executive director of the ICA. “He believed passionately in what contemporary art could achieve, and he had a power of insight whatever the issue. He was an ardent booster for the ICA and a wise counsel at every step. He could always see to the heart of the matter. I have the sense that, for Bill, contemporary art was about the pleasure of free thinking. It was a way to overcome divisions through fresh ideas, friendship and new kinds of beauty. He was a special man. Like so many, I miss him deeply.”

In gratitude for the Royalls’ philanthropy, the ICA’s development staff asked the couple to select a space in the building to bear their name. The Royall Forum is the ICA’s grand entrance area and serves as a space of welcome for visitors as they orient to the building and its exhibits. A variety of public programs and events are held in the space. 

“The Royall Forum is architecturally stunning — all curves and light — and a site where campus, city and contemporary art intersect in a highly visible and intentional way,” Stephanie Smith, the ICA’s chief curator, said in 2019. “That combination of aesthetic excellence, strong links to Richmond and VCU and hospitality is very true to Pam and Bill’s values. After all, the ICA wouldn’t exist without them.”

Bill was a kind and remarkable man, a visionary leader, and he made everything and everyone around him better.

Art was one of Royall’s many passions. Last year, he and Pam championed the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts’ acquisition of “Rumors of War,” the Kehinde Wiley sculpture depicting a dreadlocked African American figure riding a horse — a stark contrast to the nearby Confederate statues on Monument Avenue. Royall helped strengthen the legacy of the VCU School of the Arts through private giving totaling more than $60,000 and facilitating community support in Richmond and beyond. The couple followed the careers of alumni and were fond of collecting their artwork. 

“When I heard that the Royalls had purchased my piece, I knew it would be in good hands and in good company among their collection,” said alumna Diana al-Hadid, whose mixed-media sculpture, “Woven City,” was purchased by the Royalls. “It takes some faith to commit to an artist at the start of their career in the way that they have, but it is so critical because it allows the artist to keep investing in themselves. They are truly special and rare people in this world.”

The VCU Massey Cancer Center has also been the recipient of significant philanthropy from the Royalls, including $1 million in 2011 to support two new positions — an additional scientific writer to help investigators write and receive approval on clinical trial protocols and a clinical trials budget negotiator to help navigate issues associated with trial costs. In 2016, the couple donated $100,000 toward the Massey Research Pavilion in the VCU School of Medicine’s McGlothlin Medical Education Center.

Royall had been a champion of VCU Health for many years. In 2010, he and Pam made a $100,000 donation to support the VCU Parkinson’s and Movement Disorders Center, followed by a donation to the Virginia Treatment Center for Children’s Healthy Minds program in 2012.

In addition to his love for the arts and science, Royall had an affinity for athletics — especially for VCU. Royall could be seen on any given night during basketball season decked out in black and gold, cheering on the team from courtside.

Over the years, the Royalls donated more than $100,000 in support of VCU’s men’s and women’s basketball programs, including for the construction of the VCU Basketball Development Center, the 60,000-square-foot practice facility for both teams. 

Former VCU men’s basketball guard De’Riante Jenkins, a 2020 graduate, called the Basketball Development Center his second home. “I [spent] more time in the BDC than anywhere else on campus.

“Saying thank you would not do it justice, to be honest,” he said. “The BDC played a huge role in why I came to VCU and has played a massive role in my development as a student-athlete. Every time I [walked] through it, I [reminded] myself that this place is a blessing. That idea is never lost on me.” Bill and Pam Royall being presented with the Edward A. Wayne Award in 2017. [View Image]
Bill and Pam Royall were presented with the Edward A. Wayne Award in 2017, which honors individuals who have made outstanding contributions or provided exemplary service to VCU. (Tom Kojcsich, University Marketing)

Royall had been a steadfast supporter and attendee of the VCU School of Business’ annual International Business Forum. The Royalls’ philanthropic support of the school includes more than $45,000, with a large portion donated to the school’s annual fund.

Royall founded Royall & Co. in 1983, which provided direct marketing student recruiting and advancement services for more than 200 colleges and universities nationwide. The company was sold in 2015.

In 2017, Bill and Pam received the Edward A. Wayne Award, which honors individuals who have made outstanding contributions or provided exemplary service to VCU. Royall was inducted into the Greater Richmond Hall of Fame in 2018. He served as an adviser to the VCU Interactive Marketing Institute and as a member of the George Mason University and Virginia Museum of Fine Arts boards, serving as president of the latter since 2013. 

Royall co-chaired the ICA Advisory Board and served as a member of the VCU Real Estate Foundation, the VCU Health System Authority Board and the Ram Athletic Fund’s Scholarship Society. 

The Royalls helped fund the Turpin Lectureship in News Management and the School of World Studies’ international studies program and were named Individual Philanthropists of the Year by the Central Virginia Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals in 2016.

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