Virgils receive 2010 Harris Community Service Award

David Kilper

Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton (right) presents the Jane and Whitney Harris Saint Louis Community Service Award to Gerry (left) and Bob Virgil at Harbison House.

Eleven years ago, a tradition began that honored St. Louis couples who were outstanding contributors to the region. The tradition was instituted by just such a couple — Whitney and the late Jane Harris — and the annual Jane and Whitney Harris Saint Louis Community Service Award is a gift that keeps on giving.

These days, Whitney Harris continues this philanthropic tradition with his wife, Anna. Although they could not attend the Feb. 15 luncheon at Harbison House, Whitney’s son, Eugene, was present to help honor the 2010 recipients, Geraldine and Robert L. Virgil Jr., PhD.

The award, a $50,000 cash prize for the Virgils to donate to charitable organizations of their choice, went to Saint Louis Crisis Nursery, City Academy, the Gephardt Institute for Public Service at Washington University and The Magic House.

In his remarks at the ceremony, Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton thanked the Virgils for their tireless support of many institutions and organizations in the St. Louis region, including Washington University, and noted their generosity, compassion and commitment.

“We are here today to recognize Gerry and Bob’s incredible contributions to St. Louis,” Wrighton said. “Every citizen in this region benefits in some way from their commitment and dedication.”

Their contributions began in 1958, when the family moved to St. Louis for Bob Virgil to enter WUSTL’s MBA program. He earned an MBA degree in 1960 and a doctorate in 1967. He began teaching accounting at WUSTL in 1960.

From 1977-1993, he served as dean of the Olin Business School. He also was vice chancellor for student affairs from 1974-75 and executive vice chancellor for university relations in 1992-93. In 1993, he became a general partner of Edward Jones with responsibility for management development.

As a testament to the role the Virgils played in the transformation of the business school, their friends created the Geraldine J. and Robert L. Virgil Professorship in Accounting and Management as well as the Robert and Gerry Virgil Endowed Scholarship Fund.

Bob Virgil has served the university in a number of ways over the years. He is an emeritus trustee; he chaired the commission that planned the observance of the Sesquicentennial in 2003-04; and he currently is chair of Opening Doors to the Future: The Scholarship Initiative for Washington University.

The university’s annual Ethics of Service Award, now in its sixth year, carries the Virgils’ name. Bob Virgil’s service has been recognized with the honorary doctor of laws degree, the William Greenleaf Eliot Society’s Search Award, and the Distinguished Alumni Award from the Olin School. Olin’s former dean, Stuart I. Greenbaum, PhD, awarded the Virgils the Dean’s Medal.

Bob Virgil has been active in several community organizations and causes. He was director and chair of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. With the late Margaret Bush Wilson, a WUSTL life trustee, he chaired a citizens task force under the auspices of FOCUS St. Louis that led to major improvements in the governance and financing of the Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District. He has chaired the advisory council for the business program at Harris-Stowe State University and the boards of City Academy, The Magic House and Mary Institute and Saint Louis Country Day School. He is a director of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center.

Gerry Virgil has been Bob Virgil’s full partner in everything. At WUSTL, she has created her own relationships with students, alumni, staff, parents and friends. She has been a member of the Philanthropic Educational Organization, a longtime supporter of Kirkwood’s Meals-on-Wheels program and a pillar of Glendale Presbyterian Church.

Recipients of the cash prize demonstrate the breadth of charitable organizations supported by the Virgils:

  • City Academy, located in St. Louis, is a private, independent elementary school that provides a rigorous, inspiring and affordable education for children with limited opportunities.
  • The Gephardt Institute for Public Service promotes civic engagement throughout Washington University and the St. Louis community, offering a variety of volunteer experiences at home and abroad.
  • The Magic House is an educational museum that engages children of all ages in hands-on learning experiences that encourage experimentation, creativity and the development of problem-solving skills.
  • The Saint Louis Crisis Nursery is committed to the prevention of child abuse and neglect and provides emergency intervention, respite care and support to families in crisis.

The Virgils now belong to a distinguished list of committed couples, including Barbara and Andrew Taylor (2009); Thelma and David Steward (2008); Nancy and Kenneth Kranzberg (2007); Ruth and Alvin Siteman (2006); Mary Ann and the late E. Desmond Lee (2005); Marilyn and Sam Fox (2004); the late Elizabeth and William Danforth (2003); Ann and Lee Liberman (2002); the late Alice and the late Leigh Gerdine (2001); and Lucy and the late Stanley Lopata (2000).