John Dooley, who has served as CEO of the Virginia Tech Foundation since 2012 and has helped the university fulfill its land-grant mission by making a difference in communities for nearly 40 years, has announced he plans to retire in the spring.

A national search to fill the position is being led by a committee headed by Sandra Davis, who chairs the foundation board, and Dwayne Pinkney, senior vice president and chief business officer for the university.

Dooley joined Virginia Tech in 1982, when he was hired at age 27 to direct the then-brand new Northern Virginia 4-H Center, located in Front Royal. Over decades, the essence of his role has remained largely the same, to broaden the university’s impact, even as the scope of his responsibilities has grown.

The Virginia Tech Foundation, which Dooley heads, manages the university’s endowment and encourages economic development by fostering connections between the university and numerous partners.

Under Dooley, the endowment more than doubled, to more than $1.3 billion as of June 30. Meanwhile, the total of value of all Virginia Tech Foundation assets, which include property as well as the endowment, increased by roughly a billion dollars, from $1.2 billion to more than $2.2 billion. The amount of real estate managed by the foundation has also grown significantly, to more than 1,963,600 square feet. Nearly 280,000 more square feet will come under foundation management as ongoing projects are completed.

Dooley’s legacy goes far beyond numbers, however. It’s visible in the high-impact projects he has helped to bring about and in the many lasting partnerships and deep friendships he has developed while working on the university’s behalf across Virginia and around the world.

“John Dooley exemplifies Ut Prosim,” said Virginia Tech President Tim Sands, referring to the university’s motto, which means “That I May Serve.” “From his earliest days as a 4-H director to his current role as head of the Virginia Tech Foundation, John has invested his time and considerable talent in fulfilling the university’s land-grant mission to extend its impact into our communities. Thanks in great measure to John’s work and leadership, our capacity to serve has increased exponentially since he joined the university in 1982. He has been a tremendous partner to me and many others, and we wish him the very best in his well-earned retirement. His prideworthy legacy will be felt at Virginia Tech for generations to come.”

Dooley grew up in Summersville, West Virginia. His grandfather and father worked in coal mines. Dooley was the first person on his father’s side of the family to graduate from college, and he spent his entire professional life working in higher education. While earning his bachelor’s in elementary education from what is now Alderson Broaddus University, he created a sports information office at the school, then accepted a public-information officer role there after graduating. He later became a fundraiser for the institution.

Having been active in 4-H since childhood, Dooley was intrigued when a friend recommended he apply for the director’s job at a new 4-H center Virginia Tech was developing.

“As we went through the interview process he just answered the right questions the right way and it appeared that he would fit,” recalls Bill Latham, who served on the center’s board at the time and has remained close to Dooley to this day. “A big part of it was his personality, his ability and willingness to get along in a lot of different environments and with a lot of different people. He did a great job.”

Dooley’s accomplishments at the center included launching Camp Fantastic to serve children diagnosed with cancer. For that project, just the third of its kind in the nation at the time, he worked closely with Virginia Tech alumnus Tom Baker ’60 and his wife  Sheila, who had lost their daughter Julie to cancer, and Philip Pizzo, who was then head of pediatric oncology for the National Cancer Institute.

“Without John Dooley  there would not have been a Camp Fantastic as we have come to love and value it, now 37 years after 29 campers joined us for the first summer session,” said Pizzo, who now serves as the founding director of the Distinguished Careers Institute at Stanford University. “During my career, I have had the opportunity to meet many extraordinary individuals. John Dooley is in the front of that line. He demonstrated vision coupled with experience and knowledge along with the commitment to make Camp Fantastic a remarkable experience for seriously ill children.”

After serving as 4-H center director, Dooley went on to become executive director of the Virginia 4-H Foundation. He later became associate provost for outreach and then vice president for outreach and international affairs, before becoming Virginia Tech Foundation CEO.

Horacio Valeiras chaired the Virginia Tech Foundation Board when Dooley applied to become foundation CEO, and today is rector of the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors.

“He knows what he’s doing but he also makes people feel comfortable with his leadership, and so we’ve been able to achieve a lot of progress that if we had someone else might not have happened.” Valeiras said.

Dooley earned a master’s degree and Ph.D. from Virginia Tech while working for the university, both in educational administration. A major focus of his research was the land-grant university system that has grown out of the Morrill Act signed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1862.

“I have been shaped by, and hope that I have been able to shape to some degree what it means to be a contemporary land-grant university,” Dooley said. “My research and my dissertation were on the land-grant system and particularly how Virginia Tech has evolved as land-grant. I truly believe that the Morrill Act of 1862 was one of the great game changers for the future of democracy.”

While serving as vice president for outreach and international affairs from 2003-12, Dooley’s work was instrumental in helping the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research emerge as a catalyst for economic growth in Southern Virginia.

“We knew that Danville would never be blessed with an interstate or a major airport, but we thought maybe we could have the presence of a major university,” said Ben Davenport, a longtime member of the center’s board of trustees. “We didn’t have a clue how to bring that on. John Dooley did.”

As vice president, Dooley’s work to promote international education helped drive a large increase in the number of Hokies studying abroad. He played leading roles in the Virginia Tech, India, project and in major renovations to the Steger Center for International Scholarship, located in Switzerland. Davenport’s generous support helped make the Steger Center improvements possible, and he recalls Dooley’s effectiveness on that project.

 “John has resolve, and when he gets on a project he’s not going to give up until he gets it finished,” Davenport said. “Any student who has been to that center will tell you their life is much richer because of that experience.”

Virginia Tech supporters and leaders on an exploratory trip to India in 2006. From left: S.K. DeDatta, Gene Fife, Ben Davenport, Charles Steger, Rich Sorensen, and John Dooley.
Virginia Tech supporters and leaders on an exploratory trip to India in 2006. From left: S.K. DeDatta, Gene Fife, Ben Davenport, Charles Steger, Rich Sorensen, and John Dooley.

As foundation CEO, Dooley has been deeply involved in a wide range of projects that are boosting economies and raising the profile of Virginia Tech.

“When we first got the RFP for Amazon HQ2 back in 2017, we realized it was easily the biggest competitive economic development project in U.S. history, maybe world history,” said Stephen Moret, president and CEO of the Virginia Economic Development Partnership. “We realized our only shot at winning centered on our wonderful higher education system, including a major role for Virginia Tech. John Dooley was part of a small group of senior leaders at Virginia Tech that made an instrumental contribution to Virginia’s ultimately successful Amazon HQ2 bid.”

Under Dooley, the Virginia Tech Foundation has partnered with Roanoke-based Carilion Clinic on several venture capital funds to help early-stage companies and entrepreneurs.

“One of the most exciting developments in the Roanoke and New River valleys over the past decade has been the emerging economy centered on health sciences and technology,” said Carilion Clinic President and CEO Nancy Howell Agee. “John Dooley is one of the key leaders who has helped to make that possible through his leadership of the Virginia Tech Foundation as well as his work with other groups focused on economic growth and our region’s success. He has been a great partner, and our community will benefit from his contributions for years to come.”

Leslie Hager-Smith is mayor of Blacksburg, site of Virginia Tech’s largest campus.

“He understands that a healthy town, a healthy local economy, are vital to the health of the university,” Hager-Smith said of Dooley. “He is genuine and interested in others, and I’ll miss working with him.”

One of Dooley’s many economic development activities has been to serve on the board for GO Virginia’s Region 2, which includes the 19th District represented by Del. Terry Austin. Austin credited Dooley with helping to mobilize corporate support for widening Interstate 81 to three lanes in both directions between Christiansburg and Botetourt County to improve traffic between the New River and Roanoke valleys.

“John has been a tremendous influence over our region and is a person I can reach out to in order to help motivate and move along projects,” Austin said. “I’m going to miss him dearly.”

As vice president for advancement, Charlie Phlegar oversees the university’s fundraising and alumni engagement efforts, which requires a close partnership with the Virginia Tech Foundation.

“When people talk about the Hokie Spirit, they’re talking about people like John Dooley,” Phlegar said. “John brings extraordinary energy and passion to everything he does. He cares about people, is a major asset on every team he joins, and is driven to serve at work and in life. I’ll miss working with him a lot. He has made an impact on generations of Hokies and strengthened bonds across our worldwide Virginia Tech community.”

Virginia Tech Foundation Board Chair Sandra Davis and foundation CEO John Dooley.
Virginia Tech Foundation Board Chair Sandra Davis and foundation CEO John Dooley.

Latham, who played an important role in the decision to first hire Dooley at Virginia Tech decades ago, recalled that one of Dooley’s first projects at the Northern Virginia 4-H Center was to raise funds to expand the facility and build an auditorium. While much of the money was raised through donations, some of the cost was covered with a 20-year-loan.

"Twenty years later, we had a note burning event at the center after we paid it all off,” Latham said. “John had left by then. But that day, he was there.”

Taking time to travel to Front Royal for that event shows the level of care, not only for investments and project details, but for people, that those who have worked closely with Dooley over the years are quick to cite.

Davis, the Virginia Tech Foundation Board chair, said Dooley “is ever conscious of fulfilling Virginia Tech’s land-grant mission. It seems that John knows each donor, alum, and friend of the university personally, and that he appreciates and respects each person the same as he strives to grow endowment funds for scholarships, professorships, and academic excellence, which in turn benefits students, faculty, and staff.”

She added: “Personally, and on behalf of the Virginia Tech Foundation, I want to thank John for his above and beyond dedication to the foundation, as well as to the Hokie Nation, for his awesome leadership growing the presence of the university across the commonwealth and throughout the globe. For this and all of John’s work we will be eternally grateful, and John will indeed be missed.

Written by Albert Raboteau.