Not slowing down

At 90, Gov. L. Douglas Wilder continues to make an impact

Gov. Doug Wilder
Gov. L. Douglas Wilder is a sought-after speaker about race and leadership.

He doesn’t hesitate to take the four flights of stairs to his office in the Wilder School’s Scherer Hall. His days are filled with lectures, press interviews and frequent posts to his blog, Wilder Visions. It’s a pace that would challenge those half his age, but at 90, Gov. L. Douglas Wilder is not slowing down.   

Governor Wilder and Dean Susan Gooden created and now nurture the Research Institute for Social Equity (RISE). The governor develops the school’s political and policy polls, and his contributions to an election special by the Richmond CBS affiliate are credited with helping secure a regional Emmy Award for the show. 

A pioneer who bridged the racial divide in the nation’s highest elected offices and a mentor to legions of politicians, Wilder blazed the trail that made the election of candidates like Deval Patrick, Tim Scott, Kamala Harris and Barack Obama possible. His historic election in 1989 dispelled precedents and made it possible for African American candidates to be considered outside the prism of race.

A grandson of slaves and a Korean War veteran, Governor Wilder secured the statehouse in the cradle of the Confederacy and governed with distinction during the worst economic recession since the Great Depression.

Jim Dyke, who served as Governor Wilder’s secretary of education, recounts the governor’s many milestones in education that included pushing to open Virginia Military Institute to women, boosting funding for the free-lunches program, streamlining student loan programs, expanding support for historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), and expanding financial aid to include community college students. Dyke and Wilder are encouraging current elected officials to use some of the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) monies for HBCUs. 

“The governor, the General Assembly and the Virginia business community need to demonstrate collaborative leadership so that every student has the opportunity to achieve the American dream, thereby becoming a taxpaying contributor to Virginia’s economy and improving our quality of life,” Governor Wilder noted in an opinion piece in Virginia Business. 

VCU President Michael Rao, Ph.D., called Wilder “a tremendous icon” for students, colleagues and the state. In commemorating the Governor’s 90th birthday earlier this year, Rao said, “One of the things you remind us is of our endless potential as people.”

Conversations with Gov. L. Douglas Wilder

Experience Gov. L. Douglas Wilder’s voice and wisdom via his 12-part podcast series. Race in America, leadership and the governor’s reflections on turning 90 are just a few topics in “Conversations with Governor Wilder” on SoundCloud. Hosted by Dean Gooden, the podcasts cover historical and current events and issues. You can access the podcasts via SoundCloud here:

Fall 2021 / In this issue