2022 Excellence in Virginia Government Awards
EVGA celebrates Virginians who have made noteworthy contributions to the practice of government and the welfare of our communities and citizens. We’re delighted to announce the following 2022 honorees.
Lifetime Achievement Award
Florence Neal Cooper Smith
An unrelenting curiosity was the spark that led Florence Neal Cooper Smith to her lifetime of work educating and fundraising to fight sickle cell anemia. At the age of 11, while waiting in her doctor’s office, she pulled a hematology book off the shelf.
“I opened it up, and I turned to a brief description of sickle cell anemia,” Cooper Smith said. “I still remember the description — that you are born with it, it affects ‘colored’ people, there was no cure, and that you die young.” She believes that moment in 1942 was the beginning of a journey that God wanted her to follow.
Sickle cell is an inherited disease that impacts an estimated 100,000 people in the United States, 90% of whom are African American. Sickle cell causes red blood cells to contort into a sickle shape, which can cause a shortage of healthy red blood cells and block blood flow.
Smith’s curiosity continued through high school and college. She remembers inquiring about sickle cell with the chairman of the Biology Department at Virginia Union University, where she received her undergraduate degree in biology. Soon after earning a second degree in medical technology from the Atlantic City Medical School, Cooper Smith returned to Richmond, where she held research jobs at McGuireWoods Medical Center and Medical College of Virginia. She continued her unrelenting questions about sickle cell, but there were few answers in the 1950s and ‘60s. Despite the mysterious disease, Cooper Smith was set on her mission: educating social clubs and church groups about sickle cell.
After Dr. Robert Scott came to MCV and wanted to begin a research project on sickle cell anemia, Cooper Smith was asked to join his team. Together they created and operated the Virginia Sickle Cell Awareness Program, which at the time was one of only 19 federally funded programs in the country. But Cooper Smith wanted to do more. She urged her classmate from Virginia Union University, then Virginia Sen. L. Douglas Wilder, to help her raise awareness and require testing and treatment of sickle cell to be covered by health insurance in Virginia. Those efforts also led to an important change in 1989, requiring all babies to be tested for sickle cell anemia.
“Florence is a live wire,” said Gov. L. Douglas Wilder. “She is as full of energy now as she was decades ago. She is not going to give up on anything.”
Cooper Smith continues her work to raise awareness and funding for important research. “I just feel that even at 90, the Lord is going to let me raise this $1 million for sickle cell research. He’s going to let me see what can be done to alleviate the aching and pain of those afflicted, and the financial challenges for the families.”
The Florence Neal Cooper Smith Professorship at VCU was founded in 2014 to support aggressive, cutting-edge research to pursue a cure for sickle cell disease. Dr. Wally R. Smith, a nationally recognized expert in sickle cell disease, was named the inaugural holder of the professorship, which was the first such professorship to be named for an African American woman in the United States.
“We’re getting there,” Cooper Smith said. “We have some wonderful drugs out. But it’s not the cure. And I just want to see it. I believe it can happen.”
About the award: This award recognizes an individual Virginian whose career represents the highest values of public service and citizenship and who has made a substantial contribution to the good of the commonwealth. The recipient must be an individual whose personal or professional contributions span a minimum of 20 years and be a resident of Virginia.
Community Enhancement Award
Sacred Heart Center
Sacred Heart Center, Richmond is recognized for its lifesaving efforts to educate and vaccinate the community against COVID-19. Executive Director Tanya Gonzalez (M.P.A. ‘17/GPA) led the organization’s impactful efforts.
When it became apparent early in the pandemic that Latinos had very low vaccination rates and were disproportionately being hospitalized and dying from COVID-19, Richmond’s Sacred Heart Center, with the support of several foundations, stepped in to educate and help vaccinate the region’s Latino community. This lifesaving work has helped the Latino vaccination rate grow above 80%, the highest in the Richmond region.
About the award: The Community Enhancement Award recognizes outstanding commitment to improving the quality of community life in Virginia. An individual, group or government entity may be nominated for this award.
Grace E. Harris Leadership Award
All Saints Catholic School of Richmond
All Saints Catholic School of Richmond is recognized for its work to prepare students for profound success in high school, college and throughout their adult lives as highly engaged leaders in a diverse, democratic society.
All Saints Catholic School serves about 200 pre-K to eighth-grade students in the Richmond area, fostering a culturally, socioeconomically and ethnically diverse student body. All Saints prides itself in developing students’ leadership skills, confidence and integrity. The school’s seniors boast a 100% high school graduation rate, with a large majority of alumni continuing on to college.
About the award: Named after the late Dr. Grace E. Harris, a trailblazer who broke down many barriers as an African American woman and whose vision and leadership had tremendous impact at VCU, in the community and beyond. This award recognizes an individual or organization that has made a discernible, sustainable positive impact on the quality of life in Virginia through public service.
Hill-Robinson Expansion of Freedom Award
Moton Museum of Farmville
Moton Museum of Farmville, Virginia, is recognized for its ongoing efforts to promote dialogue and serve future generations as an education center and policy center for the study of civil rights in education.
Farmville’s former Russa Moton High School, now a National Historical Landmark and museum, preserves and constructively interprets the history of civil rights in education, specifically as it relates to Prince Edward County and the leading role its citizens played in America’s transition from segregation toward integration.
About the award: Named for two champions of civil rights, attorney Oliver Hill and Judge Spottswood Robinson, this award recognizes a sustained commitment to securing equal rights and justice for all people by empowering citizens.
Innovation in Government Award
Danville Police Chief Scott Booth
Danville Police Chief Scott Booth is being honored for his community policing work including two innovative programs that help new officers better understand their community and the Danville community better understand law enforcement.
When Booth came to the Danville Police Department in 2018, he made his top two priorities the reduction of violent crime and improving community engagement. Crime numbers have decreased and the relationships and trust have grown in the community. Booth introduced the Community Leadership and Immersion Program (CLIP) as part of new officer training and the Pass the Perspective program for residents to learn more about policing.
About the award: This award recognizes the recipient’s innovative work that has resulted in increased efficiency, effectiveness or other improvements that affect how a government entity performs, in supporting and delivering services to its constituents.
Public-Private Partnership Award
Grayson County with Appalachian Power and GigaBeam Networks
Grayson County with Appalachian Power and GigaBeam Networks is recognized for their work to bring high-speed internet to the county through innovative partnerships.
A lack of fast and reliable internet was causing Grayson County to lose residents, limiting its economic development potential and restricting health care options. That changed in 2019 after a new law went into effect permitting Virginia’s two largest electric utilities to provide broadband capacity to nongovernmental internet service providers in underserved areas. Appalachian Power selected Grayson County for its pilot program, and in partnership with GigaBeam Networks, has installed nearly 150 miles of fiber in the rural county, with a total of 250 miles planned.
About the award: This award recognizes the recipient’s inventive creation or maintenance of a successful public-private partnership which has delivered a measurable improvement in public service resulting in lower cost, improved quality, or greater efficiency for citizens.
Unsung Heroes Award
Betty Mattice, Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles
Betty Mattice, a 51-year employee of DMV, has an unsurpassed dedication to the agency as its IT manager.
For decades Mattice has dedicated herself to becoming an expert in the systems and processes that keep the DMV operating smoothly. As DMV’s Information Technology manager, she oversees software system and business requirements, as well as managing a help desk staff that provides assistance to field employees and DMV partners. IT issues don’t conform to office hours, and neither does Mattice. Her dedication to the agency runs so deep that she has a cot in her office to ensure she is present in the event of bad weather or to work nights and weekends.
About the award: The Unsung Heroes Award recognizes an individual Virginian who has provided distinguished and exceptional service as a career government employee in the commonwealth, with local or state government. The recipient must have significant longevity of public service to the commonwealth and be a resident of Virginia.
Spring 2022 / In this issue
- Letter from the dean's office
- Capitol Semester
- Graduate students plan transition process for government
- The Commonwealth Poll
- 2022 Excellence in Virginia Government Awards
- Alumni spotlight: Joe Damico, M.P.A. ’97
- Verbatim: The convergence of justice, health and economics during COVID-19
- Faculty, alumni and student achievements
- Bridging perspectives, one shared experience at a time
- Alumni spotlight: LeQuan Hylton, Ph.D. ’16
- Why I give to the Wilder School
- Nationally ranked M.P.A. program can now be completed fully online
- Eta Lambda Sigma Professional Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness Fraternity