A Tribute to Rob Vaughan


Send Robert C. Vaughan off with your well-wishes.

VFH News

Rob Vaughan - Photo by Dan Addison
Rob Vaughan - Photo by Dan Addison

Help Us Celebrate Rob Vaughan’s Four Decades of Leadership

During his 43 years at the helm of Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, Rob’s work has had a profound impact on the Commonwealth and its citizens. From sparking early public discussions across the state to championing our latest digital initiatives, Rob has made the humanities central to public life in Virginia and built a network of friends, partners, and colleagues inspired by a shared purpose.

As Rob retires in June 2017, it is only fitting to send him off with something he truly cherishes: a book. This book will be created by us—those who have worked for him, learned from him, and collaborated with him. Our hope is to send him off with shared memories, great stories, and well wishes for his next chapter.

Please take a few minutes to share a memory or a fond farewell for Rob. Your words will be included in a one-of-a-kind book compiled just for him. If you wish to share a photo, clipping, or other small item, please contact Lynda Myers at 434-243-5525 or lmyers@virginia.edu.

35 Comments on "A Tribute to Rob Vaughan"

  1. Years ago, while attending the Virginia Festival of the Book, an event was held in the Rotunda by some Ulster Scots, who invited all attendees to join them that evening for food and beverage in one of the meeting rooms at the Omni Hotel. Though the event had been well attended, only three people showed up that evening – the two of us and Rob, whom we had never met. It would have been easy for him to have made his appearance and then quickly left. Instead, Rob stuck around, taking an interest not only in the Ulster guests, but also in us. In the many years since, he has never forgotten us, always glad to welcome us back to the festival, and always making us feel like important members of the VFH family.

    Rob, we’ve never told you how much that has meant to us. Thank you so much for the wonderful work you have done through and for VFH, and for all you have given to this commonwealth. And thank you for your personal touch, that generosity of time and spirit that has uniquely set you apart as a leader and friend. You have had such an impact in our lives, for which we are forever grateful.

    We wish you the very best!
    Eric and Diane Lawson

  2. I have known Rob since the beginning of the Foundation, when we were both young whippersnappers. Over the years, Rob has been an inspiration and friend to all kinds of folks–me included–helping us all to value and work for the humanities. He does his good work (and it has been very good work) with intelligence, insight, wit, and charm and a generosity of spirit we all hope to emulate. He leaves the Foundation with the kind of legacy we all wish we could leave on our profession, colleagues, and community. Rob, I’m just glad after all the many years we worked together, you got to see my momentary triumph as humanities scholar turned caterer! I wish you every kind of happiness in retirement.

  3. To share a perspective from outside Virginia, as one of Rob’s 55 counterparts at other state and territorial humanities councils in the nation: Rob Vaughan is widely recognized as a giant in this national community, and yet he is one of the most down-to-earth, gracious, and thoughtful leaders I have had the pleasure to work with. He has made a lasting positive impact on many of us state humanities council directors and staff around the nation, and I am grateful for the opportunity to try to learn a thing or two from him. Rob, on behalf of all of us at Humanities Nebraska, thank you for the example you set and for your lifelong commitment to the humanities in our nation!

  4. Soon after I first joined VFH as an ACLS/NEH/SSRC Fellow in early 2014, there was an initial meeting of Fellows headed by Rob. Intimidated a bit at first by the talent arouund me and the deference they paid to Rob, it wasn’t long before I felt at ease. In his deep quiet voice, he asked that we all introduce ourselves and be sure to add something about what we are reading now. I felt from then on at home with the VFH: I realized that its leader was a man who both fundamentally loves books and values its Fellows’ work with books, all revealed simply by his curiosity about what sits now on your bedside table or is being clutched all day in your bag. Thank you, Rob!

  5. I had the amazing opportunity to work at the VFH in 2005-2006 when I was in a career transition. I want to say how truly grateful I remain for Rob’s mentorship, friendship, and above all, his role in helping me become an even greater advocate for the humanities. Thank you, Rob and all the best in your retirement!

  6. At my first VABC raucous auction I remember thinking “who is this distinguished looking man in the corner?” Well, that was Rob, taking it all in with a big smile on his face.

  7. I enjoyed working with Rob for the last seven years through service on VAM Council. With a twinkle in his eye and a warmth of spirit, Rob always made me feel welcome and valued. That’s a gift! I appreciate how Rob honored, fostered, and cultivated the partnership between VAM and VFH. What an incredible legacy you’ve established! Many thanks for all you’ve given to both organizations and to the Commonwealth. Wishing you an adventurous retirement!

  8. Rob, my late husband Jack Bruce, and I attended a discussion on the Vietnam war.
    Jack spoke eloquently about our concerns.
    I wish he were able to join me wishing you all the best as you begin then next chapter of your life.

  9. Thank you for all of the energies you and the Foundation have put into making Virginia a community of the book! Your support and encouragement of the Virginia Festival of the Book, the Virginia Arts of the Book Center, the Virginia Center for the Book and numerous other bookish endeavors have changed my life and that of so many others. We are thankful for your inspired and amazingly skillful leadership.

  10. I first met Rob while attending graduation at Averett University for Dr. Patricia Cormier, Longwood University’s President. I had the pleasure of marching in with him, and the high pleasure of hearing his remarkable singing voice beside me. I also had the pleasure of working with him while developing a grant for rural teachers of American History through the Foundation. This was one of the most rewarding and beneficial grants our teachers have had the pleasure to be involved in. Teachers were able to travel and experience historical sites, all over the Eastern part of the United States, truly an eye opening experience with many wonderful benefits. We are thankful for that partnership, and especially the honor to work with Rob, a person who genuinely cares for others, and is passionate about life and his work.

  11. I met Rob in 1972, my first year at the Darden School. One of the required course was Analysis & Communications, which the students fondly nicknamed Writing & Talking. Rob was my young professor and coach. I knew he was going places, but I was unsure about myself. But now, all because of Rob, I can write and talk (and talk and talk and talk).
    Waite Rawls

  12. “I know your eyes.”

    I first met Rob…Mr. Vaughan…when I was ten years old. At the time, I had no idea I was in the presence of a person who would influence my interest in life or my direction in the world. At the time, he was simply Hailey’s dad, one of my best friends in the 5th grade. Hailey’s 10th birthday in 1982 included a slumber party with her best friends from Greer Elementary School and I was among the invited! At some point during the party, Hailey’s dad, took a photo of the five of us, sitting on the couch together, eating snacks and having an AWESOME slumber party.

    Twenty years later, Rob hired me at the VFH as the first program director of the African American Heritage Program. Now, the man did not hire me because I had an advanced degree in history or any related field that would signal I would be good at the job. I had two degrees in theatre, for goodness sake! Robert C. Vaughan said he hired me because he had a feeling my background and being a child of Virginia would serve me in capturing the stories of the Commonwealth.

    Rob took me under his wing and showed me the power of the humanities and significance of ALL of our stories. He helped me understand the power in my own story and legacy of my Virginia ancestors. His genuine interest in every life he encountered proved to be a master class in grace. I could have a million degrees, in a million different subjects, and not learn all I learned from Rob Vaughan.

    Every so often, Rob would look at me, like he was trying to figure me out. I figured it was how intensely the man looked at you when he was listening to you. It wasn’t strange, odd or uncomfortable. It was like being studied or observed. Well, on May 29, 2002, my 30th birthday, I finally understood why.

    Rob walked into my office and handed me a birthday card with the biggest grin I had ever seen on his face until that point. Ok…now THAT seemed a little weird to me! I remember thinking, “For real? This excited over a birthday card? What’s in here? Some money? A trip someplace? Because this dude is smi-ling!” I opened the card and my jaw dropped. It was a homemade birthday card with a picture of me, sitting on a couch, with four other girls, when I was about about 10 years old. I recognized Hailey Vaughan in the photo but it took me 1.2 seconds to put together why Rob had the photo. How did he know Hailey…HOLY SMOKES…HAILEY VAUGHAN…ROBERT VAUGHAN!!! Rob was Hailey’s dad and HE had taken the photo twenty years prior. I jumped up and into Rob’s arms and hugged him with the same embrace I give my own father. He explained to me that he and his wife were going through old photos and he came across the photo and realized he HAD seen my face…my eyes…before. I cried…wept…because my heart was so full of the love and genuine care Rob…Mr. Vaughan…showed me then…and still today.

    When asked, “where were you on 9-11?” I was in a staff meeting at the VFH and Rob was our rock that saw us through the day…through the weeks and months that followed. When I think on the work I did for Live Arts Theater…for UVA…for PVCC…or Vinegar Hill…or the VFH…Rob’s fingerprints are on the success of that work and I am forever grateful.

    Sir! Thank you for being a great mentor and leader. Thank you for being a great father figure to the family you built from community and through the humanities. Thank you for your genuine care and grace. Thank you for being in my life…even when I didn’t know you were there. I’m a better person for knowing you.

    All the best,
    Terésa Dowell-Vest

  13. Rob, you took wonderfully wicked delight in ‘calling me out’ at board meetings as your “legacy” board member. Now you knew perfectly well that I couldn’t help being the daughter of Connie Laws; nor would I have ever wanted to ‘help’ it. You did it as a charming tease, and because you intuited at our first meeting how proud I was to be Connie’s daughter. She loved and admired you so very much; I am her ‘legacy’ in that, as well! Much love and many thanks from the whole Laws family and, more importantly, from the entire Commonwealth and nation. Good job, Rob Vaughan, our Humanist in Chief!

  14. I can think of few people who have done more for the humanities than Rob. His decades of leadership have made Virginia a leader in the field. He is an irreplaceable gem who performed his duties with grace and kindness, tenacity and an indefatigable vision. I am also honored to call him my friend. Go forth and enjoy the next chapter in your truly unique life, Rob; you’ve more than earned it.

  15. Bet you didn’t know that Rob plays a mean kazoo! At a VAM Council retreat at the Virginia International Raceway, and after a long day of meetings, Rob joined Council members to enjoy a brew and play in an impromptu kazoo band. It was such a treat to kick back with Rob and just have some fun! Rob, you are a true gentleman. You have been a stalwart friend to Virginia’s museum community, and you will be sorely missed.

  16. No specific event or comment bubbles quickly to the surface, but I remember most Rob’s long-term, tireless, and very kind support of my research efforts over many years (on religious freedom and Patrick Henry and the politics of the 1790s). This will, of course, seem very normal to Rob because he has made such relentless support of the humanities and junior (if not always young) scholars his lifetime work. Yet as I and many other current and former fellows can attest, that support has been both practically and psychologically essential. What makes it particularly memorable and personally gratifying is that Rob’s support is always accompanied by his deep and quiet charm and grace. Thank you Rob!

  17. I had asked the VFH audience during the presentation of my book “Spirits of Just Men: Mountaineers, Liquor Bosses, and Lawmen in the Moonshine Capital of the World,” “What images come to mind when you hear the word ‘moonshine?'” First, I had people write their responses down on slips of paper and pass them in to me. Then I asked them to discuss what they’d written. What I heard at first were the stereotypes: fast cars, banjos, outlaws, hillbillies, and so on. Then Rob Vaughan spoke. He said one word: “economics.” He instantly changed the discussion to one about why people might have to engage in a illegal venture out of necessity — exactly where I’d hoped the discussion would go. I knew then, more than ever, that Rob is a true humanitarian who understands — some of it from his memory of growing up in rural Virginia, and some of it from his 40 years of work for all its citizens — that the humanities are about empathy, about stretching one’s assumptions, and, most of all, about really hearing (and championing) the stories of others, even when they are hard. Rob got my talk, he got the book, and more important, he got the people I wrote about, the ones back in the 1920s from whom I had come, and by whose sacrifices (even the illegal ones) I eventually came to be a humanities scholar. Rob, thanks for listening and for understanding. Thanks for being you.

  18. Like many others, I first came across Rob from afar. He was the handsome, commanding, relaxed presence on stage at several events I attended at my first Festival of the Book, about 20 years ago. It was clear that he was having a great time, happy and proud of what this small group of VFH staff and multitudes of energized volunteers had been able to do. Even from the audience, anyone could see Rob’s eyes twinkling with delight. He’s a book guy to the core.

    Over the years, Rob, as I have come to know you better, that twinkle of enthusiasm remains a Vaughan hallmark. You imagined and nurtured the kind of Humanities Council unmatched by any other state. You guide with inclusion, empathy, and vision. It has been a great privilege to be associated with VFH, and to be able to learn from you the grace of leadership, the rewards of taking a chance on a new idea, and the global reach of the humanities. Bravissimo!

  19. Rob Vaughan has given me the greatest of gifts an independent writer could hope for: a community of smart, supportive, and unfailingly generous fellows and foundation staffers who every day make the solitary challenge of long-form writing easier to meet. His enthusiasm for my projects has been jet fuel. His grace, intelligence, and kindness are inspirational. And while I can never hope to emulate the man’s suave style, it’s a wonder to behold. I will be forever grateful, Rob, for your taking a chance on a loopy story about an old car, and even more so for letting me stick around to work on others. Thank you so much.

  20. Rob has been a towering figure among state humanities council executive directors and with good reason. When I began my tenure as ED in 2004 I felt completely intimidated by his brilliance and by the impressive organization he had created. What I’ve discovered over the years is how gracious and generous Rob is. His boldness in programming, fundraising, and partnerships are a constant source of inspiration. And he has been unfailingly supportive of our community in both word and deed. Rob, thank you for showing us all how it should be done! Best wishes from New Hampshire Humanities for a retirement filled with great books and lively conversations.

  21. When I first met Rob and his family following our 1985 move to Charlottesville, we mainly focused on our respective kids, who shared a Sunday School class—in fact, they were, more or less, the class! However, once retired and back in this lovely environ, I was delighted to see how much progress had been made on what was then somewhat of a ‘start- up,’ requiring guidance and energy, both of which Rob graciously provided. It has always been a pleasure to work with Rob, and VFH; more recent endeavors are surely no exception. Due to his keen administration I know VFH will evolve, but also will move forward with excellent outcomes. For that we may all be grateful, wishing this well-deserved gentleman all the best for a wonderful—and equally productive and creative—retirement.
    With warm wishes,
    Charlotte McDaniel

  22. In addition to the contributions Rob has made to the humanities and diversity in VFH, I want to add that his contribution to Westminster Presbyterian Church in Charlottesville are significant. Rob leads the singing following the congregational Christmas upper which is the third or fourth Sunday in Advent depending upon the calendar. He has a great singing voice for a leader. As the son of a minister he is a stalwart member of the congregation. He is truly a remarkable person who includes service in areas beyond his professional responsibilities.

  23. Rob has guided and supported so many scholars, artists, and writers over the course of his career. I am lucky to have been one of these. I can truly say that without Rob’s encouragement at a crucial turning point, I would never have finished my book. I will be forever grateful. But I am just one story of many–so many people who are thriving thanks to the VFH. I look forward watching Rob’s next chapter unfold.

  24. Rob, thank you for hiring me back in 1976. I’m sure it is impossible for today’s VFH staff to imagine that in the early days there were only three of us, with our office in a basement room in the Range. There were no amenities, and we had to go across campus to photocopy documents and access other services. Many milestones later, the small VFHPP is now VFH and a leader in public humanities in Virginia and beyond, thanks to your passion, innovation, and commitment. Congratulations and best wishes for a joyful, relaxing, and stimulating retirement, surrounded by family, friends, and the humanities.

  25. Robert Vaughan and the wonderful staff he gathered enabled me and my colleagues to tell important stories at several Virginia museums over the past four decades. I remember meetings at early VFH offices on the West Range and at the little house.

    In 1978, I was new to museums and the mysterious world of grant writing and administering. VFH funded my first grant application for the docent training program at the recently restored and soon to open Stonewall Jackson House in Lexington. Rob led the grant recipient workshop, introducing me to the VFH mission to bring Virginia’s people exciting encounters with the humanities.

    More workshops followed as VFH funded lectures and exhibits at the Woodrow Wilson Birthplace when I was its director in the 1980s. When I directed the research and collections arm of the Frontier Culture Museum in the 1990s, VFH funded a research program and symposium on African-American history in the Valley, a lecture series, and a Scots-Irish symposium. Those workshops Rob led were always a great opportunity for recipients to learn and to widen our networks of humanities contacts. It was a joy to be a panelist in VFH’s exceptional Re-Imagining Ireland program.

    When I retired from a staff role and transitioned to board membership, it was a pleasure to approach VFH in the 21st century for a grant to make possible the design and installation of a visitor center interpretive exhibit for the Germanna Foundation, and to work again with Rob and his staff. His enthusiasm and positive attitude were always contagious and his big smile always encouraging.

    This tie with Rob came full circle last month when my husband and I took our two high school age granddaughters to the Stonewall Jackson House for their first visit. Four decades later, the work that VFH funded in that first grant is still a basis for the interpretive video and the docent tour.

    Thank you Rob, for making all this possible–just one small part of what you have done all over Virginia!

    Katharine L. Brown

  26. Rob:
    Congratulations on leaving behind a legacy of a road very well travelled. Your quiet and consistent leadership along with your uncompromising values and ethics have guided the vfh to increasing excellence for over 40 years. Not many of us get to be involved with something we enjoy and believe in for such an extended period of time. Knowing when it’s time to move on is never easy, but once that decision is made, it is a blessing to be able to look back with such fond memories and noteworthy accomplishments. Wishing you and Ellen continued good health and much happiness in the years ahead.
    Warm regards,
    Dick and Diane Brownlee

  27. Rob and I must have joined the Darden faculty at about the same time. It was very early that I met Rob and wondered why such a talented and delightful person should be spending his time teaching MBA students to communicate clearly. Fortunately, he quickly was picked to head the VFH, a startup in a new field of endeavour. By a combination of intellect, energy, and personality, Rob developed the VFH into a highly successful organization, serving a variety of audiences and interests locally and throughout Virginia. His success rate should be the envy of the entrepreneur. In addition to the characteristics noted before, another one is his modesty. Rob does not take public credit for what the VFH has done. He gives credit and pushes to the front of the stage those who implement the ideas and programs. Finally, Rob has been very successful at raising funds for the VFH from many sceptical sources. Congratulations on a job extremely well done! And thanks for that!

  28. My time as a Fellow at the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities in 1988 was one of the most fruitful experiences of my historian career and a major boost in getting my research into book form. I owe Rob Vaughan deep gratitude for making my time in Charlottesville productive and enjoyable. He rapidly befriended all us Fellows, and we soon became a team of scholars, happy to be around each other and supportive of the efforts of each.

  29. Dear Rob,
    In my summer and semester in residence at the VFH and in our months sailing the high seas together on Semester at Sea, I have always been impressed by your graciousness, ready wit, musical speaking voice, and unfailing generosity of spirit. You have kept the humane in the humanities in Virginia and beyond. Caroline and I thank you for your extraordinary gifts of spirited engagement, empathic insight, and stellar leadership.
    Warm best wishes,
    Jahan

  30. I remember the first time I met Rob Vaughan, back in the early 1980s at a faculty meeting of our new Center for Programs in the Humanities at Virginia Tech. He enthusiastically told us about VFH and how it could support our research and outreach. Throughout the following years, Rob was a steady and effective voice for the humanities, and it has been a joy to work with him and his staff on several grant projects, including the South Atlantic Humanities Center. The great success of VFH is a testimony to Rob’s tireless and effective leadership. Rob, thank you so much for all of your support and efforts on behalf of the humanities. I wish you the best in this new phase of your life.

  31. Ginger McCarthy (CLAS '85) co-host of the international music program "World Turning" (Fridays noon - 2:00) says:

    Thank you, Robert Vaughn, for your encouragement of our Public Affairs & Special Programming at WTJU our listener-supported community radio station. Our announcer/programmers formed a ‘voluntary association,’ in 1957, to broadcast great music: originally Classical, and later a rich offering of other traditions in the areas Jazz, Rock, and World Music, as well as News and Public Affairs, eventually becoming a member of the National Federation of Community Broadcasters.
    Through grants from the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities we were able to produce “Sister Talk” with Ann Lane, Professor of History and Director of the Women’s Studies Program at the University of Virginia and Claire Sprague, Professor Emeritus of English at Brooklyn College, City University of New York. president of the Doris Lessing Society. Through the generosity of the VFH, “Sister Talk” aired both at WTJU-FM and at WOMR-FM in Provincetown, MA for many years.
    Through your encouragement, our program “Women in the World” received Honorable Mention as Best Radio Show of the Year (given by American Women in Radio & Television, for a series of programs we aired featuring biographies of women who overcame physical or psychological oppression through a creative response to master the arts in music, literature or the visual arts, in a wide range of places and times. Presented by Walter Cronkite at the Waldorf Astoria that year, UVa alum, Katie Couric, CLAS ’75 won first place for the Best Television Show that year, by the way) which was instrumental in our producing 24-hour fundraising Marathon featuring only the programs we had produced here at WTJU (including Ground for Health with Student Health Director, Colin Ramirez, the Natural History Note with Ivy Creek Natural Area co-founder and president Bess Murray, the Children’s Radio Workshops, Pieceworks Youth Radio Project, Live Broadcasts from the Prism Coffeehouse (the second-oldest non-alcohol venue for acoustic music in America) and the longest-running Children’s Radio programming in Central Virginia for 25 years now, and still heard each Sunday from noon to 2:00 pm, (with Peter Jones, host of “Tell Us A Tale,” featuring stories and extraordinary stories and songs from around the world both gathered from and now heard live within communities all over the planet!

    Our celebration of all of the traditions in the best music on WTJU has enriched our listening audiences in Charlottesville and the surrounding counties, and in Richmond at 102.9 FM — interacting closely with the University Community for 60 years this summer!

    We are all very grateful to you for your generous spirit and for your imaginative sense of “what is possible,” and we thank you for all you have done for UVa and by extension, for the world at-large!

  32. Rob Vaughan gave me my first “real” job just before I graduated with a PhD from UVA in 2012. Although conditioned in graduate school to think that the only meaningful work in the humanities was done in academia, I was very quickly amazed by the amount of humanities programming and public outreach done by VFH on an annual basis. I will always consider the work I did at Documents Compass and VFH on “Founders Online” to be one of my most meaningful contributions I will ever make to the study of American history. I want to thank VFH and especially Rob for being so supportive of our work and my early career in the humanities. I was truly blessed to be part of his remarkable foundation and I wish Rob nothing but the best in his retirement.

  33. Rob Vaughn is one of the people I remember meeting when I attended my first national meeting as a rookie member of the SC Humanities board. He was welcoming, approachable, and obviously knowledgeable about the work and the people that comprise the complex yet tightly-knit humanities community. In the years since, he responded “yes” to my every request for help, especially during my time as Development Chair of the Federation Board. He was never too busy to talk, to offer advice, discuss ideas or participate on a panel when needed. It has been my privilege to know and work with Rob. I will never think of the term “Virginia gentleman” without seeing his twinkling eyes and smiling face before me. Bon voyage, Rob. I know there are many more fun times coming your way!

  34. Rob’s embrace of both academic scholarship and public engagement has been an inspiring example to me – during my time working at the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, and since in my academic career. He’s built an amazing legacy at the VFH and beyond, and I wish him all the best in his retirement.

  35. I have dragged my feet (my pen, my keyboard tapping) here, thinking: what can I say that isn’t already said about this treasure of the commonwealth, this champion of the humanities writ large and in the most specific creative endeavors, too – our Rob Vaughan? I met Rob when I was first a fellow, juggling writing and research in the winter of *snow*. And my earliest impressions have lasted – a delightful mind, easy-going but laser-sharp, deeply kind and ever on the verge of a laugh, competent beyond imagining, impressive beyond measure… and besides all that, someone you might just hang out with. I’ve thought, what could I add to the accolades expressed by people far more capable than I, when I realized: so the heck what?! I hope that you, Rob, are getting thousands of declarations of admiration, appreciation, and good wishes. I’ll simply add another. Thanks for all! You’re the best. Be well and godspeed ~

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