Special/Signature Issues » Teachable Moments

Behind Every Renaissance Is a Massive Ego

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He went down in a ball of flames, but there's no mistaking that Virginia Commonwealth University's diminutively powerful president, Eugene P. Trani, poured himself into the job and laid the foundation for Richmond's comeback.

Looking to expand but facing resistance in Oregon Hill, Trani pushed VCU north of Broad, building the Siegel Center and erecting student housing in Carver. Meanwhile, a barren stretch of West Broad Street came to life in the early 2000s, and Trani used that energy to push across Belvidere into the desolate Monroe Ward, home to the new business school. In many respects, Trani's investment in downtown offered a blueprint for what the city could become — and what is now becoming.

Of course, with big egos come bigger falls from grace. Secret research and development contracts with Philip Morris and the scandal over former Richmond Police Chief Rodney Monroe's erroneously awarded college degree have tainted Trani's legacy. While dealing with the mess a year ago, Trani suffered heart problems and underwent quintuple bypass heart surgery, forcing him to retire a year early. Naturally he received a measure of adulation upon his exit, not to mention a statue.

Though his tenure ended on a sour note, unlike other giant egos (ahem, Doug Wilder) Trani's was built on accomplishments. He's been criticized for his inattention to academics — MCV lost considerable prestige on his watch — but let's be honest: VCU was a commuter school before Trani took over.

Ego of the Decade: Eugene P. Trani

Runner-Up: L. Douglas Wilder

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