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Orange and Blue Glitz: VSU Celebrates a Turnaround Artist

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By these accounts, Eddie N. Moore Jr. has left things much better than he found them at Virginia State University, which lays claim as the country's first state-supported institution of higher learning for blacks.

A stream of speakers heaps on praise at a glitzy retirement send-off for Moore Saturday at the Richmond Marriott, where the mood sparkles like the tiara worn by Jasmine Abrams, Miss Virginia State University.

A season's worth of spring blooms cascade atop banquet tables; the VSU concert choir's booming “Battle Hymn of the Republic” brings guests to their feet; photos of Moore's 17 years are projected onto giant screens suspended from the ceiling.

“President Moore has led VSU to one of its greatest periods of academic growth in the school's 128-year history,” says mistress of ceremonies, Daphne Maxwell Reid, the actress and wife of actor Tim Reid, who serves on the university's board of visitors.

There are recollections of the Ettrick university before Moore's turnaround: unstable finances, worn-down buildings and a questionable future. Today: An endowment 10 times greater, and an academic milestone when VSU was ranked the No. 1 public master's degree level, historically black university by U.S. News & World Report.

Among his awards, Moore gets a key to the city from Mayor Dwight Jones, who speaks of growing up down the street from Moore in Philadelphia.

There's Gov. Doug Wilder, U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott, state Sens. Yvonne B. Miller and Henry Marsh III, Professional Football Hall of Famer Willie Lanier and Chesterfield's Millard D. “Pete” Stith Jr., the outgoing deputy county administrator who's helped VSU raise millions.

And in the center of three stages, a surprise whoosh, when gauzy curtains drop to reveal 88-year-old jazz great Billy Taylor, a VSU graduate, perched at a Steinway to perform a decades-old song he co-wrote, “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free.”

Moore got his start with Virginia State as assistant comptroller, in charge of accounting and reporting. Tonight he tells of his fraternity brother's earlier exchange with a cab driver, who asked: “You got 700 people [here] for one guy? Who is this guy?”

“And it made me wonder,” Moore says, “who is this guy? It's a guy that owes a lot to an awful lot of people who I've befriended and tried to help, loved and cared for.”

Moore will continue as a board member at Richmond-based Universal Corp. and Owens & Minor, but he soon heads to Texas, where he says his wife, Elisia, has been preparing their new home: “I'll be there in July, dear."

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