Doug Juanarena

Doug Juanarena is a renowned innovator and entrepreneur, whose contributions to aerospace and technology have had a profound impact on the industry. He began his illustrious career at NASA’s Langley Research Center, where he played an instrumental role in developing transformative wind tunnel pressure scanning systems. In 1977, leveraging his innovations at NASA, Doug founded Pressure Systems Inc. (PSI), bringing groundbreaking aerospace sensing technology to a global market. Under his visionary leadership, PSI’s pioneering products became industry benchmarks, establishing the company as a leader in the field before its acquisition by the Roxboro Group in 1996.

In 2000, Doug co-founded Luna Technologies, contributing to the development of revolutionary Optical Vector Analyzers, significant to the telecommunications industry. Additionally, he has been a pivotal figure in fostering entrepreneurial spirit and innovation as an Entrepreneur in Residence at the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center and a mentor at Gentek Ventures, guiding emerging entrepreneurs in realizing their visions.

Doug’s passion extends beyond his professional endeavors, reflected in his lifelong pursuit of aviation, earning him both private and commercial pilot’s licenses. His exemplary career symbolizes a relentless pursuit of excellence, innovation, and commitment to advancing technology and aerospace.

Doug Juanarena was inducted into the Southwest Virginia Business Hall of Fame in 2023.

Robert Archer

Bob Archer, a distinguished Veteran and Virginia Tech graduate, is the influential CEO of Blue Ridge Beverage Company and Chairman of the National Beer Wholesalers Association (NBWA). His educational foundation and military discipline have been instrumental in shaping his leadership approach, leading to transformative contributions in the beer industry since his initial involvement in 1973.

Under his strategic leadership, Blue Ridge Beverage has evolved from a small enterprise to a pivotal distributor in Southwest Virginia, employing 385 individuals and delivering over 7.5 million cases of beer annually to a wide customer base. This expansion has significantly stimulated economic development in the region, solidifying Bob’s reputation as a key economic architect.

Bob’s legacy not only spans professional excellence and regional economic enhancement but also extends to his dedicated familial roles as a loving father and grandfather. His multifaceted life story is a testament to commitment, innovation, and the enduring value of family.

Robert Archer was inducted into the Southwest Virginia Business Hall of Fame in 2023.

Nathaniel L. Bishop

Nathaniel (NL) Bishop was born April 17, 1954, to Virginia Chubb Bishop of Roanoke and Elmer A. Bishop of Christiansburg, VA. The middle of 11 children, he attended Christiansburg High School where he was on the football and track teams, choir and played the piano.  NL got an Associate’s degree at New River Community College, a Bachelor of General Studies with a concentration on the Sociology of Law Enforcement degree in 1977 from Radford University, Master of Science degree in Health and Physical Education at VT in 1999 and Doctor of Ministry degree in 2005 from Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington D.C.

 NL’s graduation from Radford occurred right on the heels of the annexation of Christiansburg and the need to increase and diversify the Police Department.   NL spent fourteen years on the force and credits Joe Morgan as a fine police mentor who encouraged his professional growth of going from sergeant to Investigator. 

His role in the 1984 National United Methodist Council on Diversity impressed the CEO of the Virginia United Methodist Homes, Jerry Fink who offered NL the position of Assistant Administrator and later Associate Administrator with Virginia United Methodist Homes which was a safer and welcome change from the streets and offered him more family time.   During his years with resident homes, he was promoted to lead the United Methodist Hermitage on Eastern Shore and then became the Administrator of Record for the Hermitage in Alexandria, VA.  

In 1997, NL moved back to Roanoke with his family to join Carilion as the Executive Director/Administrator of Carilion Burrell Nursing Center which he operated until the property transitioned to Blue Ridge Behavioral Health Care. Because of NL’s work with the United Methodist Homes, he implemented some engaging activities for the residents at Burrell.  He found support from Ms. Lillian Patterson, a former educator who wanted to start an auxiliary “The Friends of Burrell” who worked with staff and community volunteers to keep Burrell a viable care facility. It had been the only hospital that would care for African Americans for five decades and touted a nursing school.

In 2002 Dr. Bishop was named Vice President and Hospital Director of Carilion Roanoke Community Hospital and later served as Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital as Vice President of Facility and Guest Services in 2007. 

N L Bishop, D. Min.  was appointed by the Board of Directors of Jefferson College of Health Sciences to lead the college on April 17, 2010.   In addition to his duties as President, he is the Chair of Interprofessionalism at Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine, and responsible for system-wide Chaplaincy Education/Pastoral Care and Police/ Security.

Current board memberships: Carilion Medical Center board, New River Valley Medical Centers, Foundation for Roanoke, GO Virginia, Local Colors, Mill Mountain Theater, Roanoke- Blacksburg Regional Airport Commission, Roanoke Regional Chamber of Commerce, United Way, Radford University Foundation, Roanoke Regional Partnership, Member and Committee Chair-Virginia Community College System State Board.

Nathaniel L. Bishop was inducted into the Southwest Virginia Business Hall of Fame in 2018.

Ronald Willard

Ronald L. Willard, Sr. was born on December 17, 1945, on a tobacco farm in Franklin County. He was the third child of Virginia Robertson of Rocky Mount and Walter Lee Willard of Scruggs.  Ron’s parents displayed a great amount of love for family and great tenacity to manage a 65-acre farm that provided income and food for the family.  This acreage was covered with wheat, orchards, chickens, pigs and six milk cows.

Ron’s mother Virginia had an 8th grade education, and his father Walter Lee had a third-grade education – they were married at a very young age and purchased their farm on the Franklin County courthouse steps for $1250 when Ron was two years old.  They had to pay off a $650 mortgage within months, they were confident that the corn that was planted and milk from the cows would be sufficient revenue to pay the mortgage.  Mother nature was not kind that summer, and a storm destroyed the corn, no insurance and things appeared desperate.   One morning Walter shared with his wife that he had a dream of “coming into money”.  In a matter of days, a letter was addressed to him from an attorney, the details shared that a great aunt had passed away and he was listed as an heir that she was leaving $650 to, ironically the same amount of money needed to pay off the mortgage.  That one remarkable incident made his father seek work and keep two jobs so he would not ever be in a monetary bind again.  Walter was a gifted self-taught carpenter who added on rooms to their home and outbuildings plus a livery stable and all the timber came from his land.  Additionally, Walter farmed, made moonshine, sold timber and when Ron was 14 years old the times were lean, and his dad took a job with Bartlett Tree Service working 10 hour shifts 5 days a week at $1 per hour. 

Ron at an early age worked on the farm and spent a large amount of his time tying tobacco leaves together so they could dry/cure by the age of eight years old he was earning $2 a day for this work. As the high school years approached Ron got a part time job at Taylor’s Esso in Rocky Mount and this meant working one weeknight and every Saturday and Sunday at the station making 50 cents an hour. This one job and being in a rural area where many young people operate farm equipment led to getting a driver’s license early, and the temptation to drag race down the dirt roads was frequent.  So frequent for young Ron that he managed to rack up 19 traffic violations by the age of 19.  His need for speed earned him many drag race challenges from other young men from surrounding counties.   His pride and joy were 1956 Chevy with a blue interior and blue race stripes on the exterior and it was a great magnet when it came to dating.  Ron remembers vividly tracking his dating money and he would calculate car insurance, gas at 20 cents a gallon, $1 movie theater ticket and $1 would get a cheeseburger and fries.

Once young Ron graduated high school, he gained a wealth of experience from his multiple jobs in local businesses/factories:  at Lane Furniture Company he patched furniture for four months and realized he wanted more.  Next, he was employed at the Weaving Mill as a weaver fixer on the graveyard shift which made him realize his need to try construction with his first remodeling job taking place on the Keister-Greer Home in Rocky Mount.

At the young age of 19 Ron had embarked upon another milestone he married Brenda Cox a hairdresser, they would eventually become parents to three children, and they first lived on Williamson Road in Roanoke.  At the time of the marriage, he was working on Hollins College campus hanging solid core doors in the dorms for English Construction.  He had heard of more permanent work being done by Martin Brothers construction at the new construction site for the Roanoke County/Salem Civic Center.  To land this job meant young Ron had to rise before the sun shone in January, ride a city bus from Williamson Road to the Salem site and walk through ten inches of snow on non-shoveled sidewalks.  When Ron arrived on the site, he thought possibly he had arrived very early he was about to knock on the door of the construction trailer to ask for work when the door flung open and a trail of chaw flew out of the mouth of the site supervisor (H.A. Dickerson) who informed him that the other workers were told not to come on the site because of the snow accumulation.  He proceeded to tell Ron that when work began, he would not need any crew members.  Ron was determined to make an impression on the site supervisor after his long commute and he stayed on the site from 8am -5pm removing snow from the steel beams and rebar.  He did this for three days in a row as a solo worker with the site supervisor telling him that he would not be paid, because he was not needed.  Due to Ron’s persistence in removing the snow the first full operational day for construction that January put the whole crew ahead of schedule because they could access the steel and rebar as needed.   Payment to the men on the crew was cash in a little brown envelope on the Friday of that week.  All the crew received pay and as Ron turned to leave, the site supervisor called out his name and threw him an envelope as a sign of gratitude for maintaining their construction schedule and for Ron’s work ethic rising before the sun, riding the bus and staying until late afternoon.  No surprise Ron remained with the civic center crew putting up all the partitions for the building.

When Ron was 21 years old, he found his niche in the precast division using iron and steel and handing re-bar work.  His innate ability to work with medium earned him an opportunity to attend classes in AR for two weeks.  Upon his return he is given supervisory position and the youngest person compared to the work crew.  To gain their confidence required perseverance and demonstrating his ability to move along projects by reading blueprints.   This one job led to Ron getting additional education through the International Correspondence School (ICS) in business management classes that were offered two nights a week for a full month.

By the age of 23 years Ron was putting into practice his management skills that allowed him to work on large building projects for the John W. Daniel Company.  He went to Petersburg, VA to oversee the construction of a six story Howard Johnson motel. This led to being employed with the company for six and a half years and supervising three crews. The rapid growth in his construction knowledge led Ron to take a six month leave of absence to explore his options as he entertained the idea of going into business for himself.  To increase his construction knowledge Ron sought two-year employment at the Ed Frye Building Company.  This opportunity led to more commercial builds like a factory on Kessler Mill Road in Salem, an ABC Store, Virginia Fiberglass plant- he was superintendent on site and dug all the footers working with Turner/Long and the Virginia Tech Field House, all these structures required steel or iron framing and that became Ron’s specialty.  Ron was brought onto the VT campus with the owner who shared that the project was $70,000 in the red and Ron’s first response was “you have too many men on the job”. Mr. Frye then gave Ron the chance to turn things around and the first thing was the firing of 22 people and then he made sure to line up men with the proper equipment and a new timeline.   That one action elevated his worth for the Frye company.  

As Ron ventured into the construction world on his own, he was able to contract with Frye to construct a Williamsburg addition to Mr. Frye’s doctor friend for $50,000, that was Job 101 for Ron.  His first employees beside himself were one carpenter and his older brother, the company grew exponentially to eight employees in the second year, 16 employees in three years, and 24 employees by the fourth year in 1974.  His peak was eleven jobs and three crews in Hunting Hills and then Botetourt County, Roanoke City, Roanoke County, and Danville with each crew on 3-4 jobs.  Ron built the New Yorker Delicatessen in 1974.

The success of Ron Willard is documented in taking a dam construction that flooded farmland and transformed into the most desired lake front property and community East of the Mississippi.  Ron went from construction in 1973 to real estate development in 1977 of 3,000 acres that includes 33 acres of lake shoreline.  Ron realized early on that his “gift” was to see undeveloped land and recall blueprints that would match with the square footage needed to do new construction.

 Today the inventory of Willard Company structures includes 1000 units from low to high rise units, villas, assisted living, two marinas and three golf courses. Other conveniences added to the counties are the first Cinema, Kroger, banks, Velocity Care, building supply store, salons, restaurants, and Grand Home Furnishings.  The later housing developments like Boardwalk include multi-family units, croquet and badminton courts.  Ron has worked tirelessly to host outdoor events like – “Jive@ Five” Charity Home Tours, October Fest, Toys for Tots and Christmas Tree Lighting primarily to support the Cool Branch Fire and Rescue departments.  There were still some projects in Roanoke like the business complex Cypress Park that kept Ron’s attention. 

The motto that Ron has embraced in his years as a businessman was also the same motto that sat on the desk of his first employer John W. Daniel. “When a task is once begun, never leave it until it’s done; be it large or be it small, do it well or not at all. ”Ron has summed up the enthusiasm he has with construction and real estate by saying “the reward is not about the money, but knowing you have carved out the woods to make a home.  Like an artist who completes their painting on the canvas, the final signature on a new construct is to see it the first time the lights come on at night.”

When asked about the advice he would give to young people.  He is reminded of his late teens when he became a high school graduate and started thinking “where do I go?”  As he watched the yellow school busses take off for the high school and other friends off to college.  Work was his only option.  He feels today’s youth is not as driven and that they allow themselves to be put into boxes or enroll for welfare programs.  Ron believes entitlement programs have separated society, and kids are posed with the question “Do you want to win?”  this is based upon the young people he hires for wait staff, he is paying health benefits and paying better than local restaurants, but the work ethic is not strong.  As he recalled he had to figure out how to pay his parents room and board and he walked and hopped busses to get work. 

Ron has been a self-starter and visionary; along the way he got involved on boards that increased the viability of his industry that resulted in several honors and appointments. Ron was named the Roanoke Regional Builder of the Year from 1981-82. He was awarded Senior Life Director of the National Home Builders Association in February 2000 giving him voting power – at that time he was only the second person from the Roanoke region to receive this honor, —he had a 20- year perfect attendance record. He was also a board member of the Golf industry that evaluates the grounds, soils, and horticulture.

Ron’s civic roles include 4-H board, Amphitheater board, creating the Smith Mt. Lake Backbone Club in 1979, Lions, Virginia Chamber of Commerce Board, and SML Lions Club Golf Tournament chair. He and Carol Leggett convened the Smith Mountain Lake Partnership, and he served as the first president of the organization for two years.  They in turn got local businesses together to establish the Wine Festival, SML Open Golf Tournament, and the SML Regional Chamber of which Lee Willard is the current board chair.

He has won the Virginia Chamber of Commerce Entrepreneur of the Year Award, founded the Willard scholarship fund that is available through Ferrum College and established the Willard Amphitheater at the W. E. Skelton 4-H Camp and Educational Conference Center. 

Ronald Willard was inducted into the Southwest Virginia Business Hall of Fame in 2016.

Vinod Chachra, PhD

Even the most seasoned entrepreneurs would bow to Vinod Chachra’s work ethic, and certainly to his investment in shoe leather. That’s because Chachra, as the president and CEO of VTLS Inc. — the first spinoff from Virginia Tech and the first tenant of the Corporate Research Center (CRC) — spent a big chunk of time in the early days writing letters and crossing the globe, pitching to people he’d never met. This cold calling approach is not for the faint of heart.

His efforts over three decades prompted the Virginia House of Delegates to issue its own citation singling out Chachra’s work in February of 2014. The General Assembly passed the unique House Joint Resolution 405, citing its “respect and admiration for his commitment to the advancement and development of innovative technology in the Commonwealth and around the world.”

Achieving this international stature was not easy. “To give you an idea of the pressure,” Chachra said, “during the first 19 months of the company, we were losing a thousand dollars a day, including weekends. There was a lot of negative cash flow going on. We originally thought that around the 12th or 13th month we would break even. That didn’t happen until the 19th month.” But Chachra was determined. The founding director of the Center for Library Automation at Virginia Tech had spirited the development of novel software to automate library processes. The technology was unlike any other in the world. And Chachra had a marketing strategy.

“Our vision was not to limit our marketplace to the United States — we would go global from the start,” Chachra said. “Very early in the game I traveled around the world, just buying around-the-world tickets that allowed you to go anywhere you wanted. I would just keep going, eastward or westward, stopping at all the major capitals that would be candidates for library automation. Along the way I would write letters, saying, ‘I am coming to your country. I would like to meet the national librarian. Would he or she be available to discuss a new technology?’ The ones I met — some would listen and just nod their heads. Others listened and had questions. But these were absolutely, 100 percent cold calls. The people I talked to weren’t looking to buy a system or anything like that.”

His first success came in Australia, when a single university agreed to buy the VTLS package. The jackpot was Finland. It was 1986, and the VTLS paradigm was about to change dramatically. In typical style, Chachra had arranged a meeting with a stranger, Antti Soini, the director of the Finnish National Library ITgroup. Chachra’s best expectation was to discuss a contract to automate a single library. Before long, the Finnish minister of education entered the conversation. “The minister of education was very forward-thinking,” Chachra said. “He said, ‘Don’t talk about one library — talk about all the university libraries in Finland.’”

Chachra would go on to visit Finland six times, working out details of a three-year project. The result was a contract for $1.8 million to automate 19 libraries. And then, almost as a bonus, something unlikely happened. “The minister believed the value of Finnish currency would fall against the dollar, and asked if we would be willing to accept prepayment for the work we would do in the next two years,” Chachra said. “It was wonderful. It got us funding in advance to grow the company, while we financed the delivery of the product.”

Chachra had learned how to build an enterprise from nothing since his birth. His family had migrated from what is now Pakistan to India. With no belongings, the family emerged from essentially a refugee environment solely because Chachra’s father, Nand Lal Chachra, was able to work. “My father said they can take away all your possessions, but they can’t take away your education. He was educated; he could find a job, and over the years he settled his whole family — brothers, nieces, nephews — everybody,” Chachra acknowledged.

So, Chachra attended the Indian Institute of Technology, where he received the gold medal for being the best-performing student. He came to Virginia Tech and earned his Ph.D. in industrial engineering and operations research, and eventually would join the faculty. Soon, another formative moment occurred. T. Marshall Hahn Jr., the 11th president of Virginia Tech who is credited with guiding the institution from college status to major research university level, singled Chachra out.

“After being at work in Burrus Hall for only a week, I saw this gentleman walk by. He looked at me and said, ‘You’re Vinod Chachra, and we are looking for good things from you.’ Here was the president of this institution, who sees a newly hired person, knows him by name, and can say a meaningful statement,” Chachra said. “I was tremendously impressed.” With the mantle of expectation upon him, good things followed. From 1972 to 1985, Chachra successively assumed roles of director of software development, director of computing and information systems, vice provost, and then vice president of computing and information systems.

VTLS began in 1975 as Virginia Tech Library Systems, an automated circulation and cataloguing system created for Newman Library. After more than five years of producing software and building a model for library networking, Chachra was asked by then Virginia Tech President William E. Lavery to lead the university’s first spinoff company. Lavery, who helped envision Virginia Tech’s CRC, thought Chachra was a prime candidate to help the university flex its economic development muscles. Virginia Tech was the majority stockholder in VTLS Inc., and Chachra, who had always been sure to “save resources for a rainy day,” purchased a stake in the company.

From the beginning, Chachra thought it was important to move VTLS outside of the traditional university framework for it to be successful. He explained that in a university setting, investigators and administrators must scrape for funding and regulatory approvals before research and development can even start. In a corporate setting, leaders can take a good idea, finance its R&D, and move it to the marketplace.

VTLS was in constant evolution. In the beginning, “there was a system to manage circulation, another to do purchasing, yet another to manage sales. We integrated all these components and called it library automation,” Chachra said. “Today, the old integrated systems are completely gone. We don’t even call the present systems by the old names. What we do is a continuous process of development. Practically every quarter we release new software, with new features, new capabilities, and new interfaces, and the base technology becomes obsolete. When that happens, you start over. It was during one of these moments, when we were starting our present product, when Virginia Tech decided, it was not going to take the risk and cashed out.” Today the VTLS acronym stands for Visionary Technology in Library Solutions, and it became an international leader in integrated library automation, digital asset management, and radio frequency identification technology. With six offices around the globe, it had a customer base spanning more than 1,900 libraries in 43 countries.

In southwest Virginia VTLS received the Roanoke-Blacksburg Technology Council Hall of Fame award. And Chachra was a 2013 inaugural inductee of Virginia Tech’s Entrepreneurial Hall of Fame, a premier group of six mostly former engineering faculty members. VTLS’ global reputation allowed Chachra to sell the company in May of 2014 to Innovative, a provider of integrated library system software, based in Emeryville, California. He stayed on for six months as its Vice President of Global Expansion, traveling the globe one last time for VTLS, making two trips to Asia and another to Europe, to ensure a smooth transition of customers, technologies, and products.

In his CRC office overlooking a forest of buildings where once there were only trees, Chachra admitted combining his company with a larger one, forcing some of his 80 employees to relocate, was “hard for me personally.” But some opted for retirement; others were happy to make the transition, and now 27 remain with the new company and are still working from Blacksburg. Chachra retains his CRC office, using it for one of his first post-retirement jobs. The information technology guru is chairing the Broadband Committee to bring high-speed Internet to Blacksburg. This effort, supported by Virginia Tech, the town of Blacksburg, and the business community, has a goal of making an initial installation by August of 2015 and a completion date of 2017 when most of Blacksburg’s population should have access.

Chachra is a member of the Ut Prosim society of Virginia Tech and the College of Engineering Committee of 100. He is a past member of the advisory boards of the College of Engineering and the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering (ISE). ISE also inducted him into its Academy of Distinguished Alumni. He is the author of two books and numerous journal articles.

Vinod Chachra, PhD was inducted into the Southwest Virginia Business Hall of Fame in 2018.

Dr. Cynda Johnson

Cynda Ann Johnson was born in a little Kansas farming town in 1951. Her father worked as a railroad telegraph operator, and her earliest memories were of living at train stations.  “They had these little towers in rural places in Kansas. My mother and I would trot along with him, and each tower had a little apartment,” she said.  Cynda never had a job in her youth but worked hard to keep up her grades as a top student. Cynda describes herself as a “self-starter from the age of two”.

Cynda graduated first in her high school class of six hundred twenty-nine students in Johnson County KS. Cynda’s CDC internship was her first real job upon graduation from high school – she studied perpetual Hela cells of Henrietta Lacks.  She obtained a full scholarship to Stanford University and pursued a major in German with a specialty in old Germanic language and German expressionist drama for fun.  Throughout middle and high school she liked the construction of language.  She heard other women in the dorm talking about premed, and it piqued her interest.  “One night, on my way home from the Stanford library, I called my parents and I said, ‘I think I’m going to be a doctor and go to medical school.’ And they said, ‘That would be very nice, Cynda. You just do whatever you want to do.’ And I said, ‘OK. Good.’”

Johnson had met but one doctor, the one her mom took her to when she wasn’t well. But she figured out from asking the other students what classes she would need to take, and when she graduated, she had a second major in biology.  Cynda had secured the Aid Association for Lutherans All-College Scholarship for her entire four years at Stanford.

She then got into medical school at UCLA. The early days in med school- sort of felt like startups/entrepreneurship when she shepherded both adapting to med school concepts and then merging into the VTCSOM. Cynda started her residency in 1977 and upon completion of that step she was on the faculty right away as the interim chair at University of Kansas. Coinciding with this faculty position she was finishing a teaching fellowship in North Carolina that required research and commuting south to be on campus 3-4 times a year. 

She raised two sons, with her husband Bruce, and were both always on call at the University of Kansas medical faculty She was an obstetrician and served as chair of the family medicine department.  Cynda delivered someone else’s baby the day before she delivered both of hers and then three days later. She and her husband both took a departure from their normal routines and went to England on a sabbatical for a year from 1988-89 to write lots of papers for promotion and conducted several projects.  Cynda researched areas of women in medicine—careers of women physicians in England and they did a large project on married doctor couples.  Bruce did that with Cynda and worked in a district hospital doing geriatrics.  Their boys went to St. Neots’, which turned 100 while they were students there.  It was across the forest from the house they lived in, so every school day they would walk the boys through the Bramhall Forest in their wellies.  The couple decided that when their sons graduated from high school they’d embark on the next phase of their careers.

Beginning in 1999, Johnson became professor and head of the Department of Family Medicine at the University of Iowa Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine. She was also director of the University of Iowa Family Care Center, the clinical site for family medicine, general medicine, and pediatrics.  At her six-month review, the dean and CEO said she should think about being a dean. “I was really, like, what?  Nationally, I was known.  I was the first woman president of the American Board of Family Medicine and eventually of the American Board of Medical Specialties,” she said, but she hadn’t thought of heading a medical school.

They groomed her with increasing leadership roles, and when a job came open in 2003 at East Carolina University Brody School of Medicine, Johnson was ready. “I liked being a dean for the faculty and students, but the boss created an environment that was really tough on me.”  acknowledging that her gender played a role, but adding that others found him challenging, too.

In 2006, she was appointed a vice chancellor for clinical and translational research and developed ECU’s Center for Health Disparities Research. Dr. Ralph Whatley, a senior vice president at Carilion Clinic, was Johnson’s chair of medicine at ECU. “He said, ‘You know what? I went to this place for an interview, and they are going to start a medical school, and I think you would like that. I told them I knew you, and they’d like you.’ That I had done the year of working for the research division was very appealing to Virginia Tech, and my clinic experience was appealing to Carilion,” she said.

Roanoke’s medical community was in turmoil over Carilion’s decision to transform from a hospital system with family practices into a clinic, like Mayo’s and Cleveland’s, that would integrate patient care into teams that would offer specialties and subspecialties. Carilion lacked a major component: a medical school. Roanoke didn’t even have a university within the city’s limits. Virginia Tech’s then-president Charles Steger, wanted to break into the biomedical field. Then-Carilion CEO Ed Murphy needed an academic partner. Together they decided to build a medical school that would require students to tackle research and would train them to work as a team with every other type of health care provider. What they wanted hadn’t been done in the United States.

In January 2007, Carilion Clinic, Virginia Tech, and the governor of Virginia announced plans for the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine and Research Institute. In November of that year, Carilion Clinic and Virginia Tech announced that Johnson would be the school’s founding dean. One of Johnson’s first meetings was with Carilion Clinic physicians. “After I gave my talk I said, ‘So who is kind of interested in this?’ And I basically looked at a room of blank faces. I thought, ‘Oh, dear, I’ve got a lot of work to do.’” Johnson hadn’t thought faculty recruitment would be tough. “It hadn’t occurred to me that there were going to be all these physicians, who are good docs, but either chose purposefully or neutrally not to work at a medical school. So, they didn’t come here at that time to become part of the medical school,” she said.  Now they come because of it.

Choosing the right people to work with in Roanoke was key, she said. “Honestly, it was hard,” Johnson said. “But we did it by knowing where we were going and having a mission statement and living with it. And knowing what our four domains were — basic science, clinical science, research and the interprofessional piece — and not getting swayed and wooed by too many good ideas.”

One of the first people brought on was Mike Friedlander to create the companion research center. “To have us co-locate and collaborate, we could both put our energy into fully developing our area of expertise on parallel tracks moving bigger, better, faster, and always dovetailing. That model turned out well,” she said. Johnson said she talked with so many groups and realized early on that if she didn’t want to be looking at blank faces, she needed to start by explaining how doctors are trained and what the school could do for the community. “I knew I needed Roanoke, and I wanted them to see this as their school and embrace it because it could be good for everybody,” Johnson said.

The research institute quickly filled. Construction on another building that will double its size is underway and will serve as an anchor for Tech’s health sciences campus, which is expected to bring more programs and hundreds of students and faculty to Roanoke. The medical school opted not to increase its class size until more researchers are in place. Johnson early on created a master plan in public health for Virginia Tech to form tracks for veterinary medicine and one for the medical school. Over the years, medical students have said their experiences learning and working alongside nursing, therapy and EMT students on team projects differ from anything they would have gotten elsewhere.

The idea is that each discipline brings unique skills, and that collaborating on care means patients benefit. VTC has used a team approach, too, in selecting its students. The school invites community members to help select candidates with the potential to be thought leaders. “I always wonder: If I was the same person, and it is now, would I have figured out how to do the right things, to do the right preparation. Because I didn’t have any of the types of preparation our students have now,” Johnson said. “So, I have a serious interest in diversity of our students. Diversity of knowledge and diversity of experiences can be so good.”

Fewer than two years after her arrival, the school welcomed its first class on August 2, 2010, and received full accreditation without citations by the Liaison Committee for Medical Education after the charter class graduated in May 2014.  Past medical school concepts were pass/fail problem-based curriculums – the new school had groups of seven students learn together – rewarded students for supporting each other.   Every student entered a residency program, one measure of a school’s quality.

During her tenure, five classes of students have graduated; each class has exceeded the national mean score on Step 1 and Step 2 licensing exams and has earned a 100 percent match rate to residency programs.

The school received more than 1,600 applications for its charter class; in each of the last four years, it received more than 4,000 applications for just 42 spots. This past summer there were 4,400 applicants.

VTCSOM was an independently accredited private school; July 1, 2018, it became integrated into Virginia Tech as the university’s ninth college with Carilion Clinic as a partner providing faculty and the clinical experience for students, making this the right jumping-off spot for Johnson 67 to retire. “It’s really great timing for myself and for the next person and for recruiting a new dean because they just have a world of opportunities to look anew at being part of Virginia Tech and what that could mean,” she said.

“Not too many people these days can say they built a medical school from the ground up, particularly one with such a stellar reputation,” offered Nancy Howell Agee, President, and CEO of Carilion Clinic, who was part of the hiring committee that selected Johnson. “We knew we needed someone special for the job, and Cynda surpassed expectations — not only ours, but the community’s — at every step of the way.” Thanks to Cynda’s tireless work, the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine is one of the top research-intensive medical schools in the country,” said Timothy Sands, president of Virginia Tech.

When Johnson was hired as dean, the intent was for the school to have a five-year curriculum to allow a year for dedicated research. Johnson advocated that students could incorporate an intensive focus on research in a four-year curriculum to reduce the time and cost to earn a degree. As evidence of the value of this research-intensive program, from 2014 to 2017 – which encompasses four graduating classes of 160 students – VTCSOM students authored 58 publications. During the same time span, more than 250 VTCSOM students gave research presentations at regional, national, and international conferences.

Johnson is also credited with establishing the first Department of Interprofessional within U.S. medical schools. As part of the core curriculum, students take classes and learn with other health professional students – in such disciplines as nursing, physician assistant, occupational therapy, and EMT/paramedic, among others – in all four years of the curriculum. The goal is for students to learn how to work best as a health care team to improve patient outcomes.

“One of the amazing things about starting a new school was we could look at the trends and see what the next generation of physicians will need to be successful, such as training in interprofessional and research to improve patient outcomes and build the curriculum to meet those needs. That is harder to do in well-established schools,” said Johnson. “We also built the curriculum to remain flexible so we can continually adapt and ensure we can meet our mission to develop the next generation of physician thought leaders.”

Cynda’s knowledge was well served as a board member of the following entities: Carilion Medical Center, Friendship Retirement Community, Roanoke Valley Sister Cities, Roanoke Regional Chamber, Hollins University President’s Advisory Board, and the University of Kansas School of Medicine Deans Advisory Board.  Past president of the American Board of Family Practice (now Family Medicine) and the American Board of Medical Specialties. Johnson serves on professional boards, including the AAMC Group on Student Affairs Steering Committee; the AMA Section on Medical Schools Governing Council; the Commonwealth Health Research Board.

Dr. Cynda Johnson was inducted into the Southwest Virginia Business Hall of Fame in 2019.

James R. Smith

James R. Smith was born on May 15, 1949, in Roanoke.  His education was a result of the three J’s: Jameson Elementary, Jackson Middle and Jefferson High School.  Jim also graduated from Virginia Western and Virginia Tech. His parents, both hard working individuals, hailed from elsewhere before moving to Roanoke. His mother grew up in a family of coal miners in Mc Dowell County, West Virginia, and eventually became a cafeteria worker at Stonewall Jackson Middle School. His father, originally from Wytheville, VA, grew up in a family that ran a country store and sawmill.  His father would go on to serve as a Roanoke City fire fighter and captain for thirty years.  Jim’s father and mother decided Roanoke would be a great place to start a family with a variety of job opportunities. They had two daughters, followed by Jim as the third child.  They became members of Waverly Baptist Church.  During his upbringing, Jim enjoyed school, he played baseball, football and served as captain of the school’s wrestling team.  His high school superlative was “most popular”, a superlative he shared with his wife, Augustine. 

Jim is quick to add that outside of school he realized he was a “natural born merchant.”  At the age of six he joined the workforce of a small orchard, picking fruit for the local farmer’s market.  His pay was in fruit that did not go to market.  However, Jim hauled away his produce earnings in a little wagon.  Jim went door to door, selling his produce to the elder neighbors who paid in cash.  Depending on the time of year, he would sell other items in the neighborhood.  Around Christmas he peddled painted pinecones. Other times he would sell chicken potholders that his grandma made.  As he grew older, Jim recognized that other firefighters, like his dad, worked 24-hour shifts.  Jim made himself available to mow their grass, clean out their garages, wash their cars and shovel snow.

 The consummate entrepreneur, Jim enjoyed business, economics, and math.  He had an independent streak which motivated him to leave home at the age of seventeen.  Far from luxury, Jim’s attic apartment had bare light bulbs and a shared bathroom.  However, it was affordable on his salary at the local Save-A -Stop warehouse, where he worked from 4 to midnight.  He would get in a few winks before heading off to high school.  Jim assisted his firefighter dad on odd jobs as a plumbers’ assistant which usually meant working in crawl spaces under houses.  He also soared to great heights painting church steeples in the area. 

Jim signed up for the VA National Guard completing his training after high school graduation at Fort Polk.  He received medical training at Fort Sam in Houston, Texas.  He then turned his attention to furthering his education at Virginia Western Community College.   After two years of taking odd classes Jim says, “I had to bring the plane in for a landing after circling the airport a number of times.”  Jim ultimately earned an associate degree in business administration and a bachelors in Sociology at Virginia Tech in 1974.  But Jim had a strong interest in the subject of objectivity and in how to understand information based on quantifiable findings.  He believed one should not be influenced by personal biases, in other words “don’t put your thumb on the scale so it comes out like you want it.” His favorite read on the subject is “Super Forecasting” by Philip E. Tetlock and Dan Gardner.

After graduation, Jim’s career path began with the Southwest Virginia Training Center in Hillsville, Virginia.  A training center developed under the leadership of Governor Linwood Holton.

Jim went on to work for 5 years at the Department of Mental Health and Retardation as the Business Office Manager at Catawba Hospital.  This led to a career with Blue Cross/Blue Shield running the CHAMPUS division that processed claims for the military service and their dependents, plus Medicare.  This job covered seven states and ultimately led to a position with the Department of Defense.  Jim then developed nursing homes and other senior housing facilities. 

The combination of these experiences gave way to learning about the needs in our region for quality care of the aging population.  Jim decided to establish his own development firm, Smith/Packett Med-Com, in 1982.  He devised a matrix defining where condos, senior independent and assisted living facilities should be located considering square footage, access, cost of materials, regulations, and targeted population/occupants/ income stream.  This matrix allows him to determine if a project is feasible and where best to locate.   Utilizing a service-based system, he was able to provide what people wanted where they wanted it.

Smith/Packett, now a 38-year-old business, started with the first facility in Bland County named the George B. Kegley Manor.  Kegley was a much-admired general practitioner in Bastian, VA. This first nursing home for the area was constructed in 1985.  The whole development process was like Pandora’s box.  First, the promise of an established county water source was not adequate. So, Jim had to create the first full water system that not only served his sixty-bed building but the entire town.  Then, his facility became a major attraction because it featured the first elevator in the County.  There was no sewage system so that had to be developed as well.

The rapid growth of the company resulted in multiple partners building on an average of six nursing homes per year.  By the fifth year of business, Jim became a solo owner.  Within his career, he has developed well over 200 facilities that now include independent and memory care facilities. This led to the formulation of three companies designed to support the entire foundation. 

  1. Smith Packett – 38 years – A development company with 53 employees.
  2. Harmony -Management/Human Resources – 10 years – An operating company with 63 corporate employees and over 2,200 community employees. 
  3. Wessex Investments – pursuing new endeavors, investments, and growth – 5 years and based in Charleston SC with 7 employees.

Jim, being the founder of Smith/Packett, Harmony Senior Services and Wessex Capital has experience in the development and operation of senior housing facilities from the Northeast to Florida, all east of the Mississippi River.  Over the years, Jim has strategically led his companies in their growth and management of over $1.250 billion in assets. His ability to work through complex structures while creating value has allowed him to assemble a diverse portfolio of high-quality assets that produce reliable and growing cash flows. He has focused on forming predictable, steadfast partnerships with investors, financial institutions, and operators to provide clients with a strong team capable of withstanding changing market conditions.

Jim’s most challenging development in the Roanoke Valley had been the development of South Peak.  Jim proposed to Roanoke County that the intersection of interstate 220 and Electric Road should be looked at as the gateway to Roanoke.  After almost five years of meetings and the filing of 54 zoning applications, the location became home to a mixed-use development with condominiums, a hotel and a restaurant that provided the county with a stronger tax base and opportunities for employment.

Jim has extensive experience in reimbursement payor systems and is a recognized expert in Medicare and Medicaid and other long-term care issues. As a result, he frequently serves on national and state committees on reimbursement reform. He has served multiple terms on the Board of the Division of Medical Assistance for the Commonwealth of Virginia and Virginia Tech’s Board of Visitors. Jim also served on the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine’s Board in Roanoke and was the first independent Chairperson of this Board.

Jim now resides in a Charleston, South Carolina home, the John Ashe house which was built around 1770.  The house was once a brief headquarters in 1780 for Cornwallis during the Revolutionary war.

Jim believes the primary factor in our success as a country is the rule of law.  “We are a people of the law.  That means truth, fair play, and an even break.  When you lie or cheat you have done a disservice to yourself, disrespect to others and undermined the endeavor at hand.”  Secondly, he states, “I believe in kindness and the ability to see in others what we see in ourselves.  We are more alike than we are different from each other so stop and reach out a hand, bend down to pick someone else up.  No one is ever stronger than when they share someone else’s burden.

James R. Smith was inducted into the Southwest Virginia Business Hall of Fame in 2019.

Deborah Petrine

Deborah L. Petrine was born to a mother who was one of eleven children in the Glenvar area in Roanoke County.  Her mother Dorothy King Martin, like women of the era was a homemaker and tended to her two children.  Her children describe her as the strongest person they have ever known.

Debbie’s father Gerald Martin was also a Virginia native who grew up in Goodview and the Mt. Pleasant neighborhood before settling with his young family in Glenvar.  Most people recall that her dad was one of the nice guys, his career began with the NS railroad which kept him away from home a good deal until Debbie turned 15.  Upon his retirement from the railroad, he began a second career and owned/operated a gas station and repair shop on Route 460. 

Young Debbie attended Ft. Lewis Elementary for grades K-7 and then went on to Glenvar High School during the first year the high school had a senior class.  Her high school years began with Debbie wanting to accomplish her dream of becoming a majorette, but to make that happen she had to be a member of the band, and participate in concert season, quickly she learned how to play the clarinet.  She made her dream come true and in the last two years of school she left behind the majorette role to become a cheerleader and became captain of the squad her senior year. Debbie was also a member of the yearbook staff.  Her academic performance was strong and instead of studying in her later years of high school she worked in the school office.  The time spent in the office allowed her to perfect her typing skills.  During the school year Debbie also did bookkeeping for her father’s gas station and her brother learned how to repair trucks at the same time.

Her poise and focus on a goal led to her applying to her being selected to the Miller-Rhodes department store teen board, along with this role of representing her school she modeled clothes on the runway in the store’s tearoom. Her time at Glenvar HS led to the start of many opportunities including a part-time job at the local John Deere dealer.  The location had never had a secretary and thought their best tactic would be to ask if the school could recommend a good student typist.  Without hesitation Debbie was the first person they suggested, and she was able to earn much needed money to begin paying for her post high school education.  Debbie was a first-generation college student and started her advanced education journey at Virginia Western Community College before finishing her undergrad work at Virginia Tech.

Once at VT she was only able to secure wait staff work that would fit her study schedule, this was a great concern knowing the price tag for attending college. Debbie recalled that the Sales Manager at the John Deere dealership had shared how proud he was of her being accepted at VT and said if there was ever “anything I can do for you, please give me a call”.    In addition, Debbie had made this sales manager a convert from dictating to someone who wrote in shorthand to being impressed with her speed in typing his dictations with accuracy.  Well, with Debbie’s limited on campus work options she felt that she needed to reach for a lifeline and called the sales manager.  He reminded her of a John Deere customer who not only bought parts for machines but owned other businesses like a health care facility in the New River area and suggested she call him.  Her immediate reaction to the health care suggestion was that they were seeking a CNA and she knew that was not her goal or her strength.

That one call led to her being placed amid a business deal typing up documents for a big project a “certificate of need” for the growing health care center in Blacksburg.  As fall rolled around, they asked Debbie to stay on and she was more than willing, thinking “I got a real job”.  They continued to work around her academic schedule.  She literally grew up at the Heritage Hall facility, progressing from receptionist to Administrator of the facility working daily with the two owners.

Her super typing skills had put her in the driver’s seat for the rest of her working career upon graduation from VT in 1978.  Debbie then enrolled in the A-I-T Preceptor program to take on the role of Administrator, and on to Regional Administrator, Purchase agent, Human Resources Director, and Director of Administrative Services (working with vendors) this twenty-year journey of being with Heritage Hall was engaging because of the staff, team spirit and positive impact they had on residents.  Debbie’s talent was recognized by the Chair of the company who approached her in February of 1987 to offer the position of COO/ President which she accepted.   In this new role she was witness to and the driving force of the business growing from a few to eighteen skilled nursing facilities, eight assisted living centers, a Home Health Company and a pharmacy company.   Yet, Debbie’s vast knowledge of Certificates of Need developed her skills and tenacity to bargain, testify and envision facilities with improved services for a rehabilitating and an aging population.  She sums up her joy in the leadership of health care facilities is working with multitudes of people, solving problems, and making life better for those entrusted to her companies’ care.  

Like anyone who grows up and receives their education you need to leave the nest and see what else the world has to offer, this was the case for Debbie.  Her informative years in the nursing care industry at Heritage Hall lasted 20 years with the one organization, it was time for her to put her knowledge to work in a different setting.  As a result of her leadership roles, she had met many health care leaders and owners at seminars and workshops and one individual who was changing the senior living landscape with new adult health care facilities was real estate developer James R. Smith.

Debbie was blessed to have the encouragement of husband Jim, an entrepreneur who had already established his successful business and with that she went into partnership with Mr. Smith in 1995 after sketching out their terms of the business on the back of an envelope at lunch.  The business theory they agreed upon was to build the business to a certain size and then sell.  Debbie’s extensive knowledge about operations and development led to founding a business to create more facilities while signing onto debt and earning ownership through “sweat equity”.  Debbie was the one that brought the operations side, and Jim provided funds and keen development acumen, but the infancy of the business was challenging.  One of the situations that arose was in Richmond, VA where the state took over a facility that had lost Medicare and Medicaid funding due to non-compliance with state and federal regulations.  Debbie was hired by Medicaid to get the facility in compliance and fully certified.  This work jumpstarted the business.  Jim and Debbie replaced many older facilities with modern facilities, policies and procedures were developed, and the company grew in a five-year span to fourteen facilities in Virginia and a managed facility in North Carolina, with another company divested 51% of the company with 49% remaining with Jim and Debbie and two other partners. Debbie continued to run the company until the remaining 49% was acquired. 

Six years in partnership with Jim Smith real estate developer led to Debbie, wanting more in the adult care industry and in 2001 she reached out to her husband and three partners whom she had a good prior working relationship with, to ask if they would step out with her to create a new destiny and business plan.  The new business CCR, Inc. (Commonwealth Care of Roanoke) was an opportunity to build a company, establish a culture and have control of their destiny.   They agreed and recognized Debbie’s strength and how passionate she was about the operations side of the business.  Two of the partners, (one has since retired) had senior positions in the business aligned with their expertise. 

Her vision was to build facilities that incorporate the name of the locale with a local feel and the new buildings’ culture and design would lend to making a positive difference for the residents and patients.  The reality is that for some residents this will be their last domicile. Skilled nursing facilities are expensive to build and to fill them up is expensive. You must take on risk, invest large sums of money and sign on to personal debt.  In her current position of Chairman & CEO, Debbie has more time dedicated to acquisition, advocacy, and the company’s “service excellence” culture. 

The first facility location was in Pennington Gap, VA in Lee County, the last town in Virginia before crossing over the border to TN. This acquisition happened in August and by January two more skilled nursing centers were developed in Radford and Clifton Forge.  Over the years the Commonwealth Care twelve skilled nursing facilities have stretched from the SW tip of Virginia to northern Virginia and with the growth the company has always looked at how to “build a better mouse trap”.  This theory has led to be a leader in the use of tele-health/tele-medicine.  Having a chance to participate in gerontology research/studies through Virginia Tech and Radford University that evaluates the impact of light on persons with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.  Getting a better understanding about why health is comprised from taking a fall, and how to prevent falls before they happen.  Services provided include wound care and diagnostics and looking for ways to continue participating in trial bases studies.

Debbie’s drive and attention to detail caught the eye of others in her industry and that led to several awards and appointments to the board. In 2005, Petrine received the Virginia Health Care Association’s James G. Dutton Award for lifetime achievement in the long-term care field. In 2010, she added a new responsibility to her already full schedule at CCR — serving as president of Longleaf Senior Living LLC, in North Carolina.

Giving back to the university is top priority for Petrine, who has been a member and chair of the advisory board for the management department at Pamplin and is currently a cabinet member on the Pamplin Advisory Council. She has also served as a chair and member on the advisory board for the Virginia Tech Center for Gerontology and on the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine Advisory Board, among several appointments.

Petrine received the Pamplin Distinguished Alumni Award in 2011, the same year she was tapped by the governor for the Board of Visitors. In 2013, she was put on the presidential search committee. “It was an exciting time — our decision would be shaping the future of the university — and I was very honored to be a part of it, especially as an alumna,” she said.

One of her most honored times in life was having Governor McDonnell appoint her to the Virginia Tech board of directors from 2011 to 2019.  She felt doubly honored when elected rector in 2014: “it is one thing to be appointed by the governor, but it is quite another to be trusted by your peers to lead them. “As for her pioneering role on the board, she said: “I honestly didn’t give a lot of thought to the female aspect, but I know that many women were excited, and I so appreciate that.”

Petrine said that her business expertise has been a definite asset, leading her to serve on and later chair the board’s finance and audit committee. She was the Board of Visitor liaison with the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine Integration Committee as the school was integrated as a college at Virginia Tech.  She continues to provide support and outreach on behalf of Roanoke VTC Academic Health Center which includes the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at Virginia Tech. During her time on the board, she was instrumental in the selection of Dr. Sands as the new college president his first year at VT was Debbie’s first year as rector, they served their rookie years together.  She also served at the time Coach Beamer retired and the search was on to find a coach that could uphold the legacy of VT football.

In the spring of 2019, Debbie was presented the Distinguished Alumni Award from Virginia Western Community College Education Foundation.   She serves as the Vice Chair on the VWCC Educational Foundation Board and chair of the Virginia Western Forward Endowment Fund initiative.   She also serves on the Feeding Southwest Virginia board of directors.

Her advice to young people is “you can make a difference in someone’s life every day. It can be positive or negative but focus on the positive. “Debbie wanted to share that a title doesn’t define your effectiveness as a leader.  Be a team player, led by example make the coffee for your employees, and make work pleasant.  When asked what she would say about her success, she stated for time spent at work you need to work hard, enjoy it and commit to a work/life balance.  She often encourages her staff not to miss life events “you don’t get a do over on some things”.

Deborah Petrine was inducted into the Southwest Virginia Business Hall of Fame in 2020.

Sandra Davis

Sandra Davis was born August 9, 1946, in the Indian Valley section of Floyd, VA, to loving parents.  Sandra spent free hours as a child reading and in high school, she played basketball and volleyball. In her junior year Sandra was inducted into the Beta Club, served as president of FHA and FBLA.  She also was the editor of the school newspaper and yearbook.   At 14 she attended 4-H camp at VT.  It was during her 14th year that her father had a heart attack that he eventually succumbed to, but not before he shared with his daughter how sad he was that with him transitioning there would be no money for college.  He advised Sandra to learn a trade or find a job with a bright future.  In addition to telling his daughter to look at courses in high school that would allow her choices in the workforce.

By the time high school graduation approached one of the most promising avenues to success, besides having a good job was to marry.  At the age of seventeen Sandra married Patrick Cupp and was a wife and headed to New River Community College night school.  At NRCC she took shorthand and a college prep course. Those courses made her realize she was a businessperson at heart.   The shorthand led to eight years at the State Health Department as a Supervisor/Health Director helping citizens in Radford and Giles County.

Marriage proved to be a fruitful partnership out of Floyd and to career choices in the NRV.  Growth in the job market did occur for Sandra in retail banking at Bank of Christiansburg (now Wells Fargo) where she had developed a strong relationship with co-workers and the community and in 14 years she was Senior VP.   Banking courses at UVA led to her handling commercial loans.   While in the loan department Sandra was on the cusp of understanding the ins and outs of purchasing residential and business buildings.  Before long, her knowledge of the real estate world along with a strong push from her husband, Sandra left banking to create her own business.   The business BCR Realty/Property grew because she and her husband saw a need for student housing, and they reviewed the multiple property inventory.  The couple started looking for other individuals who wished to sell property or enjoyed sales to first time homeowners and business owners and were ready to venture in developing multi-housing units.  Their first venture for multi-housing was in Radford, because they bought area homes for a fair price and their reputation was shared with others, making them welcome realtors in the city.  Business was growing and they relocated their offices to Radford and Blacksburg.

By the time BCR realty was in business for fourteen years Sandra and her first husband Patrick Cupp, built a team of realtors by providing a way for each of them to gain more realty experience and the Cupp’s personal motto was “with me, not for me”.  Sandra made certain to make a connection with all employees from maintenance to management and treated each with respect and appreciation.  The goal for BCR was to be a team player, honest, profitable, and visionary.  The business plan proved to be a valuable tool for success, until the unexpected occurred with the tragic death of Mr. Cupp in September 2000.  There is no script or business plan to help a wife navigate the loss of her husband and business partner.  However, the business team that had evolved over the 14 years at BCR did not waver and Sandra went on to keep the business running another twenty-two years.

At the helm of BCR Management, Sandra became committed to supporting education and economic development.  The fact that she could not attend college because of the lack of financial resources, made her more committed to learning from her many work experiences and service to the community. 
Sandra’s economic development passion comes from understanding the small and big pieces needed to ensure job creation and how education ties into the careers that are attainable by individuals.

Her good fortune as a business leader has led to her being a donor to a scholarship fund at VT in memory of her first husband who was an athlete at the institution. Her other education ties are as a board member for VT Foundation, VT Athletic Board, and the Campaign Steering Committee at Radford University.

Sandra has been a board member of GO Virginia/Region 2 that focuses on creating more high-paying jobs through incentivized collaboration between business, education, and government to diversify and strengthen the economy in every region.  In addition to serving on the Blacksburg Partnership and Carilion Board of Directors – Radford.  She is also seated on the board of the Business Council of Roanoke. She co-chairs the New River Passenger Rail Commission (Radford, Pulaski County, Giles, New River Valley).


William H. Ruffner Award – VT

Honorary Alumni -VT

Honorary Education degree – RU

Owner of the Year – Blacksburg C of C

Citizen of the Year – Montgomery C of C

Citizen of the Year – Blacksburg Rotary 

Sandra Davis was inducted into the Southwest Virginia Business Hall of Fame in 2022.

Dr. Michael Friedlander

Dr. Michael Friedlander received his B.S. in Biology from Florida State University, his Ph.D. in Physiology and Biophysics from the University of Illinois and did postdoctoral training in neurophysiology at the University of Virginia and SUNY Stony Brook. He is the founding president of the Association of Medical School Neuroscience Department Chairs (AMSNDC) and Chair of the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) Council of Academic Societies (CAS). Dr. Friedlander has served on various NIH and NSF panels. He is a member of the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives, and he serves as the Editor for the Neuroscience section of the Journal of Experimental Biology and Medicine and an Associate Editor on the cellular/molecular section of the Journal of Neuroscience. Dr. Friedlander is a recipient of the William Menninger Award for Mental Health Research and the University of Illinois Distinguished Alumnus in Molecular and Integrative Physiology.

On his maternal side of the family the grandparents fled Ireland during the potato famine in hopes of finding a job and a ready source of food for the entire family.  The couple made a new home in Greensburg, PA and had their daughter Phyllis and her two siblings.  Tragedy struck the Murtha family when both parents were killed in a car accident making the children orphans. Phyllis stayed in the state orphanage system until she became an emancipated minor while her siblings were growing up with an aunt and uncle.  This challenging childhood led the future Mrs. Friedlander to being self-sufficient, finding work in Pennsylvania to take care of her necessities.  At the approximate age of 17 she met and married Norris Friedlander upon his return from war, they chose to settle in Miami, FL and they started their family.

On the paternal side of the family the Friedlander’s fled Russia as religious refugees, the grandfather was 11 years old when he came to the U.S. and became a fought in WWI veteran.  His son Norris Friedlander followed in his father’s footsteps and joined the air force during WWII, as a result he had the G.I bill to pay for his education while he maintained odd jobs as a cab driver, postal worker and he earned his CPA degree.  

Both Phyllis and Norris raised their sons in Miami, Florida blocks away from the many animal habitats of the Everglades and quiet beaches, an idyllic place for their boys William and Michael who loved the outdoors. One of the fondest memories for young Friedlander was fishing on Fridays in the unique location where the ocean and the bay connected (“Haul Over Cut”).  No matter what the week was like, Friday was the one time that was carved out for the family fishing in the evening using live shrimp for bait to snag a shark or even a stingray along with a variety of fish caught for dining.  

Michael’s childhood was spent in Miami public schools and enjoyed most sports, particularly basketball, baseball, and surfing.   Another part of Michael’s middle school years was being a participant in his local Junior Achievement and developing entrepreneurial skills selling his company product door to door.  During these years President Kennedy was assassinated, and the principal announced the name change of the Junior High to JFK, the first school in the country to bear the name of the 35th president.

Michael was a graduate of North Miami Senior High School, and his early goal was to pursue a political science degree like his older brother and mentor at Florida State University, Tallahassee.  Michael witnessed the success his brother was having as an attorney and the work he was doing with the American Civil Liberties Union and because the two had shared so much growing up he knew pursuing his path would work for him.

Yet, there was a persistent tug at the heart strings for all things that existed in the Everglades.  Many times, growing up, he and neighborhood boys would slip off to the everglades without their parents knowing.  That biosphere was chock full of adventure and a variety of habitats existed in addition to the alligators, birds, little critters, the affinity for different life forms and how they came to be. 

This “need to know” about the creation of lifeforms kept rising “front of mind” for young Friedlander as he was pouring over political, landmark decisions and economics, creating a huge conflict within him.  Finally mid-way through his sophomore year in college he approached his academic advisor and informed him of his desire to switch from poli-sci and economics and pursue biology and chemistry.  This change of majors meant cramming in 21 credit hours during fall and spring at Florida State and summer classes at the University of Miami as he worked the nights as a bellman.

The new science and research classes kept him engaged and matched his thirst for knowledge. His first lab hours led to a research project in his junior year. The project was observing the olfactory nerves in a gar fish to understand electro physiology.   The research success caught the eye of his Univ. of Florida- Tallahassee mentor Dr. Dexter Easton who studied Electrical properties of nerve cells. and unlocked the key for Mike to earn credits at the same time as acquiring research funds for his next University.  Thanks to Dr. Easton’s recommendations young Friedlander was accepted to University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana to meet another amazing researcher Ladd Prosser whose research influenced Michael in their research of effects on fish brains because of environmental extremes that may lead to retardation.   He went on to pursue his graduate work with a degree in Physiology and Biophysics as a PhD.  His post-doctoral fellowship work was conducted at UVA. While at this institution Friedlander studied the structure and function of individual nerve cells in the brain that process vision.  His mentor during his graduate work was Professor Murray Sherman who convinced young Friedland to continue more research at SUNY -Stoney Brook where he studied for 18 months.

His tenacity in research led to a job offer from Dean Jim Pittman at the University of Alabama Birmingham.  The Dean was considered a principal architect of the School of Medicine in Birmingham, known for his ability to recruit and retain nationally and internationally known physicians and scientists to work at UAB, Pittman was dean for 19 years, from 1973 to 1992. After serving in several teaching and administrative positions, including director of the Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism and co-chair of the Department of Medicine, Pittman was appointed dean of the medical school in 1973.

Pittman had an abiding interest in graduate and medical students, challenging them to excel. In 1964, while a young faculty member, he established Medical Student Research Day, a program that continues 50 years later. He is credited with restoring a four-year medical school curriculum, replacing the 35-month program that was in place when he became dean, and creating space in the academic cycle for students to pursue research and service activities. He retired from the deanship in 1992.Friedlander’s style and concern for students appears to emulate that of Dean Pittman.

Pittman’s primary research interest was in thyroid physiology and disease. He was a popular visiting professor and lecturer at universities across the country and around the world, and received numerous professional awards, including the Abraham Flexner Award from the Association of American Medical Colleges, the Brotherhood Award from the National Conference of Christians and Jews, the Founders Medal from the Southern Society of Clinical Investigation, and honorary doctorates from Davidson College and UAB. He was inducted into the Alabama Academy of Honor in 1982.

While at UAB as a new faculty member Friedlander taught and conducted his own research, Dr. Pittman tapped him to grow into the position to build out the research studies and recruit other researchers.  Dr. Friedlander made strides in his twenty-five years at UAB as the founding Director of the Neurobiology Research Center, then the Founding Chair of the Department of Neurobiology and Director of the Civitan International Research Center. These three initiatives from 1996-2005 were recognized nationally for improving health and the impact our environment has on developing. During his time at UAB he was an endowed faculty with being awarded the first Evelyn F. McKnight Professor of Learning and Memory in Aging (2004-2005).

The years of research and securing funding to unveil the root of health concerns and finding cures has been the stuff that would keep Friedlander steeped in discovering another formula or solution, but he started to wonder if there were options he had not pursued now that he had 25 years in one place.  His curiosity led him to being invited to Roanoke Virginia to build a program from the ground up.  The right people showed up to grab Friedlander’s interest in Roanoke, Virginia.  Roanoke offered him the opportunity to connect with Virginia Tech and Charles Steger and Carilion’s Dr. Ed Murphy.  The two gentlemen painted a bright future that would flip the region from a train to brain economy.  The goal was to form a team to create the infrastructure for a Research Institute starting with funding, creating labs, purchasing equipment, building out the technology, marketing and of course a human resources department.  This free-market multiplier effect has equated to 80 people that now occupy the largest footprint in Riverside. 

Dr. Friedlander enjoyed this opportunity to develop Fralin Bio-medical research institute because of his knack for attracting talented people and his “joy in others success plus the joy in research.”  The ripple effect of building this new research institute has increased the economic strength for Roanoke valley.  Dr. Friedlander has put his energy into the Fralin Bio-Medical Research Institute with focus on brain disorders, cardiac, vascular, brain cancer, Parkinson’s’ disease, and Multiple Sclerosis.   Dr. Friedlander reports directly to the VT Provost and works in conjunction with the VT/ Carilion Medical School each institute is rapidly gaining national recognition evidenced by their medical school graduates all having tremendous success on “match day”.

The wonderful spinoff of FBRI is the Animal Cancer Care and Research Center that has expanded the amount of research to cure humans of cancer.  This new opportunity to analyze animals has led to innovative diagnostics and techniques, often using genetic analysis that are comparable to human genetics.

Dr. Friedlander’s success as a renowned researcher has led to key leadership as Vice President of Health Sciences and Technology at Virginia Tech University and Executive Director of Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VT Carilion and senior Dean for Research at VTC School of Medicine.  He has built FBRI’s research programs to over $140 Million in grants with 37 research teams and over 400 investigators and students.

Dr. Friedlander serves on the advisory board of the D. C. /Children’s National Hospital Research- VT Research on the old Walter Reed campus with concentration on cancer, behavioral, cardiac and brain studies. He has served as the principal investigator on multiple research grants on brain processes that mediate vision, developmental plasticity, and traumatic brain injury.

Outside of his university leadership Friedlander is the founding president of the Association of medical School Neuroscience Department Chairs, he has served as Chair of the Council of Academic Societies of the Association of American Medical Colleges- representing over 90 medical and scientific societies.  – AAMC joint task force on the Scientific Foundations of Future Physicians, and as an AAMC    Distinguished Service Member.  He served as Chair of the National Association of Intellectual Disabilities Research Centers, as President of the Society for Experimental Biology and Medicine (EBM) where he was also elected to the inaugural class of EBM Fellows and was elected as a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Friedlander is a recipient of an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Fellowship in Neuroscience that included a cash award, an NIH Fogarty Center Senior International Research Fellowship to the Australian National University, a Lucille Markey Foundation Center Award, a W.M. Keck Foundation Center Award, the American College of Physicians’ Menninger Award for Mental Health Research, the University of Illinois Distinguished Alumnus Award and   the   Distinguished  Scientist Award from the Society of Experimental Biology and Medicine. He held visiting Professorships at Oxford University, the Australian National University, and the U. of Paris.

Dr. Michael Friedlander was inducted into the Southwest Virginia Business Hall of Fame in 2022.

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