John Vaughn

John Vaughn was born in Blackstone in 1925, he attended Blackstone elementary and Blackstone high school. The family moved to Newport News in 1941 where his father worked as an electrician in the shipyards. Young john took the change in stride graduating from Morrison high school as class president and valedictorian at the age of 17. After graduation, he worked in the shipyards himself, but continued to study, taking, and passing the navy’s officer training exam known as the v-12 – which landed him at Duke University.

He graduated from duke in 1947 with a degree in electrical engineering and the rank of ensign in the naval reserves. While at duke he met Audrey hatcher – a nursing student from Roanoke. They dated for two years, and during that time john also became acquainted with the star city as he visited Audrey’s family in Roanoke. In 1947, the couple married.  Audrey became an instructor in the school of nursing at Roanoke memorial hospital, and john took a job with Appalachian Power as a power sales engineer.

John’s job in those days was to convince businesses with their own generators that it would be cheaper to buy power from APCO, with the slogan, “a good product at a good price.” Vaughan began taking steps up the career ladder in 1949 when he was appointed district commercial manager in Fieldale.  Meaning among other things he and Audrey needed to re-locate and buy their first car for 2400 dollars. – a lot of money for a man making about 200 dollars a month!

By 1955 the family was back in Roanoke, where there were more advancements at APCO.  First as district commercial manager, then Roanoke division commercial manager, and in 1960 system supervisor of commercial and industrial sales. In ‘61 john and the family moved to Boston for a year, so he could participate in the Sloan fellowship at MIT, where he would study and spend time meeting world business and political leaders from Bobby Kennedy to the German prime minister.

Upon completion of his masters at MIT it was back to Virginia where he led the company’s efforts in Lynchburg from ‘66 to ‘70. Beginning in the 60’s the second generation of electrical users evolved – and while they wanted convenience, they also had serious questions about the environment. It was during this time that John Vaughan’s leadership and intellect were so important to the power company. In 1957, he advised a Junior Achievement Company Program that fashioned cookie sheets from aluminum and received national attention for their efforts. According to JA minute books, John Vaughan was nominated to fill a vacancy on the Roanoke JA Board of directors in November 1962. This level of involvement was initiated by Mr. Vaughan’s APCO predecessors and has spanned the decades.  Today, Appalachian management mirrors Mr. Vaughan’s board tenure and continues to mentor JA students in both Roanoke and Lynchburg, raises funds and sets policy for the organization.”

The demand for power brought with it the need for new power plants and transmission lines. The energy crisis of the early 70’s brought its own problems for energy suppliers and APCO pursued several unpopular rate increases. Vaughan was named executive vice president and chief operating officer in 1973.  He steered the company through countless hearings in front of government committees and angry citizens in Richmond, Charleston, WV, and Washington – often taking the brunt of the criticism and answering probing questions himself.  One news account says he never flinched in the face difficulty, and never hesitated to do what was best for the utility.

He spent the final 17 years of his career as company president, where he considers among his many successes, the creation of the neighbor-to-neighbor program, the conversion of Roanoke’s streetlights to high pressure sodium, and the mountaineer plant which holds the record for continuous power operation. John also served actively on such boards as Dominion Bankshares, community hospital, Carilion, Hollins College and the Virginia Foundation for Independent Colleges.   He served as campaign chair of the United Way and president of both the Roanoke and Lynchburg United Way organizations. He was a member of the Governor’s Industrial Development Services advisory board, and president of the Public Utilities’ Association of Virginia. In December of 1989, APCO named its new service center the “John W. Vaughan Center” in his honor. He was inducted into the Southwest Virginia Business Hall of Fame in 2004.

John Vaughn was inducted into the Southwest Virginia Business Hall of Fame in 2004.

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