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Beazley Foundation Commits $500K to ODU’s College of Health Sciences

By Harry Minium

Since its founding in 1948, the Beazley Foundation has donated millions of dollars to organizations such as hospitals, schools, senior centers and food banks that help improve Hampton Roads' quality of life.

Therefore, when Judge Richard S. Bray, president and CEO of the Beazley Foundation, saw Old Dominion University dental hygiene students providing care to underserved area residents, he was moved to support their efforts.

Several years ago, Bray convinced the Beazley Foundation's board to donate more than $250,000 to purchase new equipment for the School of Dental Hygiene. This spring, the Beazley Foundation made a $500,000 commitment to ODU's College of Health Sciences endowment fund that will assist the University in treating patients and training health-care professionals.

"Judge Bray is so committed to improving the health care in the Hampton Roads region," said Bonnie Van Lunen, dean of the College of Health Sciences. "He and the Beazley Foundation have been exceedingly generous throughout the region, but also to the College of Health Sciences. And we're very grateful."

The Beazley Foundation started with donations provided by the family of Fred W. Beazley, including his wife, Marie C. Beazley, and son, Fred W. Beazley Jr.

It was founded to be a philanthropic organization in perpetuity. The money donated by the family has been invested, and yearly grants are funded through the earnings from those investments.

Bray was a longtime judge in the Portsmouth Circuit Court and the Virginia Court of Appeals. He retired in 2002 to head the foundation. In 2009, he was named Chesapeake's First Citizen.

"I had the privilege of knowing Mr. Beazley personally and have a sense of what he would want to do," Bray said.

"He quit school when he was 16 years old and because of that, education was always very important to him. When I go to schools and see students like those at ODU, I think of Mr. Beazley. He never forgot his beginnings. The foundation has given away hundreds of millions of dollars, and Mr. Beazley's hand has been in every dollar of it."

Since he first visited ODU's dental hygiene clinic several years ago, Bray said he has developed close relationships with Van Lunen and Manisha Sharma, the major gift officer for the College of Health Sciences.

"We've been able to speak candidly to each other," he said. "The relationships with Bonnie and Manisha made it easier to cross that threshold into another grant.

"On my first visit to the clinic, I saw citizens in our community who could otherwise not afford dental care being cared for by trained professionals. Bonnie was enthused and dedicated and had such great plans. I was so impressed. I realized on that first trip that this was where Mr. Beazley would want us to be helping."

On March 26, ODU broke ground for a Health Sciences Building scheduled to open in 2023.

The $74.9 million, 126,387-square-foot building will greatly improve the University's ability to train more health-care professionals and provide care to thousands in Hampton Roads.

The three-story facility will allow ODU to expand its health-care degree offerings, including a new doctoral program in occupational therapy.

The Monarch Physical Therapy Clinic and Sofia and David Konikoff Dental Care Facility, which will both be on the first floor of the new building, will continue to treat thousands of patients annually, expand their physical footprints and provide updated facilities.

Bray attended the groundbreaking and said he was touched when dozens of students stood nearby - they could not be at the ceremony itself because of COVID restrictions - holding signs thanking President John R. Broderick and others.

"I went over and talked to some of them, and they were such a delight," Bray said. "They are being trained for professions that could take them all over the world. They are being trained to help people, and I have so much respect for all of the young people I saw there.

"The pandemic has been a wake-up call as to our vulnerability. It shows just how fragile we are. To see the community come together, all the health sciences professionals, the front-line nurses and physicians, that demonstrates how much good we can do when we come together."

He said that ODU is a community asset that "sometimes we take for granted."

"When you go to the dentist, ask the person cleaning your teeth where he or she went to school," he said. "Nine of out 10 times, they went to Old Dominion. That tells you how important ODU is to this region. It's always exciting for me to visit the college and see the young talent that is waiting in the wings to bring a better life to all of us. Old Dominion is doing great things, and we're proud to be part of it."

Van Lunen said the first-floor reception area of the new Health Sciences Building will be named in honor of the Beazley Foundation.

"The new building is a beacon of our commitment to serve the health-care needs of this community," Van Lunen said. "Judge Bray has been a joy to work with. The Beazley Foundation's gift will help us continue to educate students and provide care to people in our community."

Alonzo Brandon, vice president for advancement, said the donation is an example of the kind of local philanthropy that not only improves education and health care, but also contributes to economic development.

ODU's STEM-H programs - science, technology, engineering, math and health sciences - are growing and creating a trained workforce to lure businesses to the region.

"The Beazley Foundation has long been committed to economic development and also to meeting the needs of the community," Brandon said. "The new Health Sciences Building is going to be a great asset to Hampton Roads. We appreciate Judge Bray and the Beazley Foundation for their generosity and their foresight. They realize this donation will improve the quality of life for so many in our region."

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