The wiz of biz

Dear Ace: I hear Darden is 50 years old. Who the heck was Darden anyway?—M.B., Eh?

Dear M.B.: The Darden Graduate School of Business at UVA is indeed celebrating the half-century mark in much the same manner that Ace celebrated his 21st birthday: with two years of festivities taking place in more than 50 cities and three continents.

   However, none of this would have been possible without someone named “Darden” serving as the namesake and the inspiration behind the grandest birthday celebration since the time that Ace flew Madonna, the President and the New York Knicks to the French Antilles for elephant rides. No, wait, that was P. Diddy…

   In search of answers, Ace took to what the kids call “North Grounds,” where he wandered around Darden’s carpeted hallways until he reached the domed foyer of the building. The “students,” who looked more like suit-wearing businesspeople, worked on laptops in the café and looked awfully busy, so Ace consulted the concierge, a man known only as Help Desk Pete, who gave him a name: Colgate Whitehead Darden, Jr. Now that’s a (now with extra-whitening power!) mouthful.

   Bad jokes aside, Ace hit the ’Net for some research. Turns out Darden was born on a farm in Southampton County on February 11, 1897. After attending public school he shipped off to fight in WWI, serving as an ambulance driver for the French army and, later, as a pilot in the Marines. In 1918 he was “seriously wounded” and hospitalized for a year, and then returned to the Old Dominion to complete his studies at UVA. After passing the State bar in 1922 he practiced law in Norfolk until being elected as a Congressman from 1933 to 1937, and again in 1939 to 1941, when he resigned to run for governor of Virginia, a post he filled from 1942 to 1946.

   O.K., so we’ve got a student, lawyer, politician and fighter. But where’s the business mogul part come in? In 1947, he took over as president of his alma mater, UVA, and during his 12-year tenure he planned and facilitated the creation of UVA’s graduate business program. The Graduate School of Business Administration opened in the fall of 1955 and was later renamed for its founder on July 1, 1974. Darden remained an active supporter of the school until his death on June 9, 1981.

   But despite his business success, Darden, at least in some circles (Ace included), is best known as a code word for free coffee, leather chairs and government-subsidized salad bars.

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