Jan. 30-Feb. 12, 2004
Vol. 34, Issue 2
Back Issues
Darden to run ethics institute
First Lady of Virginia, Lisa Collis, a leader in public service
Facilities focus of BOV’s Student Affairs meeting
Headlines @ U.Va.
Undergrad wins Mitchell Scholarship
Online COMPASS makes room reservations easy
Humans began altering global climate thousands of years ago
Xiaoming ‘Peter’ Yu
Revisiting Racial Diversity
2004 Black History Month Calendar of Events
Stem-cell researcher finds unusual ally in GOP leader
Can the spam: E-mail filter weeds out those unwanted messages
Collage glues together numerous pespectives
What’s a Didjeridu?
Mini-med school accepting applications until Feb. 27
Students drive real estate market
First Lady of Virginia, Lisa Collis, a leader in public service
Lisa Collis
Photo courtesy of the Office of the First Lady of Virginia

By Penny Chang and Anne Bromley

Lisa Collis admits that when she roused fellow students into action at U.Va., the results were sometimes dubious.

As an intramural captain in single-sex Bonnycastle dormitory in the mid-70s, she marched determinedly up and down the hall until she had raised a team for a swim meet early in the year. But when her team walked into Memorial Gym, primed to compete, they stopped short: they were the only women there.

“After that,” she concedes, “it was really hard for me to recruit them for anything.”

Since her husband, Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, took office in January 2002, however, Collis — the first first lady of Virginia not to use her husband’s name — no longer has any trouble drawing people to events that interest her, especially causes that benefit children.

Before taking office in January 2002, Warner made his fortune brokering deals for cellular telephone franchises. In 1984, however, when Collis met him at a party in Washington, D.C., “he was not a rich guy,” she recalls. “If he was, he was hiding it. He lived in a group house with a bunch of guys. He had a car that didn’t work very often.”

The couple married in 1989 and has three daughters — Madison, 14, Gillian, 12, and Eliza, 9. Collis learned soon after her husband became governor, she says, to be strict about scheduling public appearances to preserve family time.

Collis believes her education at the University indirectly prepared her for the life she now leads. “Perhaps more than at most universities, at U. Va. the history of the school, its founding, its traditions are so markedly woven into student life, that it was there that I first began to really think of myself as a Virginian.”

Her liberal arts education also honed her communication skills: “I find this role requires a fair amount of writing both for print and for public speaking. I credit U.Va. for helping me so much in that regard.”

Collis has taken on leadership roles more as a necessity than from any desire to be a leader, she says. “Any leadership skills I might possess, I believe, arise more from a sense of responsibility, which I acquired in large part from my parents’ example.”

As a graduate student at the University of Texas, she traveled to Guatemala in 1979 and ’80 to study iron deficiency and nutrition. After graduating with a master’s degree in public health, Collis worked for the World Bank, where she focused on food and nutrition issues and on AIDS assistance for Africa from 1985 until ’89.

For more than a decade, she has participated in various efforts to prevent child abuse, including as a court-appointed special advocate for Stop Child Abuse Now of Northern Virginia. She and her husband established the Collis-Warner Foundation, which supports private and state initiatives to prevent child abuse and to programs that aid low-income children.

Collis has been recognized for her championship of children. She was honorary chairwoman of Prevent Child Abuse Virginia and received the 2003 Commissioner’s Award from the national organization, Administration on Children and Families, for her leadership, dedication and accomplishments in the prevention of child abuse and neglect in Virginia. She also chairs Virginia Action for Healthy Kids, a task force on child obesity; Women and Girls’ Wellness Month, held in April; and serves on the Southern Regional Task Force on Child Care.

A course at U.Va. greatly affected her view of the world close to home. The class, in juvenile delinquency at the Curry School of Education, featured a visit to a local juvenile detention center.
“[The kids] told us their stories,” Collis recalls. “You realized they had gotten in trouble for things your friends did in high school.” Unlike her friends, though, these kids got sent to this detention center, where they met hard-core offenders.

At that time, Collis was majoring in biology and trying to figure out what to do with her life. She volunteered through Madison House, renovating houses for the Charlottesville Housing Improvement Project and tutoring in local elementary schools, plus changed beds and bathed patients in a part-time job at the U.Va. Medical Center.

Collis says she loved her time at the University, productive years even if she did have to scotch plans to become a doctor or an astronaut. Now she’s helping many children get closer to realizing unexpected careers like hers.

(A longer version of Chang’s story originally appeared in Alumni News, winter 2002.)


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