Three-decade-old promise fulfilled
Sabato gives $1 million, challenges alumni to 'step up to the plate'
|Professor Larry J. Sabato on the balcony of his U.Va. home, Pavilion IV.
By Dan Heuchert
Larry J. Sabato has dedicated his life’s work to the University of Virginia. Now he also is giving it a significant portion of his life’s savings.
U.Va. President John T. Casteen III
announced Feb. 4 that Sabato, a nationally known political expert and longtime professor of politics — and also an alumnus — is giving the University $1 million in support of U.Va.’s effort to “become a national leader in youth and adult civic education and participation.” The gift is the largest given by a faculty member to U.Va., and is believed to be among the largest ever given by an active humanities faculty member to his institution.
“From his time as an undergraduate activist in the College of the 1970s to his years as a distinguished University Professor, Larry Sabato has enriched the University,” Casteen said. “In his teaching, research and public service, Larry has built the University’s intellectual capital.
“With his financial gift, a great personal sacrifice, Larry has demonstrated an abiding devotion to the University, a devotion well known to all who know him. True to form, Larry’s gift is eloquent in what it signifies. It speaks of his love of the University, his belief in the power of knowledge and his hopes for the future of humankind. In this latest act of generosity, Larry offers an example many of us aspire to follow.”
“For over 35 years I have had the incomparable privilege to be associated with Thomas Jefferson’s proudest legacy,” Sabato said. “It is time to repay my beloved University — the best public University in the country — for giving me so many wonderful opportunities over the years.
“No one succeeds without a lot of help, and U.Va. has always been there for me.”
Noting the University’s upcoming $3 billion fund-raising campaign, he challenged his fellow alumni to follow his example.
“If a teacher can save and donate a large gift, thousands of other University alumni can do the same, whether in life or by means of an estate bequest. The capital campaign gives each of us the opportunity to create a legacy somewhere within this wonderfully diverse University. It is vital that all of us who love the University step up to the plate.”
Sabato’s gift fulfills a pledge he made to his mentor, the late Edgar F. Shannon Jr., president of the University from 1959 to 1974. It was Shannon who encouraged the young Sabato to apply for a Rhodes Scholarship — which he ultimately won, launching his academic career. Sabato also served as Student Council president during the last year of Shannon’s University presidency, and the two formed a lifelong friendship.
Sabato, 52, recalls a conversation with Shannon in 1974, during which Sabato vowed that he would one day give the University a million dollars.
“He kind of chuckled and said, ‘That’s great. I hope you do it,’” Sabato recalled. “How lucky I was to have had such a humane and brilliant mentor. I’m delighted to fulfill that promise.
“There’s a clear lesson here, both for today’s students and also for faculty and administrators. Students need to remember later in life how fortunate they have been to have ‘worn the honors of Honor,’ and faculty and administrators would be well advised to recall and imitate the shining example of Edgar Shannon in their relationships with our students.”
Sabato, a Norfolk native, is the son of working-class parents who lived through the Great Depression. His father, N.J. Sabato, fought in Europe during World War II, and believed strongly in the importance of civic participation.
Larry Sabato is director of U.Va.’s Center for Politics, which he founded in 1998, and the Robert K. Gooch Professor and University Professor of Politics. He was an undergraduate student at the University from 1970 to 1974 as part of its first fully coeducational first-year class, and he was active in a wide variety of political and service groups, earning a coveted room on the historic Lawn in his fourth year. (He now lives just a few steps away in Pavilion IV.)
After he received his B.A. in government as a Phi Beta Kappa in 1974, he did a year’s graduate study in public policy at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. Upon receipt of the Rhodes Scholarship in 1975, he left Princeton to begin study at Queen’s College, Oxford University, where he received his doctorate in politics in 1977. After teaching at Oxford for a year, he joined the U.Va. faculty in September 1978.
Sabato is the author of 23 books about politics, including “The Rise of Political Consultants,” “Feeding Frenzy,” and the forthcoming “Armageddon: The Bush-Kerry Contest.” Sabato has won several of U.Va.’s most significant teaching honors, and in 2001 he received the University’s highest honor, the Thomas Jefferson Award, given to one person annually since the 1950s for best representing “the ideals and objectives of Mr. Jefferson.”
Sabato designated his gift to support the University’s effort to strengthen the Center for Politics and provide it a permanent home at a restored Birdwood pavilion. More than a million students and over 14,000 primary and secondary school teachers in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, U.S. territories and Department of Defense Schools abroad participate in the Center for Politics’ signature civic education program, the national Youth Leadership Initiative.
As part of the gift agreement, the University will restore historic Birdwood, located off U.S. 250 just west of Charlottesville, adjacent to the University’s golf course. Built for William Garth in 1819 by many of the same craftsmen who constructed Jefferson’s Academical Village, the University purchased Birdwood in 1974 from the estate of its last private owner, Cornelius Middleton. The structure has been unoccupied since 1996.
Upon completion of the renovation, the Center for Politics will occupy the top two floors and the basement; the ground floor will be reserved for University use, including meetings and receptions.