It’s rare that you can without hesitation describe someone’s connection to a place as extraordinary but that’s the case for Fred Wayne (BA History ’70/H&S and MS Rehab Counseling ‘86/AH) and the lifelong relationship he has had with VCU. From his early days on the Monroe Park campus as a student of history to his seat at the table for defining conversations at the university as a Special Assistant to the University President, Fred has seen and been part of transformative change at VCU for over 40 years.
Growing up in Richmond, Fred had always known VCU. “I knew it was where I wanted to go. I saw it as a creative place, full of opportunities.” When he arrived to campus as a student, he did not yet have a clear sense of what he would study but found it to be the perfect place to explore who he was and what mattered to him. He took courses in journalism, interior design, history and political science and along the way found incredible faculty that mentored and challenged him and expanded his worldview. One particular professor, Ruth See, concluded a class with a question that he has never forgotten—for the final exam, she asked the students to simply ‘put it all together.’ For the first time, he felt empowered to take the reins of his own education. “It was revolutionary.”
As Fred was completing his undergraduate studies, America was undergoing great social change—the Civil Rights movement, the Vietnam War, and accompanying student protests. “People were becoming more vocal, more verbal. There was an expression ‘do your own thing.’ That was a radical idea.” Even at the time, Fred realized the significance of these movements as they were happening and it had an influence on his decision to earn a degree in history. He took courses from faculty favorites Bill Blake and Thelma Biddle in the department. “I took everything Bill ever taught—he is a remarkable lecturer. And I well remember Thelma Biddle standing at the top of the stairs of one of the Victorian houses on Franklin shouting ‘as you sleep, your civil liberties are being taken!’ She was telling us to be alert. Pay attention to the world around you.” These unforgettable lessons and connections with faculty had a huge impact on Fred and he committed himself to becoming a true student of the liberal arts. “It was such time of personal growth. Being a student in liberal arts helped me think critically and try to speak intelligently.”
Following graduation, Fred began a position in social work and later returned to VCU for a master’s degree in Rehab Counseling, intending to pursue a career in the field. Though, once again, the gravitational pull of VCU and its mission proved stronger than his plans. Fred returned to VCU, this time in a volunteer role in VCU’s Media Relations office. He focused on writing projects for then university President Ed Ackell. His work in that role led to a full time position, leadership of the 150th anniversary celebration of the university and ultimately as a Special Assistant to President Eugene Trani as he took office in 1990. From that point until his retirement in 2003, Fred had a hand in the largest academic and physical expansion of VCU in its history including a liaison role with VCU’s campus in Qatar and the Qatar Foundation.
Though he has retired, Fred hasn’t quit VCU yet—for the better part of a year now, he has generously and enthusiastically volunteered his time making thank you calls to donors of the College of Humanities and Sciences. In his weekly calls, Fred deepens the connections for the College’s donors, thanking them for their gift and support of its mission. And, quite often, his calls result in the exchange of a story about a beloved faculty member, a reconnection with a former colleague or talk of shared love for all things VCU.
Quite poetically, Fred likens his view of VCU to the commemorative sculpture on campus Tableith. “The design reflects exactly what VCU is—it’s in motion, it’s topsy turvy, it’s soaring upward.” In countless ways, it’s Fred’s work and dedication to the university that built the foundation, harnessed the energy, and nurtured the community that has shaped VCU into the success that it is today.
Written by Caitlin Hanbury