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Joshua Darden remembered for service to UVa-Wise


Those familiar with the history of The University of Virginia’s College at Wise know the role the Darden family played in the creation of the region’s only four-year state college.

Most have heard how former University of Virginia President Colgate Darden, who was also a former Virginia governor, took notice when three Wise County leaders traveled to Charlottesville in the early 1950s to propose the University establish a branch college in the coalfields.

Darden’s vision for then Clinch Valley College is now legend, but most do not realize how Joshua Darden, a former Rector of the University and nephew of Colgate Darden, also took the small college to heart and strengthened its mission to make education accessible to all.

Joshua Darden passed away in January after a lifetime of philanthropy aimed at improving education for all Virginia, especially his beloved Hampton Roads area and Southwest Virginia through his generosity toward UVa-Wise.

UVa-Wise Chancellor Emeritus Joseph Smiddy recently reflected on Darden and his relationship with the College.

“Josh Darden was a kind man,” Smiddy said. “He really was interested in the students out here. He helped us out in so many ways.”

A look back at the generosity of the Darden family toward the College at Wise illustrates Smiddy’s point. The principals of the Darden endowed funds used for UVa-Wise total in excess of $6.3 million and provide about $318,000 in yearly earnings. In addition to supporting funds such as the Colgate Darden Book Fund, Colgate Darden Academic Enhancement Fund, Colgate Darden Lecture Fund and the Colgate Darden Scholarship Fund, Joshua Darden made generous gifts to athletics, the Lila Vicars Smith House, and other needs of the College.

Darden’s gifts to the College at Wise continue to benefit students in numerous ways.

"It is an important part of a quality liberal arts education that students be exposed to the ideas of significant contemporary thinkers, Provost Sanders Huguenin said. “At expensive private colleges, students often have the opportunity to hear important public intellectuals discuss their work.  The Darden Lecture fund has made these same opportunities available to our students, most of whom could never afford to attend expensive private colleges.”

Huguenin points to recent visits by important thinkers such as Stephen Pinker, Temple Grandin, and Stanley Fish as examples of opportunities given to UVa-Wise students by the Darden generosity.

In addition to financial help, Joshua Darden assisted the region and the College in other ways. He spread the word about the College to students in the Tidewater region, and many chose to earn their degrees at UVa-Wise. The College continues to draw many students from the Hampton Roads area.

“Colgate Darden and Josh Darden really were a blessing to the College and the area,” Smiddy said. “Josh, being a graduate of the University of Virginia and in the Darden family, was able to go to Richmond and speak for the University and Clinch Valley College. People would listen to him. He was just a good man.”

As Rector, Joshua Darden made several visits to the College, and Smiddy said that made a difference.

Smiddy said Colgate Darden changed the University when he took extraordinary steps to spread Thomas Jefferson’s dream of increasing the University’s reach to all of Virginia. His nephew carried his uncle’s efforts further, especially by standing strong for UVa-Wise.

“Josh Darden followed his uncle’s footsteps, and he liked the people out here,” Smiddy said. “Without the Darden family, the College would not be in existence.”

Joshua Darden served on the Board of Visitors from 1982 to 1990 and as Rector for three years. He chaired the first four years of the Campaign for the University of Virginia, which raised more than $1 billion between 1993 and 2000. He was also a former board member of the University of Virginia’s College at Wise.

“Josh Darden was one of the University’s all-time great leaders – as rector, campaign chairman and a tireless ambassador for U.Va. and for higher education generally,” University President Teresa A. Sullivan said. “Josh embodied the values of honor, ethics, leadership and service that we espouse at this University and all of us in this community owe him a great deal of gratitude for his many contributions to U.Va.” 

Darden was the son of J. Pretlow Darden, a former mayor of Norfolk, and nephew of Colgate W. Darden Jr., a former Virginia delegate, governor, Congressman and finally president of the University from 1947 to 1959. The Darden School of Business was named for Colgate Darden. Darden Hall at the College at Wise also bears his name.