The former board chair and adviser to three Elon presidents passed away on Aug. 25.
Wallace L. Chandler ’49, Henrico, Virginia, who spent more than 40 years as one of Elon’s most active and visionary trustees, died Aug. 25 at the age of 94. Chandler served three years as chair of the board of trustees and was a trusted adviser to Elon presidents J. Earl Danieley, J. Fred Young and Leo M. Lambert.
“Wallace Chandler is recognized among the most influential alumni leaders in Elon’s history,” said President Connie Ledoux Book. “He had a lifelong drive for his alma mater to achieve ever-higher levels of excellence. His passion and commitment to Elon was steadfast and can be seen across the campus and throughout the university’s programs.”
He was awarded the Distinguished Alumni Service Award in 1978, an Elon honorary doctorate in 1983 and the Elon Medallion in 2007. The Council for the Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) recognized him in 2005 with the Ernest T. Steward Award for Alumni Volunteer Involvement, a national award for service to one’s alma mater.
Chandler was elected to the board of trustees in 1967 and was elected as a life trustee in 2008. Through four decades of service as a trustee, he never missed a board or committee meeting. He served on virtually every board committee and was longtime chair of the board’s investment committee, working to increase the university’s endowment. He also served on the presidential search committees for both presidents Young and Lambert Elon.
Chandler was generous to the university and many facilities and scholarships bear his name, including Chandler Fountain and Plaza at the Ernest A. Koury Sr. Business Center, Wallace L. Chandler Residence Hall, the Chandler Lounge at Rhodes Stadium and the Wallace L. Chandler Scholarship Fund. He was a member of the Numen Lumen Society, which recognizes donors with lifetime giving of $1 million or higher.
Chandler’s leadership was instrumental in the development of the Elon Vision strategic plan (1994-1999), which transformed Elon from a regional college into one of the premier undergraduate institutions on the Eastern Seaboard. President Young recalled that Chandler continually pushed him to improve everything at a time when all colleges were worried about falling enrollment and tight finances. “I was much more cautious,” Young said. “We worried that raising our cost and SAT scores would decrease enrollment, but Wallace finally convinced us he was right, and the results were dramatic. He saw, before most of us, that there was a market for quality. That’s the fundamental thing that drives Elon today.”
Chandler was a leading advocate for Elon’s effort to achieve university status in 2001 and to establish a school of law in 2006. He often said it was his job as a trustee to challenge university leaders to “think scary thoughts” and have great dreams about what Elon could be.
Chandler’s aspirations for Elon grew out of his work during his senior year in college to establish a new student government with a new constitution, giving students more of a voice at the college. “I guess that was the moment that I decided Elon could be better than it was,” he recalled in a 2005 interview for the Magazine of Elon.
Chandler was born on Oct. 18, 1926. He grew up on a tobacco farm near South Boston, Virginia, and first enrolled at Elon in 1943. After a year, he left Elon to join the Army at age 17, serving as a second lieutenant in the tank corps in Europe. When World War II ended, he was stationed in Germany, but rushed home in November 1946 when his mother became seriously ill. Shortly after he returned home, Chandler’s mother’s health improved, so he took a drive back to Elon to see friends and decided to re-enroll.
“He had a lifelong drive for his alma mater to achieve ever-higher levels of excellence. His passion and commitment to Elon was steadfast and can be seen across the campus and throughout the university’s programs.” —President Connie Ledoux Book
Following his graduation in 1949, he joined Universal Leaf Tobacco Company, Inc., in Richmond, Virginia. He graduated from law school in 1953 and was admitted to the Virginia Bar in 1954. He was elected an officer of the corporation at age 27, the youngest person ever elected to that position. During his 48-year career with Universal, he served in many capacities, including general counsel, senior vice president, executive vice president, five years as vice-chairman and many years as member of the board of directors and executive committee. He also served on the boards of most of Universal’s major subsidiary companies.
In his work, Chandler focused on diversifying the company so it would be ready for the inevitable decline of the tobacco business. He was a risk taker, moving the company into businesses such as modular housing, agriculture products, property title insurance and home building materials. He retired in 1990 as vice chairman and continued service on the Universal Corporation Board of Directors until 1997.
Chandler served as Director of Landamerica Corporation (formerly Lawyers Title Insurance Co.), AON Asset Management Funds, Regency Bank and the Regional Board of the original Bank of Virginia. His record of community service included work with the Boy Scouts of America, the Virginia Society for Crippled Children and Adults, The Virginia Home, the Metro Richmond Chamber of Commerce, Richmond Renaissance and the Metropolitan Business Foundation. Chandler received three appointments from Virginia governors to the board of visitors of Madison College (now James Madison University), serving a total of 10 years, two years as chairman. He served on the JMU Foundation Board for 23 years, nine years as chairman. He received an honorary doctor of laws degree from JMU in 1983, the first awarded by the university. A mini-student center and dormitory at JMU was named Wallace L. Chandler Hall in 1973.
Chandler and his wife, Juanita Hodnett Chandler, were married for 64 years. She died in 2014. Three of Chandler’s grandchildren attended Elon: Tripp Bell IV ’07, Currie Bell ’10 and Brittany Hallberg Rosell ’11.
Chandler is survived by his daughters and sons-in-law: Elizabeth and Marc Hallberg; Brenda and Frank Bell; and Blair and Mike Grappone. Other survivors include grandchildren Lee and Katie Hallberg; Heather and Matt Donohue; Brittany and Bruce Rosell; Tripp Bell; Currie and Anna Bell; Christopher and Emily Bell; Ashley Grappone and Lawrence D’Archangelo; Michael Grappone; and eight great-grandchildren.
Funeral arrangements are being handled by Woody Funeral Home – Parham. A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m., Wednesday, Sept. 1, at River Road Church, Baptist, located on River Road at Ridge Road, in Richmond. The family will receive friends on the front lawn immediately following the service. A graveside service and burial will be at Oak Ridge Cemetery in South Boston, Virginia at 11 a.m., Thursday, Sept. 2 for family and friends from that area.