L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs

L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs


Excellence in Virginia Government Awards

The 14th Excellence in Virginia Government Awards took place on April 15, 2021, from noon to 1:30 p.m with a virtual ceremony celebrating Virginians who have made noteworthy contributions to the practice of government and the welfare of our communities and citizens. This year’s ceremony is free and open to the public. 

“These awards recognize outstanding work at all levels of government in Virginia and honor dedicated public service, innovative approaches and commitment to excellence,” said Susan T. Gooden, Ph.D., interim dean of the Wilder School. "This year's recipients have made tremendous impacts on our communities and the Commonwealth."

View the virtual ceremony.

Recipients will also be honored during a subsequent broadcast that will air on Thursday, April 22 at 7:30 p.m. on WTVR. The awards ceremony is made possible by the generous support of our sponsors, Dominion Energy, Altria and Virginia Housing. 

View this year's EVGA 2020-21 Digital Program.

View all honoree videos.

Questions? Contact Paula Otto, senior director of special projects, at piotto@vcu.edu.

Proceeds from the event help fund scholarships for Wilder School students.

The 2020-21 EVGA Honorees are as follows:


The Honorable Robert C. Scott

The Lifetime Achievement Award recognizes an individual Virginian whose career represents the highest values of public service and citizenship and who has made a substantial contribution to the good of the commonwealth.  As the first African-American elected to Congress from the Commonwealth since Reconstruction, Congressman Robert C. “Bobby” Scott has spent more than four decades in public service.  Before being elected to Congress in 1992 to represent the 3rd District, Scott served for 15 years in Virginia’s General Assembly in both the House of Delegates and State Senate.

Congressman Scott currently serves as the Chairman of the Committee on Education and Labor.  In this capacity, he is advancing an agenda that improves equity in education, frees students from the burdens of crippling debt, protects and expands access to affordable health care, ensures workers have a safe workplace where they can earn a living wage free from discrimination, and guarantees seniors have a secure and dignified retirement. Congressman Scott also serves on the Committee on the Budget.  


A.E. Dick Howard

Named for two champions of civil rights, attorney Oliver Hill and Judge Spottswood Robinson, the Hill-Robinson Expansion of Freedom Award recognizes a sustained commitment to securing equal rights and justice for all people by empowering citizens.  Fifty years ago, Virginia voters resoundingly endorsed a new state Constitution, one that enshrined hard won civil rights protections and voting rights, constitutionally committed the state to educational equality, and included stewardship of natural resources as a constitutional obligation.  The principal drafter of the new Virginia Constitution was a young law professor at the University of Virginia, A.E. Dick Howard.  In the ensuing years since the ratification of Virginia’s Constitution, Professor Howard has consulted with constitution-makers around the world, including Hungary, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Romania, Albania, South Africa, Malawi, Brazil, and the Philippines.


John C. Purnell, Jr. (M.S.W.'64/SW; M.P.A.'78/GPA)

The Grace E. Harris Leadership Award recognizes an individual Virginian whose career represents the highest values of public service and citizenship and who has made a substantial contribution to the good of the commonwealth and the community.

John C. Purnell, Jr. came to the Friends Association for Children in April 1970.  As its executive director for over 40 years, John skillfully helped at-risk children and families overcome prejudice, economic disparity, nutritional shortcomings, and other challenges for those growing up in Richmond, Henrico and Chesterfield’s most difficult neighborhoods.  He opened four innovative before and after school educational centers.  These centers teach children educational, life and survival skills, as well as art and music.  The centers also provide opportunities for parents to gain skills for better employment opportunities.  Purnell’s goal was to ensure that at-risk children and families, primarily African American, would grow into productive members of society. 


Cristina Dominguez Ramirez (M.P.A. '10/GPA), Library Manager

The Unsung Heroes Award recognizes an individual Virginian who has provided distinguished and exceptional service as a career government employee in the commonwealth, with local or state government. For more than a decade Cristina Ramirez has worked to bring awareness, visibility and promote services to the Latino/Hispanic/Spanish speaking communities in central Virginia.  Ramirez has presented at conferences, published academic books and served as a consultant on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion issues.  As a librarian in Henrico County, she works to bring inclusion of Latino youth into library services and programs and to promote literacy and writing amongst Latino youth.


Health Brigade

Karen Legato (M.S.W.’95/SW), Executive Director

The Community Enhancement Award recognizes outstanding commitment to improving the quality of community life in Virginia through an established reputation for exceptional community service. Formerly known as the Fan Free Clinic, Health Brigade is celebrating 50 years of providing exceptional health services to those least served in a caring and non-judgmental environment.  Health Brigade is open to the people of Richmond and 22 surrounding counties, serving not only those with limited resources, but also those often stigmatized or experiencing systemic oppression.  Today they serve close to 11,000 individuals annually through primary medical care, mental health and wellness services, HIV/STI testing, and outreach and education. 


Virginia Housing 

Susan Dewey, Chief Executive Officer

This award recognizes the recipient’s inventive creation or maintenance of a successful public-private partnership which has delivered a measurable improvement in public service resulting in lower cost, improved quality, or greater efficiency for citizens. Virginia Housing is a public-private organization established by Virginia’s General Assembly in 1972 to help all Virginians attain quality, affordable housing. Virginia Housing fulfills its mission by partnering with the greater housing community to offer programs, products, services and expertise that address the evolving spectrum of homeownership, rental and supportive housing needs. Virginia Housing is unique as a housing authority—relative to peers that serve the same constituencies—as it is fully self-funded through revenues generated by its programs, rather than state appropriations. This novel funding structure enables Virginia Housing to maintain the agility necessary to align its programs with state priorities, effectively respond to threats like the 2008 Financial Crisis, reinvest in its mission, and innovate.


Department of Juvenile Justice

Valerie Boykin, Director

This award recognizes the recipient’s innovative work that has resulted in increased efficiency, effectiveness, or other improvements that affect how a government entity performs in delivery of service to its constituents.  The Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) has 5,000 youth under some kind of supervision with more than 90 percent of those youth being supervised in their communities through diversion, probation or parole. Beginning in 2014, the Department underwent a rigorous self-analysis to examine whether they were using taxpayer resources effectively, and getting the outcomes they want for the youth, families and communities they serve.  The resulting Transformation Plan touched virtually every aspect of the agency’s operations and has yielded dramatic gains that have resulted in positive outcomes for the youth and families served by DJJ including a reduction in the number of youth incarcerated in state correctional centers and education and treatment gains for youth in secure custody and high school graduation. 

EVGA Award Criteria [pdf] and EVGA Past Recipients [pdf]

For questions regarding EVGA, contact:

Paula Otto
Senior Director of Special Projects
L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs
(804) 828-1146

Support Scholarships

This program supports Excellence in Virginia Government Awards program scholarships.  Please follow this link if you would like to make a gift to support this effort.

If you are interested in additional Wilder School scholarships or opportunities to support our students, please visit our Giving page