L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs

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Long live the “Son of Virginia”: 66th Governor of Virginia L. Douglas Wilder turns 92

Gov. L. Douglas Wilder celebrates his 92nd birthday on Jan. 17.
Gov. L. Douglas Wilder celebrates his 92nd birthday on Jan. 17.

by Pam Cox

At nearly 92, Governor Wilder is living life to its fullest. Navigating the speed of changing technology and post-pandemic culture may be difficult for some, but Gov. Wilder continues to push forward, advocating for civil rights, education and common-sense politics that address the needs of the people. With more than 60 years of public service, he continues a legacy of holding leaders accountable to “criticize what is wrong and demand what is right.”

“I am grateful and fortunate to have had the support of family, community, and friends providing me opportunities to develop to the high possibilities of the individual,” Governor Wilder said. “I am still uplifted and motivated by that undergirding. My 92nd birthday is a reminder to me of all that has contributed to my life being positive.”

He has a podcast series,  “Conversations with Gov Wilder,” which is hosted by Wilder School Dean Susan Gooden and explores historical and current issues. He also authors a blog entitled “WilderVisions” and teaches classes and gives lectures at the Wilder School. Governor Wilder has provided critical leadership to develop the Wilder School Research Institute for Social Equity (RISE), a comprehensive hub for equity research, policy evaluation and national thought leadership. 

Wilder develops the school’s political and policy polls and in September 2022, served as the signature speaker of the Wilder Symposium on Racism, Health and Accountability. He shared experiences from his life, career and championing legal issues of inequity. He highlighted the case of Bruce Tucker whose heart was transplanted without his or his family’s knowledge or consent at the Medical College of Virginia in 1968. Wilder represented the Tucker family and revealed how these systemic issues of racism continue today.

In 2015, Gov Wilder published his autobiography “Son of Virginia: A Life in America’s Political Arena” It details his life and experiences while reflecting on the changing identity of America. The book tells the story of courageous people who stood up to decades of discrimination, corruption and greed. It also serves as a road map for continued American progress in elections and laws and heralds a stark warning of what may happen if we relax our commitment to democracy.  At 92, he is living his best life and continuing his legacy of holding leaders accountable.  

“Doesn’t shy away from taking the stairs. Sharp as ever — both in terms of intellect and insight.  Unparalleled accomplishments in over 60 years of public service. Respected internationally while always being accessible to the people locally. These are a few of the many traits of Virginia’s Native Son, Governor L. Douglas Wilder,” said Dean Gooden. “There are woefully few individuals in this world who are simultaneously a historical icon and a contemporary jewel.  As we delightedly celebrate the 92nd birthday of our school’s namesake, we are most reverent of the high bar that he has both set and met.”

“I am grateful and fortunate to have had the support of family, community, and friends providing me opportunities to develop to the high possibilities of the individual. I am still uplifted and motivated by that undergirding. My 92nd birthday is a reminder to me of all that has contributed to my life being positive.” — Governor L. Douglas Wilder

Voicing “what is right” for the people

Governor Wilder’s extraordinary career and outstanding commitment to public service keep him a requested speaker and perennial political analyst. 

Recently, he was interviewed on The Jeff Katz Show on WRVA radio and asked what politicians need to start doing for the people who elected them. Wilder’s response, “Our leaders must serve the public and no one else.” He added, “the needs and concerns of the people don’t change. Education, housing, crime, the economy, etc. are perennial.” While on the show, he also discussed the findings of the newly-released Wilder School Commonwealth Poll. It found that the top priorities of Virginians for the 2023 Legislative session are to address inflation and focus on the future of democracy. Of particular concern, 55% of those surveyed do not think that the education received from Virginia’s colleges and universities is worth the cost. More than four  in 10 Virginians believe school-aged students in their community are still falling behind their peers in other states in reading and math proficiency.

It is fitting that Gov. Wilder’s birthday falls close to the national holiday to honor the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Gov. Wilder advocated for the national holiday and Virginia celebrated it as Lee–Jackson–King Day until 2000 when it was established as a state holiday in its own right. Virginia was the first state in the nation to adopt this holiday.

Join the celebration with some cool jazz 

A 92nd birthday celebration will be held for Gov. Wilder on Sunday, January 15, 2023 at 3:00 pm. at The Renaissance, 107 West Broad St. Richmond, VA. All are invited to hear music performances by Jazz Saxophonist Gerald Albright, friend of Gov. Wilder, and vocalist Lori Williams. It will be a memorable celebration honoring a living legend of leadership and public service. Tickets are available for purchase online

January 13, 2020 marked the 30th Anniversary of the inauguration of L. Douglas Wilder, 66th Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia.

A historic legacy unlike any other

A native of Richmond’s historic Church Hill district, Wilder became the nation’s first elected African American governor and served as the commonwealth’s chief executive officer from 1990 to 1994.

Gov. Wilder graduated from Virginia Union University and served in the United States Army during the Korean War, where he earned a Bronze Star for heroism in ground combat. He attended Howard University School of Law, and afterwards established a legal practice in Richmond. He won election to the Virginia Senate in 1969 as a member of the Democratic Party and served five terms before taking office as the Lieutenant Governor of Virginia, becoming the first African American to hold statewide office in the commonwealth.

He returned to elected office in 2005, becoming the first directly-elected mayor of Richmond. Since 2009 he has worked as a distinguished professor at the Wilder School where he lectures and hosts symposia, including the most recent, “Racism, Health & Accountability.” He is the recipient of numerous awards, including the NAACP’s prestigious Spingarn Medal.