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Bill Royall’s Lasting Legacy on Richmond’s Arts

Photo of Royall
Bill Royall gave an interview with Pam Hervey for his Greater Richmond Business Hall of Fame induction in 2014. (Photo: Pam Hervey)

*Pam Hervey reported this story

Local businessman and patron of the arts Bill Royall leaves a lasting legacy in Richmond. The 74-year-old died on June 25 after being diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease 14 months earlier As Pam Hervey reports, it was Royall’s quiet interaction with local leaders and artists that led to significant cultural and educational impacts.

Bill Royall was born in the small town of Tazewell, Virginia. In the second grade, his family moved to Northern Virginia where he sowed the seeds of entrepreneurship - first by selling tomato plants door to door.

“[I] sold a lot of tomato plants, everyone wants one or two tomato plants in their backyard, even in row houses,” Royall said.  He sold Christmas cards that way too - buyers could pick their typeface and it would be embossed in gold.

“So, I guess I was in the direct mail pretty early.”

Royall shared his career path when I spoke to him in 2014. In college, he fell in love with politics and created direct mail fundraising for political campaigns. 

“What would be more fun than to send out letters and people would send money back,” Royall said. “There was science involved in that as well as an art.”

Royall stayed involved in politics, but the strategic marketing company he created in 1983, Royall & Company, quickly became a nationwide direct mail leader in higher education recruitment.  Dr. Hakim Lucas, president of Virginia Union University, said Royall was a pioneer in working with Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

“Many of the HBCU presidents knew of the Royall company, knew of Bill Royall and his passion for education and ensuring that everybody has an opportunity to experience it,” Lucas says.

Royall sold his company in 2015 but continued his philanthropic support by joining the board of trustees at VUU.

“He was deeply committed to the mission of education,” says Lucas. “And the commitment to African American community and causes and the less fortunate.”

Beyond business and education, Bill and his wife Pam invested heavily in the local arts community. The couple donated or contributed to the acquisition of more than 100 works to the VMFA over the last decade, and Bill was a member of the board. The Royalls played a significant role in the museum’s acquisition of Kehinde Wiley’s Rumors of War. And as the Royalls built their art collection, they befriended many local contemporary artists, including Brazillian born Richmond artist Eva Roche.

“Bill Royall was for me, a fundamental person in my life. Not only in terms of art, but in my life in general,” she says. “He became a mentor, a friend, somebody who creates a big impact.”

Roche says Royall’s interest in history, literature, politics and journalism influenced his  perspective on art. 

“Many times movement or some artists or some collectors, will only be reviewed much later in their importance,” Roche says.  “Bill Royall and Pamela Royall, they were fundamental in this moment, I believe because they were able to see the narrative of many artists.

Friends and colleagues like Dr. Lucas describe Royall as a “beacon of light.”

“I think Richmond should never forget the anchors and the pillars of our community who wanted all people of all backgrounds to come together, whether it was around art, whether it was around philanthropy, whether it was hard work and what grit and perseverance and resiliency could do and for entrepreneurial activities and the follow your dreams”

The historic industrial arts building on the VUU campus, which houses the Center for African American History and Culture, will be named in honor of Bill Royall’s commitment to the university.

VPM News is the staff byline for articles and podcasts written and produced by multiple reporters and editors.
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