Virginia Tech awards Heywood Fralin the 2019 William H. Ruffner Medal
Heywood Fralin broke family tradition by attending the University of Virginia instead of following his two older brothers to Virginia Tech, but he’s since become a Hokie in all ways except for his college degree.
From the time he stepped up to finish the term of older brother Horace ’48 on the Board of Visitors, Heywood Fralin has been a champion for Virginia Tech and its mission of serving Virginia and the world. In December, along with the Horace G. Fralin Charitable Trust, Fralin and his wife, Cynthia, solidified their 25-year relationship with the university by giving $50 million to support the newly named Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC, part of the Virginia Tech Carilion Health Sciences and Technology Campus in Roanoke.
Now, Virginia Tech has bestowed its highest honor on Fralin, awarding him the 2019 William H. Ruffner Medal.
Fralin is a Roanoke-born attorney, businessman, health care executive, and patron of the arts. He’s been a member of both the Virginia Tech and the University of Virginia boards of visitors, including serving as rector on the UVA board. Fralin made giant strides in bringing the Roanoke and New River valleys together.
“I’ve had the pleasure of working with Heywood Fralin throughout my time in Congress,” former U.S. Rep. Bob Goodlatte, the longtime congressman who first took office in 1993, the same year Fralin was appointed to Virginia Tech’s Board of Visitors, has said. “He has an extraordinary vision for the Roanoke Valley, along with the determination and means to make it happen.”
Roanoke Mayor Sherman Lea has called Fralin “a true, longtime leader in our community.”
“He’s not a person who gets a lot of headlines, but he’s intricately involved in the community, and it shows,” Lea has said. "He’s what this community needs.”
Fralin grew up in Roanoke as the youngest of three brothers after his parents, Grover Gordon Fralin and Ollie Elizabeth Fralin, moved from rural Franklin County in the 1920s.
His older brothers turned to Virginia Tech for their undergraduate degrees and both went on to success. G. Wayne Fralin was a medical doctor. Horace Fralin built a life around construction, health care, education, and philanthropy. The Fralin Life Science Institute at Virginia Tech is named in honor of him and his wife, Ann, and he received the university’s Ruffner Medal in 1992.
Heywood Fralin chose instead to attend the University of Virginia, where he earned his bachelor’s degree. He completed his education with a law degree from American University and went to work as an attorney.
Fralin never drifted far from Virginia Tech. In 1993, when President James McComas asked him to serve out his late brother’s term on the Board of Visitors, Fralin’s response and commitment to service demonstrated that he’s a Hokie at heart, if not in experience. His seven years on the Board of Visitors have informed his work ever since.
“Serving on the Board of Visitors gave me huge insight into Virginia Tech and what it can do not only for the region, but for the state and for the world,” Fralin has said. “There is just a sense of dedication at Virginia Tech that’s unlike any university I’ve ever seen. You know, the motto of Ut Prosim is something that is instilled in every student at Virginia Tech. Every Tech graduate is proud of the fact — they don’t keep it a secret. Their enthusiasm is contagious and just a wonderful thing to have.”
Fralin is chairman of Medical Facilities of America and a powerful advocate for education and economic development. He chairs the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia and has served on a previous Governor’s Commission on Higher Education Reform, Innovation, and Investment. He serves as a member of the Virginia Growth and Opportunity (Go Virginia) board, as well as a member of the Virginia Research Investment Committee (VRIC). He has also chaired the Virginia Business Council.
Along with his wife, Cynthia, Fralin is a namesake of UVA’s Fralin Art Museum, and he serves as vice chair of the Taubman Museum of Art. Truly, all of Virginia is better for the Fralin family.
Fralin’s vision for regional cooperation and investment in growing industries has undergirded Roanoke’s economic transformation from a railroad hub into a forward-looking, tech-savvy, outdoors mountain city. The community shifted, Fralin said, “from an energy-based economy to a knowledge-based economy.”
The Fralin family’s gift to the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute is solidifying that future and building on Virginia Tech’s demonstrated ability to transform the world in service of humanity. The awarding of the 2019 William H. Ruffner Medal recognizes Heywood Fralin’s longstanding commitment to Virginia Tech, including his transformative role advancing biomedical research through the university’s growing presence in Roanoke.
— Written by Mason Adams