Robert E. Denton Jr., director of the School of Communication, to retire
After 34 years at Virginia Tech, Robert E. Denton Jr. is set to retire on July 1.
He spent 32 of those years as an administrator — 21 of them leading the Department/School of Communication and 11 in a leadership position at the Rice Center for Leader Development with the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets. He holds the W. Thomas Rice Chair in the Pamplin College of Business and is the founding director of the School of Communication at Virginia Tech.
His time in the School of Communication began in 1988, when he was hired as the head of Virginia Tech’s Department of Communication. Prior to his arrival, Denton worked at several major advertising agencies in New York and Chicago.
“It was an opportunity where I had been in industry, I had my own agency, and I wanted to return to higher education,” Denton said. “It was a wonderful opportunity to impact a program. I came here from the very beginning trying to build across the discipline of communication. People have been extremely kind and generous to me.”
Denton served as head of the communication department from 1988-96 and returned to the role from 2009-20 before becoming the school's founding director.
Since 1992, Denton also has been a sought-after political analyst in the New River Valley. He started with WSLS-TV and now serves as the political analyst for WDBJ-7 and the Wheeler Radio Group as well as a contributor to the Virginia News Talk Radio Network.
"Bob Denton has represented excellence in every sector of academic life — scholarship, teaching, community service, and dedication to his institution and the Commonwealth of Virginia,” said Larry Sabato, director for the University of Virginia Center of Politics. “Bob's contributions will be long-lasting, and his friends and colleagues wish him a happy, fulfilling, and richly earned retirement."
Over the course of his career in media, Denton followed every Virginia gubernatorial candidate on the campaign trail and commented on the performance of all the key figures in office. It allowed him to cultivate deep connections in the political realm within the Commonwealth of Virginia.
One of these relationships was with U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine.
“Congratulations to Dr. Robert E. Denton Jr. on his retirement from Virginia Tech,” Kaine said. “Dr. Denton helped establish VT’s School of Communication and added additional fields of study for students. I’m deeply appreciative of his commitment to educating future generations, and I wish him the best in this next chapter.”
Denton developed a reputation as a sound political analyst and relationships with leaders from all political parties.
“I am happy to congratulate Dr. Denton on his retirement from Virginia Tech after a great career,” said Virginia Congressman Morgan Griffith. “He has been a thoughtful and impartial analyst, helping viewers and listeners in Virginia understand the politics of the commonwealth and beyond. When political commentary can often be blustery and bombastic, Dr. Denton brings careful consideration and, most importantly, sound and accurate analysis. I wish him all the best.”
Denton has met every U.S. president from Jimmy Carter to Donald Trump's terms. His first gubernatorial appointment came under former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, when he was appointed to the board of directors for the Virginia Foundation for Natural Resources in 2005.
"Dr. Denton shaped the Department of Communication into the school it is today,” Warner said. “I know Bob for his commitment to his students and passion for political communications, and while the Virginia Tech community will miss him day to day, I trust that his legacy will resonate on campus for years to come."
His accomplishments with the communication program include establishing the first computer lab, building the first on-site studio, and nurturing the growth of the communication programs from 300 students to nearly 1,000. The addition of the sports media and analytics major and advertising major also occurred under his tutelage.
His legacy at the school continues through the Dr. Robert E. Denton Jr. Endowment.
The fund was created when Craig Nesbit, a 1981 alumnus, made the initial contribution in honor of the department becoming a school. It’s a nonrestricted fund where the allocation is up to the discretion of the school’s director. Endowed funds like these can be used for a variety of opportunities, such as sending faculty across the world as keynote speakers and students to conferences and conventions.
“Bob took what was at one time an underfunded and understaffed communication department and turned it into the juggernaut academic school it is today,” said Nesbit, a retired vice president of communication at Exelon. “I had many conversations with Bob over the years where he would lay out his long-term vision for the communication program, and he never gave up on that vision, kept working at it, overcoming obstacles, innovating, recruiting top-drawer professors and practitioners, and, well, here we are.
“Once in a while you run across someone who has a true generational-scale impact on their chosen enterprise, and Bob is one of those people. He has done so much for so many people, his retirement is well earned, and I wish him the best of luck as he writes the next chapter.”
Inspiring the endowment is just another one of those long-term impacts that Denton has made for the School of Communication.
Denton’s journey in academia has taken him from Wake Forest University for his undergraduate and master’s degrees, to Purdue University for his Ph.D., and eventually to his final stop at Virginia Tech. He’s prepared to conclude this portion of his career, return to hosting a weekly public affairs program for Blue Ridge Public Television, and enjoy retirement in the mountains.
“By pedigree I’m a Demon Deacon and a Boilermaker, but by choice I’ve become a Hokie,” Denton said. “Virginia Tech has been very good to me. We have been aspirational, so I’m very blessed to have had an incredible 34-year career here at Virginia Tech. I’m very humbled by that.”
Denton's last day in the office was May 13, and Douglas Cannon is serving as the interim director for the School of Communication before a new director assumes the position on July 1.
The Denton Endowment
Fundraising for the Denton Endowment is ongoing with a goal for the account to reach $250,000 over time. You can quickly make a gift online or call Virginia Tech Gift Accounting at 800-533-1144.
Written by Cory Van Dyke