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Frank Batten Sr., longtime ODU supporter and community leader, dies

Frank Batten Sr., the founder and retired chairman of Landmark Communications, and first rector of the Old Dominion University Board of Visitors, died Thursday Sept. 10, in Norfolk. He was 82.

He is survived by his wife, Jane, and three children.

A financial supporter of Old Dominion for nearly five decades, Batten earned the distinction as the university's most significant and enduring contributor. His $32 million gift to ODU in 2003, which came before the formal launch of a $100 million capital campaign, is the largest gift in university history and one of the largest ever made to a Virginia public college or university.

In making the gift, Batten stated: "As the first rector of the Board of Visitors, I developed a strong commitment to Old Dominion University. Over the past 48 years, I have seen Old Dominion make great strides in student achievement, teaching excellence, research endeavors and state-of-the-art facilities. I hope this gift will enable Old Dominion to reach the forefront of academic and research eminence, particularly in the fields of science and technology."

ODU President John R. Broderick said, "Frank Batten's outstanding leadership and exceptional philanthropy will long be felt by students, faculty and staff of this university. He has been an inspiration to everyone on our campus.

"I was with him just a couple of weeks ago, and he was excited about the start of football and the transformation of our football stadium."

Batten's long relationship with Old Dominion began in 1955 when he served as a member of the Advisory Board to the Norfolk Division of the College of William and Mary. Over the next few years, as the Norfolk Division campaigned to become an independent college, Batten lobbied on behalf of the school. In 1962, he became the first rector of the Board of Visitors of the newly independent Old Dominion College. In June 1972, the university's Batten Arts and Letters Building was dedicated in his honor. Batten's son, Frank Jr., later served as rector and is currently a member of the board.

The following passage about Batten was included in the history book "Old Dominion University: From the Great Depression to the New Millennium, 1930 - 2000": "He has been a tireless advocate and promoter of the school from its conception, back when many other opinion leaders could not see the need for the school and, in fact, actively opposed it. His influence and generosity have not only been responsible for significant bricks-and-mortar development, but have enabled Old Dominion to create and expand major fields of study, including oceanography, which is among the top programs in the nation."

Batten's influence has extended beyond the generosity of his immediate family, including his wife and children. In 1995, Old Dominion initiated the Batten Award to recognize and encourage others who, like the Batten family, have demonstrated outstanding charitable support to the university and whose philanthropic leadership encourages others to support the university.

The Batten name has been known by thousands of ODU students. The Arts and Letters Building has long borne his name, and the College of Engineering and Technology was named in his honor in 2003.

After receiving a bachelor's degree from the University of Virginia and an M.B.A. from Harvard University, Batten began his professional career in the 1950s when he went to work for his uncle's two local newspapers, The Virginian-Pilot and the Ledger-Dispatch. Later he acquired a controlling interest in the newspapers. He built them into Landmark Communications Inc., a Norfolk-based, privately held media company with national and international interests in newspapers, broadcasting, cable programming and electronic publishing. Batten created the Weather Channel in 1982.

This article was posted on: September 10, 2009

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