On July 1, 2019, Warren J. “Buddy” Bryan ’71 took on a new role at the VMI Foundation. Retiring as the organization’s chief operating officer – a position he took on in 2017 after serving six months as the interim chief executive officer of the VMI Foundation – he now is responsible for maintaining relationships with key major donors, as well as managing the work of the Jackson-Hope Fund and the General J.H. Binford Peay III 1962 Endowment for Academic Excellence.
Bryan began work at the VMI Foundation in May 1976 after serving for four years as a pilot in the U.S. Air Force flying the KC-135 Stratotanker. When he began working for the Foundation, it employed less than 10 people, including its executive vice president, the legendary Joseph Neikirk ’932. In the 43 years since, Bryan has witnessed an expansion of the VMI Foundation’s staff, served 16 Foundation presidents and watched six superintendents come and go. He has played important roles in all four of VMI’s major fundraising campaigns, starting with The VMI Campaign in 1978 and ending with An Uncommon Purpose, which concluded its work in 2017. More recently, he has helped steer the Foundation and other agencies through a thorough reorganization.
During his time at the VMI Foundation, he has worn many hats – sometimes many at once. He has been responsible for the Institute Society, the organization that recognizes leaders in support of VMI; planned giving and major gift solicitations; and the 25th and 50th Reunion Campaigns. He also served as the Foundation’s vice president for major gifts from 2007-17.
His longevity of service and his involvement in so many aspects of the Foundation’s work doubtlessly means that, for many alumni and friends, Bryan has been “the face” of the VMI Foundation. Thus, it was no surprise that when they learned of his retirement, many people paid tribute to him and his service on behalf of the Institute and the VMI family.
In 2016, through its 50th Reunion Campaign, the Class of 1966 donated a grand total of $50,000,019.66, a figure that, according to the effort’s chairman, Richard K. Hines V ’66, “set both a record and the bar for future classes.” Hines recalled that, while he was not directly responsible for the campaign, “Buddy’s behind-the-scenes support was invaluable. His insightful guidance to the committee and mindful relations with donors were exceptionally beneficial to what we were ultimately able to achieve.”
Past leaders of the VMI Foundation also praised him. “Buddy exemplifies all of the qualities we strive for as VMI alumni: Honor, integrity, dedication, compassion and service to a cause greater than one’s self,” said James E. Rogers ’67, past president, former member of the VMI Board of Visitors and recipient of the Distinguished Service Award. “His effectiveness in engaging with alumni has played a major part in the growth of private support available to VMI, especially the expansion of the endowment which is now valued at more than $500 million.”
Conrad M. Hall ’65, another former Foundation president and now a member of the VMI Board of Visitors, had warm words for Bryan, as well. “Among the many extraordinarily talented and dedicated men and women who have served in the Alumni Agencies, Buddy has stood out for his encyclopedic memory of literally thousands of alumni and their families, his gentlemanly demeanor and his genuine interest in caring for the needs of those whom he has counseled. The entire VMI family is blessed to have had someone with Buddy’s professionalism, high standards and constant devotion to the wellbeing of the Institute as a leader within the Foundation and who, in the years ahead, will continue to be involved with new initiatives.”
T. Bryan Barton ’68, a trustee of the Foundation for 11 years as well as its president from 2017-19 and the president of the VMI Alumni Agencies Board of Directors from 2018-19, developed a close working relationship with Bryan. “Buddy Bryan has been at the center of the VMI Foundation for more than 43 years, and the relationships and trust he nurtured among VMI’s alumni and friends are legendary. As the Foundation’s chief operating officer, his personal commitment, perspective and leadership played a major role in the successful restructuring of the Alumni Agencies.” Barton continued, “Buddy and his wife, Carol, have been tireless in their support of cadets, alumni and the advancement of VMI. I know all members of the VMI family wish Buddy and Carol well in the next chapter of their lives.”
Steve Hupp ’84, current president of the VMI Foundation, used three words to describe Bryan, “Friend. Ambassador. Historian.” When asked the basis of such a description, Hupp said of the first word, “I first met Buddy in 1982 when I was a cadet. He, Carol and their newborn son, Paul, attended a cadet Bible study Tuesday evenings. It served as my first introduction to the VMI Foundation and the role that it plays at VMI. More important, it was great to get to know Buddy and Carol and begin a great 37-year (and counting) friendship.”
“Buddy is the ultimate ambassador for VMI and the VMI Foundation,” continued Hupp. “He has established friendships and relationships with alumni of all classes and generations. This has enabled Buddy to raise a tremendous amount of financial support for VMI. I am excited that he will continue to do this in his new semi-retired role.”
“Finally,” Hupp said, “Buddy is the official unofficial VMI Foundation historian. He knows the history of the Foundation back even farther than his 40-plus years of working there. We call on him often for this knowledge. In fact, we will need to start recording as much of it as possible while we still have him available to do so.”
“As I have said many times during my tenure as CEO: Everybody loves Buddy!” said Steve Maconi, VMI Alumni Agencies chief executive officer. “He is an extraordinary development professional and an even better person. Working with Buddy every day, learning from Buddy every day and watching the Agencies evolve with Buddy has been one of the most rewarding professional experiences of my life. He is and has been a treasure to VMI and the Alumni Agencies for four decades. While you cannot replace him, we are confident that the relationships Buddy has built with donors and friends of VMI over the last four decades will endure the test of time. Buddy will be missed, but his impact will never be forgotten.”
“Buddy is an icon, not just at the VMI Foundation but also at the Institute and among all alumni,” said Gen. J.H. Binford Peay III ’62, superintendent. “Throughout his time at the Foundation, he has impressed everyone with his ability to easily make friends, his competence and his quiet but effective leadership. What makes him such a great leader is his absolute sincerity and the sense of trust he inspires in all his interactions with others. He is the consummate VMI alumnus. Throughout his long tenure, Carol was at his side and thoroughly engaged with him. Both have been exemplary representatives for the Institute.”
Four decades of service. Tens of millions of dollars raised. Thousands of alumni and friends engaged and helped. Based on numbers alone, Bryan has had an impressive career. However, just looking at numbers gives an incomplete picture of Bryan. It is in the effects that one sees his impact. The private support he has helped raise has allowed – and will allow – thousands of cadets to seize opportunities, pursue dreams and realize their fullest potential as cadets as well as in lives of service and success after graduation. That is an amazing and enduring legacy, but not a surprising one for someone who has, for four decades, personified the motto of the VMI Foundation, “Excellence in Service.”
On July 1, 2019, Meade B. King ’85, who has been the Keydet Club chief operating officer since Feb. 1, 2018, took on the additional responsibility of serving as the VMI Foundation chief operating officer. Before becoming the Keydet Club COO, he was a major gift officer for the VMI Foundation from 2014-17, when he became its senior major gifts officer. He also helped direct the major fundraising campaign Reveille: A Call to Excel from 1998-2004.
Asked for his thoughts as he took on this responsibility, King replied, “I have been charged with helping further the reorganization of the Agencies by shaping its fundraising programs. To that end, I will be working closely with both organization’s governing boards as well as our Annual Giving team, Terrie Conrad’s team on planned giving and major gifts, and with Andrew Deal ’12 to further the important interests of the Keydet Club. Our efforts will be coordinated with Patti Cook and her reunion team, Avis Slagle who oversees our overall stewardship program and the Alumni Agencies’ communication staff which crafts our messaging to alumni and friends.
“The future success of the Foundation and the Keydet Club depends on the VMI family’s willingness to rally to the Institute’s support. Therefore, we’ll seek to inspire the VMI family’s philanthropic spirit by presenting with a clear and compelling vision of what private dollars mean to VMI and by securing their trust by being fiscally responsible and as open as possible about our work.
“While I am pleased beyond words that my background and good fortune have brought me to this position at this important time in VMI’s history, I come to it with humility and gratitude and a commitment to ensure that VMI thrives and our cadets emerge from barracks as ready as their predecessors were to make a better state, a better country and a better world.”