Adam Ewing photo
The list of Bob Mooney's close friends and associates reads like a Who's Who of Richmond's Wealthiest and Most Powerful: Virginia Museum of Fine Arts benefactor Frances Lewis and her late husband, Sydney, grocery and banking magnate Jim Ukrop, Dominion Resources CEO Tom Farrell, the Gottwald family.
If you ask, you'll find that Mooney has dined and chatted with some of the greatest modern American artists from the last 50 years, from Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein to author Tom Wolfe and composer Philip Glass. In fact, Mooney will modestly add (without a whiff of braggadocio) that he even visited Warhol at his famed Factory studio a couple times.
A past chairman of the Greater Richmond Chamber of Commerce, Mooney served on the board of the privately held Ukrop's Super Markets and is the former CFO of Ethyl Corp. He helped establish the Maggie Walker Governor's School, the College of William & Mary's new $75 million business school building, and Richmond's new $74 million CenterStage performing-arts complex. In recent years, he's been serving as CenterStage's unpaid, volunteer executive director. Sidebar:
J. Robert "Bob" Mooney may be the most prominent Richmonder you've never heard of, and even if you have, you may not know the extent of who he really is.
That's partly because Mooney, 66, is not one for self-promotion. He's the very definition of a backstage player — so much so that he's almost invisible to the average Richmonder.
"He works very quietly behind the scenes," says Jim Ukrop, adding, "To me, he's our community's unsung hero, but he doesn't seek out notoriety. He just quietly, effectively brings people together. … He knows how not to alienate people, unlike Jim Ukrop. He doesn't get in anybody's face."
"There isn't a powerful person in Richmond that Bob Mooney doesn't have the super-secret cell-phone number for," says accountant David Robinson, who worked for Mooney and Ukrop at CenterStage, shepherding the project's financing. "There isn't a powerful person in Richmond that hasn't called on Bob Mooney for counsel. … Bob is a calming force."
Robinson describes Mooney as a "laser-sharp, cut-to-the-problem" manager. If there's a crisis, big or small, he says, "Bob's Apple iPhone comes out and he gets the right person on the phone."
In December 2005, Mooney stepped in to take control of CenterStage's daily operations and get the derailed project back on track. It was a position he would hold for most of the next four years.
Under his predecessor, there had been a very public, messy battle with city administration over construction delays, fundraising problems and the director's exorbitant salary. After Mooney's entrance, the headlines quickly evaporated. Things got quiet.
Mooney was sold to the Richmond public and media as a numbers man. And that's true; Mooney looks every bit the mature, responsible finance exec he is — balding, with close-cropped silver hair, wearing glasses and a tasteful, muted gray suit that is well crafted but not ostentatious.
You have to look closer, though, to see the glimmers of the "real" Bob Mooney, perhaps down to the unusually colorful glass cufflinks he purchased from an artisan in Bath, England. Glass art is just one of the art forms that Mooney collects.
When it was announced that the CenterStage project would be taken over by the former head of Ethyl Corp., some local arts fans worried what kind of project this would be. After all, CenterStage's two governing boards were already chaired by Ukrop and Farrell, businessmen without arts backgrounds, and Mooney was pitched as an executive with 40 years of expertise in financial business management.
But what went unsaid and, Mooney acknowledges in hindsight, could have been better communicated is the fact that Mooney does have considerable arts credibility. "It wasn't something I tried to promote," he says. "I was always the acting executive director and not the expert executive director, if you will. … I didn't try to aggrandize myself or pretend I was some expert I wasn't."
Back in the early 1980s, Mooney and his wife, Sally, got involved with the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts as members of the exclusive Fabergé Society led by Richmond modern-arts patrons Sydney and Frances Lewis. For a generous donation, the Mooneys became one of about 15 couples who took trips with the Lewises to meet artists such as Warhol, Lichtenstein and Chuck Close, often in their own studios or sometimes at the Lewises' Monument Avenue home. Mooney credits the Lewises with igniting his passion for modern art. Frances Lewis, he says, "transformed my thinking about art and collecting art."
"Just to show the magnitude of Sydney and Frances, a lot of times they would bring these artists down to Richmond," Mooney says, still marveling at memories of being invited to dine at the Lewises' home with guests such as Wolfe, Glass and Warhol. "We still have our Interview magazine signed by Andy Warhol."
Mooney stayed involved with the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and from 1994 to 2004, served on its foundation board, chairing its finance and investment committee during the concept phase for the museum's $150 million expansion.
Mooney also served on the board of the Richmond Symphony throughout the 1990s and acted as its treasurer. He's presently treasurer and a member of the symphony orchestra's foundation board. As a board member of TheatreVirginia in the 1990s, he helped make the difficult decision to shutter that venerable Actor's Equity performing-arts institution because of a decline in fundraising and ticket sales. As a result of that, he became involved in the CenterStage project from the very beginning, at first with an eye toward possibly resurrecting TheatreVirginia.
In his personal life, Mooney is now, by all reports, an expert collector of modern art, even if he wouldn't describe himself that way. Among the many pieces he owns are signed Lichtenstein prints. His other hobbies include container gardening in the courtyard of his Fan District home, and he's an amateur photographer who likes to shoot landscapes and photograph events like weddings for friends. Over the years, he has traveled the globe, often building an extra day into business trips so he can tour art museums in England and France, for example.
"Bob is a true Renaissance person," Ukrop says. "He's a master gardener, he collects art [and] he's been involved in the performing arts in any number of positions over the years." Mooney's business acumen is a thing of wonder, Ukrop says, not to mention his numerous volunteer positions. "I don't think the man sleeps," Ukrop says.
A native Richmonder, Mooney grew up in South Side near the DuPont chemicals plant off the old Richmond-Petersburg Turnpike. His father was an instruments engineer for American Tobacco; his mother was an office manager and clerk.
Mooney attended Thomas Dale High School before going to the College of William & Mary, where he graduated in 1966 with a dual degree in accounting and art history.
That degree says a lot about the contradiction inherent in who Mooney is.
Although he is a finance expert, he is also apt to philosophize about the differences between art that challenges one's thinking and art that qualifies as simple entertainment. While he was in college studying accounting, he also spent many weekends in the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. He enjoys discussing the various artists he's seen and met, or shows he's seen or museums he's visited over the years. He's a big fan of the jazz/world-music orchestra Pink Martini from Portland.
Mooney worked for Coopers & Lybrand (now PricewaterhouseCoopers) from 1967 to 1997 in a variety of executive positions, climbing his way to partner in the firm's New York City-based national headquarters in a little less than 10 years. That's how he met his wife, Sally. She was at the top of her MBA class at the University of Michigan when Mooney persuaded her to come to Coopers & Lybrand during a recruitment trip. They married in New York in 1979 and moved to Richmond a couple years later to start a family.
Sally, who operates her own small private CPA practice, remains his best and closest friend, according to Mooney and others. They have a daughter, Laura Markley, 24, who works for PricewaterhouseCoopers in New York, and a son, Dr. David Mooney, 28, a Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine graduate who is doing a residency in Alabama in hematology and oncology.
In 1997, Bob Mooney went to work for Ethyl Corp. as its chief financial officer and a senior vice president. While there, he co-founded Enerva, an early Internet firm for chemical companies, raising $35 million in capital and merging it in 2001 after the Internet bust. "Like any other stock options in the Internet's halcyon days, it turned out to be far less than we hoped when we went into it. I learned a lot from that experience … but I didn't get any capital gains out of it," Mooney says with a chuckle.
Speaking on the topic of his personal wealth, he says, "I don't have a fortune, but I was fortunate." He was among the last of the generation that earned generous pensions from their former employers, and he receives retirement pay from PricewaterhouseCoopers as well as Ethyl Corp. He also currently holds a paid position as chief financial officer for the College of William & Mary's Mason School of Business. But Mooney spends an equal amount of his time on pro bono projects such as his work with CenterStage. Robinson says that in his years working with CenterStage, Mooney usually worked 8 to 10 hours daily as CenterStage's volunteer executive director, often logging time on weekends, too.
"Bob Mooney never took a penny in salary" at CenterStage, Robinson says, adding, "Every now and then, he would turn in a little bit of mileage or [receipts for] taking somebody to lunch or buying office supplies. But he invested both his time and his own money in this organization."
‘‘It's not that you think less about yourself. It's just that you think of yourself less," Mooney says, quoting the Rev. Rick Warren, the evangelical preacher who delivered the invocation at President Barack Obama's inauguration.
In a board room at CenterStage's Carpenter Theatre, Mooney sketches a four-square diagram out on a piece of notebook paper. "I'm a visual person," he says, almost apologetically. The diagram is something that he makes everyone (including himself) fill out every week in the adult Sunday school class he teaches at Bethany Place Baptist, he explains. It's a variant on a book titled Lead Like Jesus by Ken Blanchard that Bobby Ukrop introduced Mooney to when Ukrop brought Blanchard to Richmond for a seminar at First Baptist Church. It's intended to make one think about how they're living their life. Outside each quadrant, Mooney writes a word: pride, humility, fear and confidence. "If you're in this quadrant," he says, pointing to where pride and fear converge, "then you've really got a lot of things working against you because you've maybe got some arrogance in thinking you're something you're really not, and you're fearful about your job maybe and it keeps you from developing into a confident person. On the other hand, if you've got a lot of confidence and you're overly prideful, that probably doesn't serve you real well in a community-leadership role or a biblical model either."
The goal, explains Mooney, "is to be confident in who you are and what you're doing and the mission that you've got, but doing it with a sense of humility."
And agree or disagree with their leadership styles, Richmonders should appreciate that the city has a lot of "servant leaders" who are doing good things for local organizations. "They're not there to aggrandize themselves," Mooney says. He humbly counts himself among that number. "We recognize we have a role to play and it's to be of service or to be a community servant and if we do that, you can't do it out of fear."
For certain, Mooney has myriad channels for putting his words into action, evident in his exhaustive list of current volunteer board memberships: CenterStage Foundation; Richmond Symphony Orchestra Foundation; William & Mary Mason School of Business Foundation; Maggie Walker Governor's School Foundation; Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens; and Jamestown/Yorktown Foundation. And that's going without mentioning a bunch of other local businesses and nonprofits he's been involved with, from C3 to Intelliject.
His tenure as CenterStage's volunteer acting executive director is winding to a close as CenterStage plans to announce its hiring of a new executive director with an extensive arts background in March or April. Besides the actual establishment of the $74 million CenterStage complex itself, Mooney is the most passionate about two facets of CenterStage — the ability CenterStage has to help smaller arts organizations, such as Richmond Shakespeare, and the educational opportunities that CenterStage can offer to Richmond-area schoolchildren.
The latter item shouldn't be a surprise — working closely with former Gov. Tim Kaine when Kaine was a city councilman and mayor, Mooney and his wife helped establish the Maggie Walker Governor's School, making substantial donations and providing countless volunteer hours to the project.
At CenterStage, Mooney talks enthusiastically about bringing in 3,000 Richmond Public Schools students to view a free dress rehearsal of the Virginia Opera's Carmen . Then there's CenterStage's Genworth BrightLights Education Center, which has the ability to stream high-definition video of performances and events directly into local schools to help students meet various Standards of Learning. It got its first test during February's "Sit In/Stand Out" commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the civil rights sit-in protests at the Thalhimers department store lunch counter. CenterStage filmed HD footage of interviews with the surviving protestors, which will be sent digitally to participating school systems.
Mooney appears most excited about this, but like a good servant leader, he tries not to look too proud.