James Curtis Hall spent 26 years as the founding dean of the VCU School of Business, growing enrollment at the school from 400 to more than 4,500 students.

James Curtis Hall, VCU School of Business’ first dean, passes away at 91

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For those who knew him, the most enduring professional legacy of James Curtis Hall, who passed away this week at age 91, is the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Business.

In 1967, Hall became the school’s first-ever dean when the Medical College of Virginia and the Richmond Professional Institute merged to form VCU. He spent 26 years in the role, before retiring to return to teaching. During his tenure, the school’s enrollment grew from 400 to more than 4,500.

“Dr. Curtis Hall made a major impact on VCU and Richmond by serving as founding dean of the VCU School of Business, leading the school for 26 years, and establishing the comprehensive, doctoral-granting, accredited institution that we are today,” said Kenneth B. Kahn, Ph.D., interim dean of the School of Business. “His record of scholarship, teaching and leadership is exemplary. We mourn his loss and strive to carry on his legacy.”

Hall was responsible for creating the business school, said Walter S. Griggs Jr., J.D., Ed.D., emeritus professor in the School of Business, who met Hall in 1965 when the school was still a department in RPI. Hall’s office was then in the Franklin Street Gym. It was a humble beginning for the school now housed in Snead Hall, a 145,000-square-foot, four-story facility that includes a capital markets center and trading room, career services center, central atrium with a student commons and cafe, auditorium, collaborative learning rooms, tiered case study classrooms and team-building breakout rooms, and a Center for Corporate Education.

None of it would have been possible without Hall.  

“He built the school from a very small group of faculty to one of the leading business schools in the United States,” said Edwin “Eddie” E. Blanks, who served as associate dean for administration under Hall for three years and went on to serve as vice provost. “During the 1970s and 1980s he was responsible for building the five-story business school now known as Harris Hall. The fourth floor of that building housed the IBM mainframe that supported information systems for students, faculty and the university administration. His leadership, vision, and attention to all of the financial aspects of building for the future were his strengths and his passion.

“I do remember him telling me once while we were planning the new building, ‘Eddie, keep your eyes open because what we are doing now is laying the foundation for our children and grandchildren to be able to receive a quality education.’ He was great in getting me to constantly think about the future.”

In 1969, Hall founded the Virginia Council on Economic Education, a nonprofit that supports economic education in K-12 schools and continues to operate today in Snead Hall. He remained on the board until his death. Today the center supports a statewide network of Centers for Economic Education located at colleges and universities around Virginia. 

Dr. Hall wanted people to know how to be careful consumers, wise savers, savvy investors, productive workers and successful business people.

Longtime colleagues who became lifelong friends Dennis O’Toole, Ph.D., Chuck Gallagher, Ph.D., and Suzanne Gallagher all served as directors at the VCEE and the VCU Center for Economic Education over the years. VCEE, Chuck Gallagher said, was Hall’s passion. He was genuinely excited about educating people on how the economy worked.

“Dr. Hall wanted people to know how to be careful consumers, wise savers, savvy investors, productive workers and successful business people,” Suzanne Gallagher said. “He wanted them to understand how the economy works and their role in it. Since not all students go to college, he decided to work to reach students before college.”

He also believed that a university should be involved with the community it was part of and that a business school should be connected with the business community, she said. The VCEE became a who’s who of Richmond’s business elite, and area schools, both public and private, were served by the VCEE, thanks to Hall’s efforts.

“Dr. Hall lived a truly remarkable life. His work to make VCU’s School of Business what it is today — respected for its quality and commitment to its students — will be forever appreciated by his esteemed colleagues and graduates,” said VCU President Michael Rao, Ph.D.

Blanks also called Hall, who served as chairman of Blanks’ thesis committee for a Master of Science degree in business in 1966, an outstanding individual with a tremendous drive for excellence in everything that he attempted.

“I think of his leadership skills and how he was able to identify just the correct academic programs that he formulated and are still viable to this day,” Blanks said. “What an opportunity that many of our faculty had in working with a true legend.”

Today’s School of Business reflects Hall’s dream of an excellent business school, Griggs said.

“He was a creative leader who worked very hard to build the School of Business,” he said. “He worked for AACSB accreditation, created departments, met on a regular basis with faculty, loved a good joke.”

He also was an avid VCU basketball fan, Chuck Gallagher said.

A Galax native, Hall earned his bachelor’s degree from Duke University, which he attended after serving for three years in the U.S. Navy. He earned a master’s degree from Virginia Tech and a doctorate from Columbia University, both in business.

He is survived by his wife, Barbara S. Hall, son Michael Hall, daughter Suzanne Hall Beisner, two siblings, four grandchildren, three stepgrandchildren and a great-grandchild.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Virginia Council of Economic Education at 301 W. Main St., Box 844000, Richmond, VA 23284-4000, or to a charity of your own choice. 

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