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You Visit Tour. Webb Lion Fountain. June 1 2017. Photo David B. Hollingsworth

Funds from Foundation Provide Equipment for Dental Program

By Irv Harrell

When it comes to counting blessings, Judge Richard S. Bray humbly reels off a long list of people who have enhanced his life and inspired him to do the same for others.

"I was mentored through every stage of my life," he said. "I had people lifting me up, people who led me by their example to make the right decisions."

From law clerk to attorney to judge to trustee, Bray has gone from wielding the gavel to awarding grant money. He now serves as CEO and president of The Beazley Foundation, which funds such concerns as healthcare, housing and education. Over the past three years, the foundation has given Old Dominion University's College of Health Sciences $200,000 for improvements to its Dental Hygiene Care Facility. That money has gone to new equipment, which has elevated the level of education at the School of Dental Hygiene.

Bray's initial connection with college was with former Dean Shelley C. Mishoe, now a professor with the School of Community & Environmental Health.

"We connected immediately as we met several times over lunch or a coffee," she said. "I believe we share a passion for empowering lives through education with a strong foundation on the basics: reading, writing, math and history. I was deeply honored when the foundation purchased new dental chairs and equipment over a multi-year gift."

Bray knows the value of providing opportunities to students - and they're not always monetary. He told the story of a former Norfolk State University student who found himself in the judge's courtroom on drug charges about three decades ago.

"He was a junior in college and I knew of his family - hard-working people. The young man's father was a taxi driver who had been murdered," Bray said. "Many of his family members showed up in court with him."

The young man was found guilty, and as it was back in the day in Bray's courtroom, if you were convicted on drug charges you had two choices: time in jail or time in prison.

However, this time things would turn out differently.

"I'll tell you what I'll do," he said to the young man. "I'll let you finish the semester, your junior year, and then come back - and bring your toothbrush - and we'll see what we'll do."

When spring semester came to a close the young man returned - this time with a couple of his professors.

"They spoke so well of what he had done and how he had performed," Bray said. "So I put him on probation."

"And the next day the media skewered me," he chuckled.

One of Bray's greatest rewards, he said, came years later when he was on the Court of Appeals of Virginia. He received a letter from that young man. He had graduated from Norfolk State, went on to attend the University of Maryland and received an architecture degree. And he had become a successful architect.

"He wanted to express his appreciation to me for giving him a chance," Bray said. "I'll never forget that."

It's amazing what can happen when a young person is given a chance, Bray said. He speaks about today's society and how it has vastly changed from when he was young. "Today these kids are really in a minefield with drugs and what-not," he said. "There are traps grabbing at them."

Defining his upbringing as "magical," Bray won't hesitate to regale you with stories about growing up in Portsmouth public schools in the '50s and '60s. His parents were close friends with influential people who in turn became his friends.

"I was immersed in mentors," he said. "Judge Lawrence I'Anson, who later became a Virginia Supreme Court chief justice, was a dear friend to me when I was a little boy. We would sit on the back porch and talk during the summertime."

I'Anson was also confidante to Fred W. Beazley, who set up the foundation in 1948, two years after Bray was born. Bray inevitably became law clerk for Chief Justice I'Anson and went on to practice law in Chesapeake until 1989, when he was elected circuit court judge in Portsmouth. In 1991, he became a judge on the Court of Appeals of Virginia.

While on the appeals court, Bray was asked to lead the foundation, which he had been a member of for eight years. I'Anson had stood by Beazley on the foundation until his passing and carried the torch. As I'Anson's health began to fail, he passed it on to his son. In 2002, it was Bray's turn.

The transition was seamless, Bray said, given the time he spent growing up and learning from I'Anson and Beazley.

"I knew what the mission of the foundation was. I knew what Mr. Beazley intended it to be and what Judge I'Anson intended it to be, and what they created," he said.

The foundation is fond of providing specific things that are usually capital needs, rather than salaries, Bray said. "We want to provide something that is going to be an asset that has durability in the future."

Providing ODU's dental hygiene clinic with new equipment was one such opportunity, he said.

"This program is making a profound impact. It's the best of two worlds because you're educating for tomorrow and you are serving the community," he said. "It's healthcare delivery on the front lines."

Because of Bray's extensive service to the community, in 2009 he was chosen Chesapeake's First Citizen. He says it was the greatest honor ever bestowed on him. There were about 800 people in attendance, all of whom had touched his life in some positive way.

It was a culmination of what had started when he was young, and it instilled him with the will to help others even more.

"When I got in the car to head home, I said to my wife Dawn, 'Tonight will never be topped,'" he said.

Such honors aside, Bray says he is grateful for the impact he has made - at ODU and other places. The real takeaway has been how working with The Beazley Foundation has changed him, he added.

"This job has made me a much better person," he said. "It has taught me that nobody is unimportant. The frustration is that we can't do more."

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