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UVA, Monticello announce recipients of 2024 Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medals

Thomas Jefferson was many things. A leader, he served as governor of Virginia, secretary of state and president of the United States. A lawyer, his understanding of man’s unalienable rights contributed not only to America’s freedom from overseas powers but Americans’ ongoing fight for civil rights. An architect, his designs for his Monticello estate and the University of Virginia Academical Village today are recognized as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Every year, two institutions charged with carrying on his legacy — the Thomas Jefferson Foundation which owns and operates Monticello — and UVa — the school Jefferson founded — recognize three individuals for their contributions to architecture, civil leadership and the law.

This year’s recipients of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medals are landscape architect Kate Orff, attorney Julieanna Richardson and Judge Roger Gregory.

“In 1785, Thomas Jefferson wrote that ‘honesty, knowledge and industry’ were the habits of mind, and of character, that should earn the new nation’s ‘highest esteem,’” Jane Kamensky, president of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, said in a statement announcing the award winners. “This year’s winners have broken barriers in our nation’s legal system, spearheaded architectural efforts to address climate change, and founded the largest effort to record and preserve the African American experience in nearly a century.”

An alumna of UVa, Orff is the founder of SCAPE, a New York-based landscape architecture and urban design studio firm focused on creating outdoor spaces centered on ecological restoration and social engagement. She is the first landscape architect to receive a MacArthur Fellowship, colloquially referred to as the “Genius Grant,” given to Americans who have shown “extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits.”

Named as one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in 2023, Orff is best known for her work designing the Living Breakwaters on the South Shore of Staten Island. After Superstorm Sandy, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development sponsored a competition to lessen the harm caused by catastrophic weather events on the coastal community of Tottenville, New York. SCAPE’s proposal to construct nearly 2,400 feet of partially submerged stone and concrete units to reduce erosion and protect the habitats of marine wildlife was awarded the project as well as several other honors.

A Harvard-trained lawyer, Richardson has dedicated the past two decades to documenting and preserving the stories of Black Americans with her documentary and nonprofit educational institution, the HistoryMakers. It was this work that UVa and the Thomas Jefferson Foundation said made her a clear choice for the medal in civil leadership. With a background in theater, television production and cable news, Richardson has interviewed more than 2,000 figures, both the well-known and the unacclaimed, from America’s Black history, including former President Barack Obama, Civil Rights leader Angela Davis, singer Harry Belafonte, poet Maya Angelou and Tuskegee airman William Thompson. The HistoryMakers, based out of Chicago, describes itself as “the digital repository for the Black experience” which has often been ignored in the country’s historical canon.

Richardson majored in theater arts and American studies at Brandeis University in Massachusetts. She is also known for chronicling the oral history of the Harlem Renaissance and poet-writer Langston Hughes. In 2021, Richardson was awarded the Chicago History Museum’s John Hope Franklin Making History Award, an honor “recognizing Chicagoans who have improved the city and its culture.”

Gregory, who was awarded the medal for law, would be very comfortable among Richardson’s interviewees. The first Black judge to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, Gregory sided with the majority opinion in the 2014 case Bostic v. Schaefer, which declared Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional.

He was adopted by Virginia tobacco workers as a “fire-scarred baby with rickety legs and asthma,” according to the Thomas Jefferson Foundation. After graduating from Virginia State University, the country’s first fully state-supported four-year higher education institution for Black Americans, he received his law degree from the University of Michigan School of Law. Returning to the commonwealth, he co-founded the Richmond-based law firm Wilder & Gregory with Douglas Wilder, who in 1990 became the first elected Black governor in the U.S. since the Reconstruction era.

“I am delighted to honor this year’s Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medal recipients, who each exemplify the spirit of innovation and commitment to lifelong learning that marked Jefferson’s life,” UVa President Jim Ryan said in a statement. “Their contributions, whether creating spaces that can adapt as our climate changes, preserving and sharing history, or making our laws more equitable and just, have changed our world for the better.”

This esteemed trio will be in Charlottesville to receive their awards from both Kamensky and Ryan on April 12, the day before Thomas Jefferson’s birthday, often referred to in Charlottesville as Founder’s Day. The ceremony will include a luncheon at UVa’s Rotunda, personally designed by the Founding Father himself.

“We are honored to welcome the 2024 Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medalists, who have demonstrated these qualities through their remarkable careers and contributions,” said Kamensky.

The public will also have a chance to hear this year’s honorees speak at engagements on university Grounds April 11 and 12.

Gregory will speak at 1:30 p.m. April 11 at the UVa School of Law’s Caplin Pavilion. Orff will speak on at 3:30 p.m. April 12 in Old Cabell Hall’s auditorium. Richardson’s speaking schedule is still being determined.

All of those talks are free and open to the public.


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