After 34 years at Virginia Tech, Robert E. Denton Jr. is scheduled to retire on July 1.
He spent 32 of those years as an administrator – 21 of them heading the Department/School of Communication and 11 in an executive position at the Rice Center for Leader Development with the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets. He is the W. Thomas Rice Professor of the Pamplin College of Business and founding director of the School of Communication at Virginia Tech.
His time at the School of Communication began in 1988, when he was hired to head the communication department at Virginia Tech. Prior to her arrival, Denton worked at several major advertising agencies in New York and Chicago.
“It was an opportunity where I had been in the industry, had my own agency, and wanted to go back to higher education,” Denton said. “It was a wonderful opportunity to have an impact on a program. I came here from the start trying to build through the discipline of communication. People have been extremely kind and generous to me.
Denton served as head of the communications department from 1988 to 1996 and returned to that position from 2009 to 2020 before becoming the school’s founding principal.
Since 1992, Denton has also been a sought-after political analyst in the New River Valley. He started with WSLS-TV and is now a political analyst for WDBJ-7 and the Wheeler Radio Group as well as a contributor to the Virginia News Talk Radio Network.
“Bob Denton represented excellence in all areas of university life – scholarship, teaching, community service, and dedication to his institution and to the Commonwealth of Virginia,” said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center of Politics. “Bob’s contributions will be lasting, and his friends and colleagues wish him a happy, fulfilling and well-deserved retirement.”
During his media career, Denton followed every Virginia gubernatorial candidate on the campaign trail and commented on the performance of every key figure in office. This allowed him to cultivate deep ties in politics within the Commonwealth of Virginia.
One of those relationships was with U.S. Senator Tim Kaine.
“Congratulations to Dr. Robert E. Denton Jr. on his retirement from Virginia Tech,” Kaine said. “Dr. Denton helped establish VT’s School of Communication and added additional areas of study for students. I deeply appreciate his commitment to educating future generations, and wish him the best in this next chapter. .
Denton developed a reputation as a strong political analyst and relationships with leaders of all political parties.
“I am pleased to congratulate Dr. Denton on his retirement from Virginia Tech after a great career,” said Virginia Congressman Morgan Griffith. “He was a thoughtful and unbiased analyst, helping Virginia viewers and listeners understand Commonwealth politics and beyond. While political commentary can often be violent and explosive, Dr. Denton brings careful attention and, above all, solid and precise analysis. I wish him the best.”
Denton has met every US president, from Jimmy Carter to Donald Trump’s terms. His first gubernatorial appointment came to former Virginia Governor Mark Warner when he was appointed to the board of the Virginia Foundation for Natural Resources in 2005.
“Dr. Denton shaped the communications department into the school it is today,” Warner said. “I know Bob for his commitment to his students and his passion for political communications, and while the Virginia Tech community will miss him day-to-day, I trust his legacy will resonate on campus for years to come.”
His accomplishments with the communications program include establishing the first computer lab, building the first on-site studio, and growing communications programs from 300 students to nearly 1,000. The addition of the sports media major and analysis and advertising major also occurred under his tutelage.
His legacy at the school continues through the endowment of Dr. Robert E. Denton Jr..
The fund was created when Craig Nesbit, a 1981 alumnus, made the first contribution in honor of the department’s transformation into a school. This is an unrestricted fund whose allocation is at the discretion of the school principal. Endowment funds like these can be used for a variety of opportunities, such as sending professors around the world as keynote speakers and students at conferences and conventions.
“Bob took what was both an underfunded and understaffed communications department and turned it into the juggernaut college school it is today,” said Nesbit, vice president. retired from communications at Exelon. “I had many conversations with Bob over the years where he would lay out his long-term vision for the communications program, and he never gave up on that vision, kept working on it, overcoming obstacles, innovating , to recruit high-level teachers and practitioners, and well, here we are.
“Once in a while you meet someone who has a real generational impact on their chosen company, and Bob is one of those people. He’s done so much for so many people, his retirement is fine. deserved and I wish him well as he writes the next chapter.
Inspiring endowment is just another of those long-term impacts Denton has had for the School of Communication.