Personality: Dr. Pamela Kiecker Royall

Spotlight on first woman board chair of the Virginia Museum of History & Culture

3/25/2021, 6 p.m.
Dr. Pamela Kiecker Royall is breaking ground in her newest role as the first female board chair for the Virginia ...

Dr. Pamela Kiecker Royall is breaking ground in her newest role as the first female board chair for the Virginia Museum of History & Culture, a leadership post to which she was elected in January. And she is intent on making sure that the museum on Arthur Ashe Boulevard is “relevant and meaningful for diverse audiences.”

“I considered it a great honor, especially to be the first woman in this role,” says Dr. Royall when asked why she accepted the role. “I believe in the museum’s mission and expanded vision for serving all Virginians.”

Her major goal for her two-year term is supporting that expanding vision to make VMHC’s collections, exhibitions and programming and preservation efforts more inclusive and representative to reflect the history and legacy of all Virginians.

So far, that work has included exhibitions and programming that have widened the scope of the topics VMHC has spotlighted.

In June 2019, VMHC hosted thousands of people for the public dedication ceremony of the street’s renaming to Arthur Ashe Boulevard. The late civil rights icon, Congressman John Lewis, spoke at the event, which also opened the museum’s exhibit, “Determined: The 400 Year Struggle for Black Equality.” The exhibit commemorated the 400th anniversary of the arrival of enslaved Africans in Virginia in 1619.

The museum also has developed a partnership with the Black History Museum & Cultural Center of Virginia in Jackson Ward to help catalog, digitize and securely store some of their collections.

It also has an ongoing re- search effort to help uncover the names and stories of enslaved Virginians for its archival materials for a database. That project is called “Unknown No Longer.”

Dr. Royall says the museum, which is undergoing an extensive, $30 million renovation, also has added a new curator position to focus on under-represented communities and is currently searching for its first manager of partnership and community engagement.

“I see being named the first woman to serve as chair as an important and concrete example of the evolving and dynamic nature of our organization,” Dr. Royall says. “The VMHC is taking the best of its past and growing to better serve Virgin- ians today and for generations to come.”

Meet museum leader and this week’s Personality, Dr. Pamela Kiecker Royall:

No. 1 volunteer position: Board chair, Virginia Museum of History & Culture (VMHC).

Date and place of birth: Nov. 7 in Luverne, Minn.

Where I live now: Prestwould, right across the street from Monroe Park in Richmond.

Education: Bachelor’s in religion, Carleton College; MBA, Minnesota State University; and Ph.D. in marketing and social psychology, University of Colorado-Boulder.

Occupation: Head of research, EAB, for 20 years; formerly university professor of marketing.

Family: My family in Minnesota, my father will be 92 next month; my late husband Bill’s family in Virginia, including my mother-in-law, who will be 103 next month!

VMHC’s mission: To connect people to America’s past through the unparalleled story of Virginia. By collecting, preserving and interpreting the Commonwealth’s history, the museum links the past with the present to inspire future generations.

When and why VMHC was founded: The Virginia Museum of History & Culture was founded in 1831 as the Virginia Historical Society. Older than the Smithsonian Institution and half of the states of our nation, this organization has devoted nearly two centuries to collecting and preserving the artifacts of our past to share the far-reaching history of the Commonwealth of Virginia with the world.

VMHC is: A nationally respected museum and research organization that cares for one of the largest history collections in the United States, totaling nearly 9 million items.

VMHC is important because: It is the only institution dedicated to telling the whole story of Virginia, welcoming more than 100,000 guests annually and reaching hundreds of thousands of students across the state and beyond.

When elected board chair: January 2021.

Why I accepted position: I considered it a great honor, especially to be the first women in this role. I believe in the museum’s mission and expanded vision for serving all Virginians.

Significance of being named first woman board chair in the museum’s nearly 200-year history: I see being named the first woman to serve as chair as an important and concrete example of the evolving and dynamic nature of our organization. The VMHC is taking the best of its past and grow- ing to better serve Virginians today and for generations to come. The role of the Commonwealth’s history museum is changing. We must continue our work in partnering with our community, bringing all voices into the conversation when planning exhibitions and programs, to reflect the beautiful and dynamic diversity only found in Virginia.

No. 1 goal or project as VMHC board chair: To support the transformative work that is underway – all designed to communicate the important message that everyone is welcome, and to ensure our exhibits and programs are relevant and meaningful for diverse audiences.

Inclusivity and the VMHC: The VMHC is making great strides to ensure that the museum is a place that represents all Virginians and makes everyone feel welcome. Behind the scenes, this focus is articulated through our new institutional values and vision, our renewed staff and the collective will of our Board of Trustees. Some examples of our effort to provide a more dynamic and a more inclusive and thoughtful history of Virginia include exhibitions such as “Fresh Paint: Murals Inspired by the Story of Virginia;” “Determined: The 400 Year Struggle for Black Equality;” “Coming Out, Affecting Change;” “Mending Walls RVA;” and “Agents of Change: Female Activism From Suffrage to Today.” Similarly, programming such as “Created Equal,” “Becoming Citizens,” and “Agents of Change,” as well as partnerships with the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, Virginia Pride, Coming to the Table-RVA, The Black History Museum & Cultural Center and Initiatives of Change among others, show our dedication to improved community engagement and inclusivity.

VMHC’s biggest challenge: At present, one of our greatest challenges is sustaining of rate of change/improvements in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Unlike the other state museums, the VMHC doesn’t receive any government operating support. We survive through private donations and from people visiting — both adversely affected by the current health crisis.

What makes VMHC inviting: I think our team members and their collective aspiration to welcome more and new people, and to fulfill our mission of preserving and sharing a rich and full history of Virginia, have given the museum long-needed new life and vibrancy. There is an energy now that we never had before, and it makes us far more inviting. Furthermore, an essential and top priority of our current major renovation, our campus will be far more welcoming and guest-centric when we re-open. We are investing heavily in providing more space to share more history, and more space for community convening.

Black history and VMHC: We know well that Black history is Virginia history and American history, and we are doing more each day to tell a more meaningful and comprehensive narrative of our past. Large internal investments have been made to support our progress to date, and we have plans to do more. We are focused on partnerships, collaboration and convening; we are expanding our collections to fill voids and to include underrepresented areas; we are dramatically expanding our programming to better reflect all Virginians.

Among our most important partnerships during the past several years is our long-term relationship with the Black History Museum & Cultural Center of Virginia, committed to the goal of sharing and caring for their museum collections. We are dedicating VMHC staff support over several years to catalog, rehouse, digitize and securely store the bulk of their collections – a longstanding goal of theirs, and work our team is set up to readily handle.

Also, our recent collaboration with the Library of Virginia will help amplify another important project of the VMHC, “Unknown No Longer,” which has been underway for many years. This is our massive, ongoing research effort to scour hundreds of thousands of archival materials to reveal the names and stories of en- slaved Virginians previously neglected from public record. Our findings are now joined with similar work at the Library of Virginia, creating one of the largest databases of its kind.

COVID-19 and the VMHC: The VMHC, unlike most of its peer institutions in Virginia and nationally, doesn’t receive regular operating support from the state. We survive through our own ingenuity and through the generosity of our members and supporters. While our normal revenues have dropped dramatically during the pandemic (amounting to more than $2 million in losses so far), most of our supporters remain with us. This, plus some much-needed, one-time support through a PPP loan, allowed us to protect all our staff. We had no COVID-related furloughs, layoffs or other reductions. Even more positive, our team was able to produce incredible virtual content that has allowed us to reach tens of thousands of people who we would otherwise be unable to serve.

What I like most about Richmond: The “creative” community of art and artists.

What I like least about Richmond: The hot and humid summer months!

How I start the day: Ready for anything! (Up before 5 a.m.; hour walk beginning at 6 a.m.)

Three words that best describe me: Disciplined, detail-oriented, and sad (missing Bill terribly).

Best late-night snack: I’m trying very hard not to eat after 8 p.m., but my go-to snacks are microwave popcorn and Honey Crisp apples. These apples were created in Minnesota at the ag school at the University of Minnesota!

How I unwind: Watching TV.

What I have learned about myself during the pandemic: I am totally comfortable spending time alone.

Something I love to do that most people would never imagine: Bowl!

Quote that I am most inspired by: “If you stay ready, you don’t have to get ready.” Not sure who said that, but I like it!

At the top of my “to-do” list: I work my list every day, so the thing that is on the top is always new. That keeps me motivated.

Best thing my parents ever taught me: It is gratifying to accomplish things.

Person who influenced me the most: So hard to say. Right now, I’d say it was my husband, Bill. He certainly helped shape what my life looks like today — where I live, the work I do, the organizations I’m engaged with, etc.

Book that influenced me the most: It was the first Nancy Drew mystery I read. My mother bought the entire series for me when I was in grade school. Reading the first one quickly taught me that I loved reading!

What I’m reading now: “Witness to Grace: A Testimony of Favor” by Dr. W. Franklyn Richardson, senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Mount Vernon, N.Y., and chair of the board of Virginia Union University. Dr. Richardson is my friend and fellow VUU trustee!

Next goal: To get vaccinated so I can visit my family in Minnesota!