She rose to head of the Dragas Cos. in 1996. Dragas is married with three children.
Development in Virginia Beach can be controversial, Mayor William D. Sessoms Jr. said. But he said Dragas is respected and well-liked in the area. “She goes in and meets with the community, works with the community and comes up with a plan the community can support. . . . She’s analytical. She thinks before she speaks.”
Over the years, Dragas has served on a number of powerful public and private boards and has donated to candidates from both parties. Records tracked by the nonpartisan Virginia Public Access Project show that Dragas and entities related to her business have donated more than $70,000 to political campaigns since 1999, mostly to Democrats. She forged ties with Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) and his successor, Democrat Timothy M. Kaine, who named her to the U-Va. board in 2008. In 2010, the board named Dragas vice rector as she turned back a challenge from another board member. In 2011, she became U-Va.’s first female rector, the year after Sullivan became its first female president.
George Dragas was also a rector, leading the board of visitors of Old Dominion University in the early 1990s. Last week, while Helen Dragas was in Charlottesville, relatives were at ODU for the dedication of a building named in their honor.
The Dragas Cos. recently donated $1.5 million to help the homeless in three cities in the Hampton Roads region, and Helen Dragas has been honored by Habitat for Humanity and other organizations. She is known in her home town as a civic leader.
But on Wednesday, she lost the support of her local paper.
“Helen Dragas, rector of the University of Virginia, has failed repeatedly to explain why President Teresa Sullivan was forced out a week ago,” the Virginian-Pilot said in an editorial. “Dragas has, however, built a convincing case for another departure — her own.”
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Dragas declined to be interviewed for this article. On Thursday evening, Dragas issued a statement saying that she agreed with critics who said the dismissal could have been handled better. But she reiterated her defense of the decision.
“In my view, we did the right thing, the wrong way,” Dragas said. “For this, I sincerely apologize, and this and future boards will learn from our mistakes.”
Dragas also listed challenges facing the university, including financial pressures and the emerging role of online learning, and said the board concluded that there was a need for a rapid development of a new strategic plan.