Dragas' digs: Rector's new farm suggests plan to stick around
Even if Helen Dragas doesn't remain UVA rector into a second term, she'll have a place fit for a billionaire to entertain friends and colleagues near Charlottesville. Sources indicate– and her own email confirms– that the Rector, a Virginia Beach resident, is already occupying a scenic Southern Albemarle farm that she plans to purchase called "Featheridge," the last home of late media tycoon John Kluge.
On the morning of Friday, June 8, the day that she and then Vice-Rector Mark Kington dropped the axe on the university's first female president, Teresa Sullivan, Dragas asked Kington to join her at a next-day meeting with University provost John Simon and vice president Michael Strine, most likely, she says, "at Featheridge."
"Let me know if you want my guest cottage," she tells Kington in an email released through a Freedom of Information Act request.
Featuring nearly 6,000 square feet of living space and nestled on 55 acres overlooking the Hardware River, the historic Featheridge estate in southern Albemarle is a glorious piece of real estate. With rolling fields and mountain views, it is located just off U.S. 20 on Secretary's Road, about half-way between Charlottesville and Scottsville.
There, Kluge and his wife, Maria "Tussi" Kuttner, would frequently host programs for UVA's Mindfulness Center as well as T'ai Chi charity events. After Kluge's death in 2010, Kuttner remained in the historic dwelling that one Featheridge visitor describes as "exquisitely tasteful."
"It's not ostentatious," a visitor says of the structure, built in 1800. The guest describes a "perfect kitchen– not too huge but beautifully equipped." Photos on the wall reportedly showed business titan Kluge in the company of celebrities.
Realtors indicate that the property has not been formally placed into the MLS, the Multiple Listing Service; and County records show that it has not changed hands since Kluge bought it in 1994. A friend says Kuttner revealed the rector's decision to acquire Featheridge within the last two months. Kuttner was traveling in Europe and did not return a reporter's calls for comment.
Previously, as her Albemarle County retreat, Dragas has taken residence as a renter at Southern Cross Farm, according to sources familiar with that property located in the Keswick area. While Dragas and her husband primarily reside in a 6,500 square-foot waterfront home in Virginia Beach, she revealed in a recent interview with a Darden School publication that she and her family enjoy rural getaways in Albemarle County– where she and her husband reportedly instruct their three children to turn off their electronics.
Tussi Kuttner has told acquaintances that Dragas' planned purchase of Featheridge, currently assessed for $1.6 million, will include furniture and furnishings, say sources familiar with those conversations. The sources portray Dragas' purchase of what are described as "eclectic" furnishings as evidence of the Rector's willingness to elevate decision-making over personal preferences.
"She's been galloping toward this one," says one source.
Any haste in acquiring the property, says UVA-based psychiatrist Andy Thomson, could be evidence that Dragas never expected the scathing fall-out– including widespread calls for her resignation– from the Sullivan firing.
Dragas' own family members praise her dedication to UVA and attest to her tenacity in published accounts– a "fighting spirit," as her mother described it to the Washington Post. And right after the announcement that three opposing members of the Board of Visitors set a June 26 meeting to consider reappointing Sullivan as president, Dragas sent out a 10-point appraisal of the "stiff headwinds" facing UVA. Such statements suggest that Dragas, whose current Board term expires at the end of the month, has no plans to leave when she could spend another four years helping guide the University into a new online era that she and some fellow Board members may consider the last best chance for UVA.
Dragas did not return a phone call for comment.
But with requests for her resignation still coming, with pressure on the governor not to reappoint her, and with signatures from 10 of 11 of UVA's deans urging the undoing of her action, Dragas may not need Featheridge as a work retreat for much longer.
But it's still a lovely place for a getaway.This story is a part of the The ousting of a president special.