NEWS- More opportunities: Paramount loses Rucker

In March, Ed Rucker was attending ribbon cuttings like the one across the street for the Landmark Hotel with CNET founder Halsey Minor. By May he was gone.

Less than a year ago, after a national search that produced 71 candidates, the Paramount Theater heralded new executive director Edward I. Rucker, a Charlottesville resident, as a man of "vision, enthusiasm, and experience." The best person for the job was "right here," Paramount chair Gary Taylor said at a July 19, 2007, press conference introducing Rucker.

Well, Rucker's not there anymore. He resigned May 2, Taylor confirms, less than 10 months after his arrival. His departure after two weeks' notice creates a powerful sense of deja vu. Less than two years ago, in September 2006, the Paramount's original executive director, Chad Hershner, who oversaw the 1931 theater's nearly $16 million renovation and 2004 reopening, also suddenly resigned. Hershner, who resurfaced as vice president of advancement at the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center in Appleton, Wisconsin, did not immediately return the Hook's call.

Like Hershner's, Rucker's resignation "was definitely unexpected," says Taylor, who won't comment on the reasons for Rucker's departure other than to offer the vague assertion that Rucker wished to "pursue other opportunities"– an explanation ubiquitous with mysterious resignations.

Rucker-– a Charlottesville resident since 1988-– served as President and CEO of the Richmond Forum, a nonprofit that charges Richmonders big-ticket prices to hear heads of state and other high-profile speakers. Rucker long maintained homes in Richmond and Charlottesville where, from the late 1980s, he served on the boards of Second Street Gallery and the Piedmont Council for the Arts. Before joining the Forum, Rucker was director of development and government relations at the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities. In November, the Piedmont Council of the Arts honored him with its 2007 Arts Award in the Organization category on behalf of The Paramount Theater.

Neither the Paramount nor Richmond Forum could provide contact information for Rucker, whose number is unlisted. However, the Hook discovered him gardening at his house off Rugby Road May 7, and he graciously accepted our request for an interview.

"One year was pretty exhausting," Rucker says, citing his six-day work weeks and grueling hours– sometimes from 9am until late into the evening on nights of a performance. Long hours aren't the only reason running the Paramount is no easy gig, he says, listing the multiple constituencies the executive director must serve: media, staff, board, board committees, donors and, of course, the artists who perform, who have included Tony Bennett, Yo Yo Ma, and Ricky Skaggs over the past four years.

Charlottesville has also changed since the Paramount first re-lit its marquee in 2004 as the newest, and arguably grandest venue in town. Then came John Paul Jones Arena and the Pavilion, making it tough for ticket buyers to choose– and pay for– the slew of national acts offered throughout the year.

"There are challenges and pressure in the economy," admits Rucker.

Rucker says he's proud of the accomplishments during his single-season tenure, mentioning successful fundraising, strengthening partnerships, and cutting operating expenses. But remaining for a second season didn't appeal to him. "My career interests are moving in other directions," he says, citing a wish to focus on "education administration and development."

As Rucker ponders his future career options, Taylor says the Paramount board has not begun a search for a new director but is instead "talking with a couple of national consulting firms that specialize in helping arts organizations just like us to find the right leadership and the right model for what is a very unique community."

Taylor thanks the Paramount's staff of 14 full-timers for jumping in with little warning to fill Rucker's shoes.

"The transition of his departure has gone exceptionally smoothly," says Taylor. "We haven't missed a beat."

Rucker, who plans to remain in Charlottesville, says if the organization does miss a beat, he'll be glad to help out in some way.

"I've pledged to respond," he says, "if they call."