Rhymes with lovey: Charlottesville rainmaker refuses to retire

Hovey Dabney's elegant office suite doesn't much look like the hangout of a retiree. It's huge enough that he could sublease parts of it to a start-up company, and it's tastefully decorated with memorabilia from the University of Virginia and Jefferson National Bank, two institutions that have loomed large in both Dabney's– and his hometown's– life. This is the man the Daily Progress perennially kept on its annual "most powerful" list (until the newspaper replaced the list with a "distinguished dozen").

Dabney officially retired from Jefferson National Bank in 1993 but stayed on as chairman of the board until early 1998, when new-owner Wachovia told him to leave. Dabney's term as rector on UVA's Board of Visitors ended that same year. So what does he do with all that office space?

"Play," says Dabney with a twinkle. "It's my retirement office."

He claims he needs it for his board work, and he reels off the names of four on which he sits: UVA Foundation, Jefferson Area Board for Aging, WHTJ public television, and the MERCI Project that reclaims unused medical supplies.

Dabney's life could have been taken from the pages of Tom Brokaw's The Greatest Generation­ a book about men who fought in World War II.

"It was a fantastic experience," says Dabney. "I wouldn't want to do it again. Bailing out of a burning plane is not a lot of fun."

When he was a young radio operator on his first mission, Dabney's B-17 Flying Fortress was shot down over Budapest. He broke both ankles jumping out and was treated by Russian doctors.

For that mission, Dabney received a Purple Heart. He went on to fly 24 more missions.

"I didn't know my ankles were broken," recalls Dabney. "My flight surgeon told me they were and said, 'Since you've been flying, you might as well keep on.'"

Years later, flying was one of the things Dabney liked best about being UVA's rector, because he got to fly to all the football games with the team. "Being closely involved with the team was a lot of fun," he says.

Dabney was rector during UVA's immensely successful capital campaign in the '90s and using his special talents as rainmaker, he convinced his old friend John Kluge to donate his 7,400-acre estate to the university.

Dabney is too diplomatic to admit any regrets about selling locally owned Jefferson National Bank, except to say, "We were the community bank, involved with the community."

And in a community full of distinguished names, just what is the source of Dabney's unusual moniker? "My father was a shoe salesman for F.M. Hoyt Shoe Company," he explains. "Its president was Hovey Slayton. I was named for him."

One other question. When is Dabney going to slow down and act retired? "I'm not ready to sit down and do nothing," he says. "That doesn't interest me in the slightest."

Age: 79

What brought you here? The stork

What's worst about living here? Traffic

Favorite hangout? Farmington Grill

Most overrated virtue? Smart

What would people be surprised to know about you? I'm a pussycat.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? I'd be more understanding.

What accomplishment are you proudest of? I helped start the Health Service Foundation.

What do people find most annoying about you? My persistence

Whom do you admire? Jay Gillenwater

Favorite book? Follow the River by James Thom

What subject causes you to rant? The attacks on the World Trade Center

What thrills you about life in the 21st century? The many cures for disease

What creeps you out about life in the 21st century? The lack of a middle-class population. We're losing that.

What do you drive? A Volvo. After driving a Cadillac for 25 years, I decided I'd go small.

What's in your car CD player right now? Garth Brooks

What's your next journey? Outer Banks

What's the most trouble you've ever gotten in? Getting shot down overseas.

What do you regret? Not giving more time to the needy.

Favorite comfort food? Vanilla ice cream

What's always in your refrigerator? Diet Pepsi, vanilla ice cream

Must-see TV? Everybody Loves Raymond

 Favorite cartoon? Snoopy

Describe a perfect day. Sunny and warm and looking at the mountains

Walter Mitty fantasy? I haven't got one.

Who'd play you in the movie? Chauncey Brown

Most embarrassing moment? After I was sick in the McCue Center, I was walking to the car, and I'd lost so much weight that my pants fell off as three ladies walked by.

Best advice you ever got? My mother told me, "When you finish your job, you go help someone, and you'll learn something."

Favorite bumper sticker? I saw this in New York on a plumbing truck: "We would like to fix Farrah's Fawcett."



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