An eye on the sky and the future: Richard Alvarez readies for retirement
At 19 years old, Richard Alvarez didn’t look back when he drove from his childhood home and headed to naval flight school.
He has carried that “look toward the future” mentality over the past five decades, through dedicated military and public service, and a distinguished career in higher education administration.
He credits his family and the United States Marine Corps for the “pioneer spirit” that has well-positioned him as a leader at Radford University and in the New River and Roanoke valleys.
“You always have to be thinking about leadership,” Alvarez said. “If you’re self-centered and self-serving, then you’re never going to be a leader. It’s something you always have to work at and strive to be.”
Later this month, Alvarez will retire from Radford University after almost 10 years as the university’s vice president for Finance and Administration and chief financial officer.
Again, he insisted, “No looking back.”
“I won’t be looking through the rearview mirror,” he said. “I’ll be looking ahead to what my future’s going to be.”
As he starts his next adventure, many, including members of the Radford University Board of Visitors (BOV), are reflecting on Alvarez’s accomplishments. At its May meeting, the Board approved a resolution in honor of Alvarez that recognized him as “above all else, a brave military officer, an admired public servant, and a devoted family man.”
Family values and dedicated military service
Family is a good place to start in explaining Alvarez’s legacy.
Alvarez is a proud seventh-generation Floridian.
His father was a police chief. His mother took care of him and his brother. Both parents were hard-working. Neither earned a high school diploma.
“They grew up in a time when there was nothing wrong with that,” Alvarez explained. “Having said that, my father was the author of the national crime reporting system, which is kind of awesome for a man with an eighth-grade education. He was a graduate of the FBI National Police Academy at Quantico in the 1950s. I have a picture of him shaking hands with J. Edgar Hoover.”
Alvarez demonstrated an interest in aviation at an early age. He started flying when he was 14 years old. His parents didn’t push him to join the military. In fact, his mother wouldn’t even sign the papers.
“But that didn’t stop me. I was determined,” he said.
Alvarez, who earned the rank of lieutenant colonel, joined the Marine Corps in 1965. For 23 years, he served in a broad spectrum of leadership roles, including aviator, flight instructor, district head of officer recruiting, head of the leadership and management department for the United States Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and executive officer of a Marine Corps air base in Japan.
During this span, he was deployed around the world, including two combat tours in Vietnam and Southeast Asia. He flew 255 combat missions in the F-4B Phantom II fighter-attack aircraft.
Alvarez often serves as the keynote speaker for the university’s annual Veterans Day Ceremony. His motivational messages are filled with stories of heroism, sacrifice, gratitude and advice for students in the university’s Army ROTC program.
Before retiring from military service in 1988, Alvarez requested his superiors find him a job in higher education as his last tour of duty. A position was open at the University of Florida and Virginia Tech. He picked the University of Florida opportunity, as it was just miles from home, he said.
“My superior said, ‘You got it.’ Two weeks later, my orders were to go to Virginia Tech. So goes the military, right?” Alvarez said.
Leadership and legacy
For 12 years, Alvarez served at Virginia Tech, followed by leadership positions at Systems and Computer Technology Inc. and Hollins University.
In 2009, he came to Radford University. He is humble and reserved as he recounts both challenges and successes.
“Any accomplishments that I’ve had over the last 53 years have been the result of great people who have worked with me,” he said. “I’ve been really blessed with extremely good people, people of integrity who are very intelligent and service-oriented.”
A major accomplishment – and also a continuous challenge - is his role in maintaining Radford’s status as one of the most affordable public higher education institutions in the state.
“The challenge has been maintaining that status, and at the same time, providing resources - people, money, facilities and equipment - to be able to be the high-quality institution that we are,” Alvarez said. “I have always strived to remember that my job is to try to provide the resources that people need to do their jobs. The academic side being the most important - our students.”
The BOV resolution best summarizes Alvarez’s other contributions to the university:
“Alvarez has inspired and mentored countless professionals by sharing his ideals and values of leadership and service; and has secured the financial future of Radford University through his financial acumen and conservative approach; and has created opportunities for past, present, and future generations of Highlanders through sound and strategic investments in academic programs, capital infrastructure, critical services, and student scholarships.”
More recently, Alvarez worked alongside President Brian O. Hemphill, university administrators, faculty, staff and students to develop the university’s 2018-2023 Strategic Plan: Embracing the Tradition, Envisioning the Future.
“President Hemphill’s strength in defining a vision and a direction for the university through the strategic plan, along with his creative mind, experience and background, have been remarkable,” he said. “It’s what the strategic plan is all about and it’s what he is all about: giving everyone a common vision.”
Looking toward the future of the university and its continued growth and development, Alvarez said that “President Hemphill has it right.”
“He is looking for ways of diversifying. This initiative with competency-based education [IMPACT], an international element to our education and other ideas of how we can diversify and take care of ourselves, I admire greatly,” Alvarez said.
Looking toward his own future, Alvarez said he is ready for retirement from the executive world. He’s not ready, however, to slow down in his service to the community.
“I hope to find opportunities that will keep my mind challenged and keep me busy. Maybe volunteering…helping other businesses and entities,” he said.
He’s also looking forward to spending time with his wife of 50 years, Dale, his three daughters and seven grandchildren.
After all, Alvarez is, first and foremost, a family man, who will forever be a part of the Highlander family.