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Stewart Gamage ’72 Devoted Life to William & Mary and Public Service

William T. Walker, colleague and friend, reflects on her legacy

April 25, 2024
By William T. Walker

Student, intercollegiate athlete, distinguished alumna, board member, vice rector and vice president — seldom has anyone fulfilled more roles at William & Mary than Stewart H. Gamage ’72. The devoted supporter of her alma mater passed away on March 20, 2024, in Richmond, Virginia, after a lifetime of service to her alma mater, the state and the nation.

Stewart hailed from Petersburg, Virginia, graduated summa cum laude from W&M and sharpened her competitive instincts under the tutelage of legendary tennis coach Millie West HON ’91, L.H.D. ’17. After graduation, she moved quickly to launch her life of public service in the political arena, where she worked with Gov. Chuck Robb, Gov. Gerald Baliles, House Majority Leader Richard Gephardt and President Bill Clinton. At the White House, she served as associate deputy of intergovernmental affairs. Gamage was appointed to the William & Mary Board of Visitors in 1985, which elected her to the post of vice rector from 1989-1990. In light of her commitment to the Commonwealth, Gov. Mark Warner presented Gamage the Governor’s Award for Community Service in 2005.

Stewart was never one to claim credit, but her achievements grace the historic campus and its outposts around the state and nation. She founded the Pamela Harriman Foreign Service Fellowships, which offer exemplary undergraduates funding to spend the summer in a professional internship position within the U.S. Department of State, in honor of her long-time friend and fellow Board of Visitors member; she helped the Virginia Peninsula capture the federal Jefferson Laboratory, whose electron-ion collider has proven to be an economic engine for Newport News and a boon to students and faculty; led the creation of the W&M Washington Center, which arranges classes and internships for students; and brought emerging African leaders to campus to learn invaluable democratic practices established by her fellow alumnus, Thomas Jefferson 1762.

To secure increased support from the state, Stewart inspired William & Mary students to blitz the state capital to lobby legislators on the “Road to Richmond,” now a perennial program. As vice president for public affairs, she helped negotiate a new relationship with the Commonwealth that freed the university from many restrictive and costly state regulations. Stewart’s mind was always restless, seeing opportunities which no one else could imagine and helping her staff convert them into realities.

After stepping down from William & Mary after more than a decade as vice president for public affairs, she took up a new post as director of the Morven Property, a large estate near Charlottesville owned by the University of Virginia. There she established the Presidential Precinct, which attracted groups and visitors from around the world to study politics and democracy. She also founded the Women’s Leadership Program, which included the participation of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito. Under Gamage’s leadership, Morven ultimately became UVA’s sustainability laboratory, with experiments in agriculture and nutrition endorsed by two first ladies of Virginia.

Retirement to Richmond did not bring surcease from public service for Stewart. She was an active member of St. John’s Episcopal Church, where she ministered to many of the parish’s sick and needy. And when Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022, a new idea to support the beleaguered nation occurred to Gamage. Because Putin’s surging armies quickly destroyed the nation’s electrical infrastructure, Stewart conceived of buying solar-powered lamps and sending them to the freedom fighters and citizens. Light Up Ukraine, as she dubbed the initiative, raised some $250,000 for the invaluable lamps, and as one of her last acts of public service, Gamage joined a convoy of 30 ambulances conveyed from Virginia to the Port of Baltimore for shipment to Ukraine. The vehicles were loaded with hundreds of lamps.

Encouraging new generations of leaders was always a prominent mission for Stewart. She had a knack for spotting potential volunteers and leaders among student groups, and she was never happier than when she was surrounded by a bevy of students discussing civic ventures. She nurtured these young people by arranging for them to interact with state, national and international leaders and supported their efforts to convert their aspirations into action. Many of Stewart’s students have now embarked on their own careers, leading major universities, championing historic preservation, building schools in Africa, and leading efforts to form consensus for difficult political issues, like the redistricting of Congressional seats.

In light of her continuing commitment to developing new leaders, Stewart’s two sons — Graves and Forbes — have joined many of their mother’s friends and associates in establishing fellowship programs at William & Mary to advance diplomacy around the globe and public service in Virginia. More than $300,000 had already been raised for the Stewart Gamage Memorial Fund, and those wishing to support the initiative may contribute online at The fund will ensure that Stewart’s salutary influence will continue in perpetuity as a memorial to one of William & Mary’s most dedicated supporters.

For more than a decade, William Walker served as associate vice president for public affairs with Stewart Gamage, and they worked closely on the Morven and Light Up Ukraine initiatives.