The first non-African American to win the award, Batten is being recognized for her long record of community involvement and service on behalf of the disadvantaged. She is a member of the board of the Alison J. and Ella W. Parsons Foundation, whose grants have gone to area colleges and universities as well as arts groups and organizations of all sizes that work with the homeless and hungry and other people in need. She is also vice chair of the board of Smart Beginnings South Hampton Roads, an entrepreneurial nonprofit organization created by business, civic and philanthropic leaders to address the issue of school readiness in the region.
ODU President John Broderick lauded the selection of Batten for the MLK award, noting that “her family has been influential on many levels. She and her family have played a key role in championing the rights of minorities in this community and beyond.”
Batten is the widow of Frank Batten, former chairman of Landmark Communications. That company is now known as Landmark Media Enterprises and publishes The (Norfolk) Virginian-Pilot.
Batten and her late husband have been longtime local philanthropists. Among her recent gifts is a pledge of up to $1.5 million to aid a financially troubled, historically black private college in Southside Virginia. The gift to Brunswick County’s Saint Paul’s College includes a challenge grant through the Batten Educational Achievement Fund, and a $1 million endowment to support a program geared toward assisting single parents pursuing college degrees. Both funds are part of the Hampton Roads Community Foundation.
Cecelia Tucker, ODU’s assistant to the president for community relations and one of the organizers of the MLK Day observance on campus, said Batten couldn’t be a better choice for the award.
“I’ve known Jane for almost 40 years, and everything she does, every generous gift and action, has a goal of enhancing lives, changing the lives of people,” Tucker said.
The Hugo Owens Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Award recognizes individuals in the community whose lives mirror the principles of equality and humanity. The award’s other namesake, Hugo Owens, was a former rector of the ODU Board of Visitors and a longtime champion of civil rights in Hampton Roads.
Batten will be honored at Old Dominion’s 28th MLK Day observance on Tuesday, January 17.