Peggy Bartlett called a few months ago and asked if I would show her what Old Dominion University had done to honor her grandfather, A.H. Foreman, at the new S.B. Ballard Stadium.
Foreman not only secured federal funding to build a football stadium that bore his name for 82 years, he was also a founding father of the Norfolk Division of the College of William & Mary, which eventually became ODU.
That phone call led to a memorable three-hour meeting in which Wood Selig, ODU's athletic director, and I watched the grandchildren of A.H. Foreman break bread with the family that paid for a memorial to their grandfather.
They walked into the Norfolk Yacht and Country Club for lunch as strangers and walked out of S.B. Ballard Stadium hours later as friends.
First, some background: Bartlett, a retired Portsmouth school principal, and Herbert Foreman Hargroves, a Richmond businessman, are Foreman's grandchildren. A century ago, Foreman was one of the leading members of the Norfolk business community and served for many years as rector of the Board of Visitors at the College of William & Mary.
He helped lobby and win support from the Commonwealth and William & Mary to start a two-year branch in Norfolk.
In part because of his efforts, the Norfolk Division opened its doors 90 years ago this fall. ODU has since grown into a university with nearly 24,000 students and 160,000 living alumni.
Save for a short section of the brick fence behind the north end zone, the original Foreman Field was demolished in November 2018. It was replaced with a $67.5 million facility that seats nearly 22,000 people and has luxurious creature comforts.
When Bartlett called, she was under the impression that ODU had put up a plaque to honor Foreman. It was a delight to show her that ODU did much more than that, thanks to a generous donation from W. Sheppard Miller III and his wife, Gigi.
About 20 yards long, the Foreman memorial is anchored by a small brick wall in that replicates the brick of the old stadium, with an ODU logo and "Foreman Field" in all caps.
On either side is a stadium timeline with dozens of photographs, including the first Norfolk Division football team, the iconic leaping high five of Jonathan Duhart and Travis Fulgham during ODU's 2018 upset victory over Virginia Tech and Foreman being praised by Norfolk Mayor W.R.L. Taylor when the stadium opened in 1936.
Located just past the ticket gate on the stadium's east side facing Hampton Boulevard, the memorial did not open until late last football season.
Foreman's grandchildren were moved by the memorial.
"I did not expect all of this," Hargroves said. "This is really impressive."
Hargroves brought a scrapbook his father compiled during his career, and all four pored over faded newspaper clippings and other memorabilia during the lunch. The conversation was almost nonstop.
They talked about Foreman, the history of ODU and of so many friends and connections they shared.
"I remember thinking to myself how fortunate I was to be there at that moment and to hear the stories and the memories Peggy and Herbert were sharing with all of us," Selig said.
Shep Miller and Selig were raised in Larchmont. Both hopped the brick fence, which had broken glass imbedded on the top, to get into events at Foreman Field when they were kids. Hopping the fence was a time-honored tradition carried on by kids from Larchmont and Lamberts Point.
Members of the Miller family have lived in Larchmont for more than 100 years, so when it was time to find a donor to pay for a Foreman tribute, Jena Virga of the Old Dominion Athletic Foundation approached them first.
They agreed on the condition that they could play major roles in the design, content and photographs used.
And they did their research.
"I knew Mr. Foreman was important to the stadium. I knew he had gotten money from the federal government," Shep said. "But I didn't understand what he meant to the school.
"Without Mr. Foreman, there might now not be an Old Dominion University. And that's much more profound, frankly, than the stadium. The stadium was merely a symbol of what he did to help found the Norfolk Division."
Bartlett and Hargroves loved the timeline but Gigi Miller lamented the history that was left out.
"There's a lot there, but there's so much more," she said. "You couldn't put it all there. There's just too much."
While all six of us around the table were saddened to see the old stadium come down, everyone agreed it had to be done.
Hargrove said the memorial "shows more to the current general public (about Foreman) than they would have known otherwise. That's the best part about it."
"I want to thank you," Bartlett told the Millers. "What you've done to honor my grandfather was admirable. He was a very unassuming man and he never wanted attention. But this is quite a tribute."
As they left the stadium, Shep Miller looked back at the memorial.
"I think Mr. Foreman would be pleased," he said.