Warren Thompson (Darden ’83) heard the story often growing up.
His father, Fred D. Thompson, wanted to attend UVA. But after returning home from serving in the Korean War, he was denied admission because he was Black. To save money to attend Saint Paul’s College, a private, historically Black college that was more expensive than UVA, the elder Thompson took a job as a waiter at The Blue Ridge Terrace Inn, a nearby restaurant that was popular among UVA students.
“He had to wait on them,” Thompson says. “He told me that story so many times as a kid. I finally said: ‘Let’s cut a deal: If you stop telling me the same story, I’ll do something about it.’”
Thompson, CEO and founder of Thompson Hospitality, has fulfilled that promise. As a former member of the board of trustees of The Darden Foundation and the UVA Board of Visitors, he has advocated for diversity and inclusion and worked to increase recognition of the role Black people have played at the University.
His latest project is a continuation of that work. Thompson and his business partner, Ron Jordan, this spring opened The Ridley, a Charlottesville restaurant that pays homage to Walter N. Ridley (Grad ’53), the first Black graduate of UVA and for whom the Walter N. Ridley Scholarship Fund is named. The fund, an initiative of the Alumni Association, has awarded more than 300 scholarships to Black students of the highest academic caliber since 1987.
For Thompson, Ridley’s story and influence are deeply personal. His parents, both educators, studied under Ridley at Virginia State University.
“The Ridley is a way for me to publicly recognize his contributions and his commitment to action and equality,” Thompson says.
Five percent of the profits from the restaurant will go to the Ridley Scholarship Fund. Thompson and Jordan hope their contribution will be $40,000 to $50,000 the first year.
The upscale-casual restaurant featuring fresh seafood is located in The Draftsman, a hotel at 1106 W. Main St. It’s a five-minute walk from the Memorial to Enslaved Laborers on Grounds. Thompson envisions patrons visiting the memorial and then going to dinner at The Ridley. The owners plan to include tributes to UVA’s other early Black students as well.
“The Draftsman is named for Thomas Jefferson,” Thompson says. “Now to bring together Thomas Jefferson and Walter Ridley—for both to be honored in the same building—I think is going to be a topic of conversation and something special.”