Joe Viar: Taking the hospital to new heights

Joe Viar: Taking the hospital to new heights

In every community you have The Builder, the non-pessimist who sees every day as an opportunity to make life better for the people around him. 

Joe Viar is one of those people. With a high-voltage grin, steely determination and a rosy optimism that infects everyone around him, Viar has won high accolades in Alexandria for helping to raise tens of millions of dollars for needed upgrades and improvements to Alexandria Hospital.  

For his gritty determination in twisting every last arm in Alexandria to do something for the hospital,  Joseph Viar Jr. is the Alexandria Times 2007 Citizen of the Year. 

But for unassuming Joe Viar, he might tell you hes much prouder of some other awards; like Most Tarpon Releases 1996, or Team Grand Champion Anglers 1992, or Outstanding Catch Award for the 48-pound Permit fish he hauled into the boat in the Florida Keys in the spring of 1999. 

Being the humanitarian that he is, Viar forgoed the half-hour run into the marina to weigh the monster fish on a certified scale. He refused to allow the fish to die and released it alive. What the heck, he recalled. That record was broken the next year, and has been broken several times since. 

While Viar this week makes the front page of The Alexandria Times, friends of his will probably tell you hes the most proud of making the cover of Salt Water Sportsman magazine.  Its been a real good run, said Viar, 66.  A real good life. 

As a world champion angler whos fished the waters off the Florida Keys, Russia, New Zealand, Peru, Chile and the Seychelle Islands, these skills were easily transferable into trawling for dollars for his beloved hospital.  In fact, after learning how much money he had raised  for his alma mater, Hampden Sydney College, his old friend Vic Dymowski of Belle Haven bought Viar at a 1987 auction for the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce, and  introduced him to the needs of INOVA Alexandria Hospital.  

Viar was hooked. He quickly set out to raise $3 million for the hospitals state-of-the art Cancer Center,  a benchmark he achieved quickly with 25 other Alexandria Hospital Foundation members. Joe is an absolutely tireless fundraiser for the hospital, said T.J. Fannon, who ceded chairmanship of the foundations board to Viar ten years ago. Ive never seen anything like it. 

Now with the dirt thrown on an $84 million hospital expansion project, Viars goal is to raise $25 million and hes more than half the way there with $13 million in the bank. 

When community leaders created Alexandria Hospital in 1872, they relied on local farmers to set aside a portion of their crops to help build what is now the oldest community hospital in Virginia.

For the hospitals next phase of development, its ambitious 2010 Project, then Hospital Administrator Ken Kozloff just called on Viar. For his part, Viar came to the October, 2006 groundbreaking clutching $750,000 in commitments hed secured….that day.

Kozloff recalled that Viar worked relentlessly for years shaking the citys giving trees to raise a large chunk of the funds to cover the cost of the new addition, which will take three years to complete and will add a new emergency wing, neo-natal unit and birthing center, single-patient rooms, nursing stations and a state-of-the-art cancer wing. We might not have been able to raised the initial funding without Joe, Kozloff said Tuesday. He was indispensable.

J. Knox Singleton, the president and CEO of Fairfax-based Inova Health System, called Viar a godsend to the hospitals expansion efforts. We want to be the best in the world, the best advanced community hospital in the world with a great medical staff which brings together high-touch with high tech, Singleton said. But to create the best facilities and hospital technology anywhere in Virginia, you need community support and people like Joe Viar..

Singleton also recognized the work of the hospital foundations 1872 Society, its ladies auxiliary (TWIG), the Rotary Club of Alexandria and the City Councils Hospital Task Force led by Mayor Bill Euille.

2010 Project
The funds now being raised represent the largest investment of capital into the hospital in three decades. The 2010 Project is a reconfiguration and expansion plan aimed at enhancing the hospitals existing health care services and improving patient access. By 2010, officials predict, one out of four people in Alexandria will be between the ages of 50 and 65, and Inova is expanding health care services most required by the aging community.  The 2010 project will keep our hospital on the cutting edge, Singleton said.

The new construction will include approximately 68,000 square feet of space on three floors, two of which will be above ground. This represents a 13 percent increase in square footage for the hospital. The new construction is taking place adjacent to the current emergency department and ambulatory service center. The hospitals renovations and expansions will focus on enhancing its emergency, surgical and cardiovascular and interventional radiology departments, areas which hospital officials see as being most in demand.

The expansion of its emergency department will allow the hospital to triage more patients and provide for more clinically effective care. It fills us with great pride to see this hospital live up to its goals as a world-class community hospital, said Dr. George Tawil, the president of the medical staff at the hospital. Our team has worked so hard to see that a lot of firsts have happened here.

There will be an all-private, eight-bed clinical decision unit that will be used to observe and assess patients, as well as a neo-natal unit funded with a $1 million gift from Ann Beverly Jones of Alexandria. The surgery department will include the addition of two new operating rooms equipped to accommodate minimally invasive procedures, and the cardiovascular and interventional radiology department will expand by 16,000 square feet to allow the hospital to perform more of the innovative invasive and minimally invasive heart and vascular procedures it now offers.

To make room for the expanded units, the laboratory will relocate to a new basement and the shell space to accommodate a monitored and private telemetry unit will be constructed for future use above the clinical decision unit. Construction duties for the project have been assigned to Turner Dominion Construction Co. They will build it on time and under budget, Viar predicted.

The hospital has been undergoing a transformation since 2004 when it renovated and expanded its perinatal diagnostic center to meet the need for high-risk pregnancy care. It acquired a new $1 million computed tomography scanner for the radiology department and a $4.5 million state-of-the-art Trilogy linear accelerator in its cancer center, to treat cancer earlier, more quickly and with precision while reducing treatment time and minimizing side effects. Its use of Triology is one of only two in the Washington area.

Hardscrabble beginnings
Joseph Viar, Jr. was born on June 15, 1941 in Philadelphia, where his father was training to become a railway mail clerk. For 35 years, Joseph Viar Sr. rode the rails between Washington and Charlotte, and fished the James River with his son on weekends. His mother sold handbags at a l department store, where young Joe worked as an inventory clerk and raised milk-fed fryers in a chicken house left over from WW II. 

Both my parents were hustlers, he said. They taught me to work hard.
Viar grew up in Lynchburg, where he played single-wing blocker in high school, winning a  scholarship to Hampden-Sydney, wher
e he excelled as a mathematics major. His parents moved to the Mount Vernon area in 1965, when Joe Sr. was moved to the executive ranks of the U.S. Postal Service.
After graduating in 1963, Viar got into making high-powered computer computations and designing electronic circuitry at General Electric. Computers back hen were a flukey deal, he said. Before GE, Id never seen a computer in my life.
His career with computers flourished, and Viar went on to design war gaming simulations for the U.S. Army, and building simulation models for remote computing at IBM. Computers back then were the size of this room, he said. But I loved the work, and I became a real expert in designing hardware and software systems.
Viar went on to devise the nations first computerized land title search system, and the nations first order-entry systems for transferring stock online. In 1971, he moved to Stratford Landing and bought his first house for $51,000.
Five years later, he formed Viar & Co. computer consultants, with offices in Richmond and Alexandria. The company took off, and by 1985 the company had 100 employees and boasted yearly revenues of $25 million. Inc. magazine called it one of the fastest-growing companies in America. In 1991, months short of his 50th birthday, Viar cashed out when DynCorp made him an offer I just couldnt refuse.
Married for 23 years and divorced, Viar has two grown daughters and two grand-kids. He lives along the Potomac River with his companion of 15 years, Bonnie Christ, with whom he fishes in tournaments. We fish as a team, so we share the bow, he said.
Viar started to give back to his community and to Hampden-Sydney, where hes served on the board for 25 years and is now helping to raise $95 million for its new capital campaign. Over the years, Viar said he has made hundreds of thousands of dollars in gifts to both the college and to Alexandria Hospital.
The Stroke Center saved the lives of two of my friends in the last year, Viar said. Raising money for such a world-class facility is the least I can do to give back.