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Steve and Kathie Markel are joined by VCU president Michael Rao during ground breaking ceremonies for VCU's Institute for Contemporary Art.

Husband and wife Steve and Kathie Markel have worked quietly to improve civic life in the Richmond region for many years, taking leadership roles to help Virginia Commonwealth University, the Massey Cancer Center and the Maymont Foundation, among other institutions.

"Both Kathie and I have been involved in a lot of different things, and we both have generally done our own thing in different areas," said Steve Markel, who is vice chairman of Henrico County-based specialty insurer Markel Corp.

But in the past few years, the couple have worked together on some major projects, including one that promises to transform part of downtown Richmond: The Markels were donors to and co-chairs of the campaign to raise money for the $35 million Institute for Contemporary Art at VCU, a 41,000-square-foot museum rising at the corner of Belvidere and Broad streets.

"It is a huge steppingstone for enhancing Broad Street, the city of Richmond and VCU in many different ways," Steve said.

"It will be even more exciting as it comes to fruition in 2017," Kathie added.

The couple also are honorary co-chairs of the ongoing five-year capital campaign to raise $35 million for Maymont, the Richmond area's most visited attraction. Kathie said more than half of the goal has been reached.

"I am hoping that for all the love people have for it (Maymont), they will decide to show that love," she said. 

Kathie also has devoted volunteer time to the Community Foundation and the Partnership for Non-profit Excellence, while also managing an informal volunteer group of about 75 women in the region called the Circle of Friends. Steve has taken leadership roles with VCU, serving on its board of visitors and the business school foundation.

The Institute for Contemporary Art was a different sort of cause for him.

"My personal orientation has always been accounting and finance," he said.  "My mind has always been more logical than creative. I have huge respect for people who are creative. We need all sorts to make the world go around."

STEVE MARKEL

Position: vice chairman, Markel Corp.

Born/hometown: April 20, 1948; Richmond

Family: wife Kathie, daughter Neely, son Drew, four grandchildren

IN HIS WORDS

A small moment in life with a big impact

At age 42 I discovered I had heart disease and had triple bypass surgery. This experience highlighted for me just how fragile life could be and the importance of living a healthy life and managing stress.

Role model

I have had many role models and try to learn from others whenever possible. Some of the things I’ve learned that I think are most important would be (1) to have big dreams and the self-confidence to achieve them, (2) to have the perseverance and willingness to work hard to succeed, (3) to always operate with the highest degree of integrity, and (4) to give back. We’ve benefited from the contributions of others, and we have an obligation to do the same for future generations. If I had to identify one person with the greatest impact it would have to be my dad.

Alternate profession or course of study

I have always been good at numbers and finance, and that’s where I’m most comfortable. If I had to choose a different direction, I’d like to have the courage to try something artistic.

KATHIE MARKEL

Position: founder, Circle of Friends

Born/hometown: Dec. 26; Dover, Del.

Family: husband Steve, daughter Neely, son Drew, four grandchildren

IN HER WORDS

A small moment in life with a big impact

I lost both my parents at relatively young ages when I was early in my adulthood. It gave me great perspective at that young age of what I find to be truly important in life and led me to value memories and friendships over possessions and titles.

Proudest accomplishment

I get the most joy from the creation of Circle of Friends. For almost 20 years, I've had the joy of bringing the members of CoF into contact with so many worthwhile organizations through volunteer work. It has been a pleasure to see these dynamic women work so well together, learn about the communities' nonprofit organizations and gain satisfaction at making a contribution to help others.

Role model

I admire and am inspired by Richmond's leading philanthropists and their dedication and efforts in making Richmond a better place - Clairborne Robins, the Ukrops, Bill and Alice Goodwin, just to name a few of the very many. These people give not only their financial support but take leadership roles in promoting the worthwhile causes they support. Their vision of what our community can become has taken many organizations further than originally thought possible.

Alternate profession or course of study

Always wished I had studied music in some fashion. It is such a wonderful means of expression.

Favorite thing about Richmond region

I love the small-town feel of Richmond while it offers so many large-town activities.

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