Oliver R.H. Singleton was known by his numerous friends and professional associates in the Richmond area as a consummate networker, a straight shooter who didn’t shy away from telling the truth as he saw it, a devoted father of three, and a tireless advocate for economic development in Richmond.
As president and chief executive officer of the Metropolitan Business League since 2003, he was a tenacious supporter of minority-owned and small businesses in the Richmond area.
Mr. Singleton, 63, died Tuesday after suffering a sudden health setback following recent surgery, several of his friends and professional associates said Wednesday.
“Oliver Rodney Hunt Singleton served as president of the MBL for over 13 years,” the Metropolitan Business League said in a statement.
“He was responsible for setting the strategic direction of the organization and overseeing the association’s day-to-day activities,” it said. “He is credited with developing community-shaping events and activities including the Women Who Mean Business Summit, one of the largest conferences for professional and executive women in this region.”
Formed in 1968 and based in Richmond’s Jackson Ward, the MBL is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to minority business development.
Besides leading the MBL, Mr. Singleton was a longtime executive committee member of Venture Richmond, an organization that promotes downtown economic development.
“Oliver was a giant in this community,” said Jack Berry, Venture Richmond’s executive director and a friend of Mr. Singleton’s for 35 years. “He helped so many people from all walks of life to reach their dreams.”
“These were often small-business owners who needed help with a business plan, or needed help meeting a potential customer,” Berry said. “Oliver knew everybody in Richmond, from the corporate suites to the startup businesses, and he connected people throughout his career.”
“Hardly a day went by when someone didn’t walk into (Mr. Singleton’s) office off the street and ask for help, and he would refer them to business opportunities or to mentors,” Berry said.
Born in Norfolk in 1952 and the youngest of three brothers, Mr. Singleton was a 1974 graduate of the University of Virginia, where he studied philosophy and comparative government.
He moved to the Richmond area in the mid-1970s and worked as assistant director of support services for the Medical College of Virginia before starting a career as a stockbroker.
Mr. Singleton was the first African-American stockbroker at Merrill Lynch in Richmond, according to his longtime friend, George K. Martin, managing partner of the Richmond office of law firm McGuireWoods.
Mr. Singleton worked for several financial services firms before turning his career toward government and nonprofit work, his friends said.
Before joining the Metropolitan Business League, he served as deputy director of the Virginia Department of Minority Business Enterprise.
Mr. Singleton served for several months as an interim member of the Richmond City Council in 1992. He was appointed to fill a vacated seat when council member Henry L. Marsh III was elected to the Virginia Senate.
After initially saying he would not run to retain the seat, Mr. Singleton mounted a write-in campaign in the May 1992 election, but he did not win.
He also served as chairman of the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority from 1994 to 1999, during which time the city began serious efforts to redevelop the Manchester area.
“Oliver was one of the smartest individuals I have had a chance to come across in my professional career,” said Ken Ampy, founder and chief executive officer of Richmond-based Astyra Corp. and a member of the Metropolitan Business League’s board of directors.
“He had an incredible spirit and was very knowledgeable and passionate about the city of Richmond, even though he came from Norfolk,” Ampy said.
His impact didn’t stop there.
“Although he was very well-known for his leadership in the community, there was no better friend you could find,” Ampy said.
Friends described Mr. Singleton as a devoted father to his three children, two of whom had special needs. His two youngest children are now in college.
“He was a role model for me and lots of others in terms of what an outstanding father he was,” said Martin, who was friends with Mr. Singleton for 40 years.
Mr. Singleton is survived by his wife, Rose, and three adult children: daughters Rachel and Christine, and son Oliver.