Compassionate, loyal, and dedicated, Robert “Robbie” Werth has devoted his professional career to equalizing opportunity.
Now Werth — who earned his political science degree in 1974 and his MBA in 1981, both from Virginia Tech — has expanded on his interest in accessibility and equal rights for people with disabilities with a generous gift to Virginia Tech’s Services for Students with Disabilities to expand its testing center in Lavery Hall.
As the founder of Diamond Transportation Services Inc., now a subsidiary of National Express Transit, Werth works with local and regional transit agencies in the DC metropolitan area to design, implement, and operate paratransit services for persons with disabilities.
His innovative work and advocacy have garnered numerous awards and made him a sought-after expert on the topic of providing transportation services to the disabled community — including testimony on Capitol Hill.
“Lack of accessibility can be an intimidating thing for people to confront,” said Werth. “We need more exposure on how to interact, accommodate, and create a positive environment for people with disabilities. It is my favorite population to work with because you can make such a difference. Transportation is the key to independence.”
For Werth, it is all about the Virginia Tech motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve). “I wanted to make a difference in equality,” he said. “Whenever I meet a young Hokie, I talk about Ut Prosim. This is what we do and how we do it.”
Werth has a long history of supporting his alma mater in ways that make a difference for students. His gifts to the Hokie Scholarship Fund have helped hard-working student athletes succeed in the classroom and on their chosen athletic playing fields.
The number of tests that Services for Students with Disabilities has proctored has increased every year, with dramatic annual increases since the program moved into Lavery Hall in 2012. The number of tests proctored rose from 2,012 tests in the 2012–13 academic year to 6,313 tests in the 2017–18 academic year. With this consistent increase in demand, it became apparent that additional testing space was a high priority. Werth’s gift will increase the number of dedicated seats for proctoring tests from 27 to 43, increasing capacity by 240 students. Construction of the new testing center began this fall.
“By making our university more welcoming to students with differing abilities, Robbie is changing lives,” said Vice President for Student Affairs Patty Perillo. “Sharing his life’s work with his alma mater not only has a lasting impact, but also brings a Virginia Tech education within reach — literally and figuratively — of talented and worthy students who need an environment that is critical to their collegiate success.”
Werth said simply, “It was the right thing to do and the right time to do it. It will be a place for people to come together, open doors, and support each other. If I didn’t have mentors and coaches who helped me out, I could have gone by the wayside. I have great confidence in our youth. They are worthy of investment.”
Werth’s work in accessible transportation continues with National Express as project manager for MetroAccess, under contract to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. He is active in a number of professional organizations in the transportation industry and was recently elected president of the Taxicab, Limousine, and Paratransit Association Foundation. He was co-chair of the Washington Council of Governments Private Providers Task Force; sat on the Metropolitan Planning Organization Transportation Planning Board; is past president of the Taxicab, Limousine and Paratransit Association; and was a three-time board member of the Endependence Center of Northern Virginia.
Werth is a member of the Student Affairs Alumni Advisory Board, a group that represents a wide range of careers and professions. Board members offer their expertise, experience, and wisdom to enhance the quality of programs offered by Student Affairs and maximize the student experience at Virginia Tech.
Werth is married to Marianne Longshore Werth, a social worker, and has two daughters: Amanda, a Lynchburg College alumna, and Elena, who graduated from Virginia Tech in 2007 with a degree in communication. He resides in Alexandria, Virginia, and is the game announcer for the Thomas Edison girls’ basketball team.
Written by Sandy Broughton. Photo by Christina Franusich.