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WVU Libraries to unveil Regina Charon portrait

Regina Charon

West Virginia University Libraries will unveil a portrait of Regina Charon, a pioneering civil rights attorney and role model for women entering the legal profession, from 4-6 p.m. Friday, May 3, in the Downtown Library’s Robinson Reading Room.

“We are excited to honor the life and accomplishments of Regina Charon. Her tireless work as a civil rights attorney helped countless people achieve court victories and enjoy better lives,” Dean of WVU Libraries Karen Diaz said. “It’s humbling for WVU Libraries to play a role in memorializing her legacy.”

Charon’s portrait was painted by Kamara Townes, a third-year graduate student in Painting, as part of the Inclusive Portrait Project, an initiative by WVU Libraries’ Art in the Libraries program to expand the WVRHC portrait collection through the creation of three portraits painted by a current BFA or MFA student or recent graduate who identifies as female. The project is funded by a Women of WVU grant.

During the unveiling ceremony, several people who were impacted by Charon will share their memories of her.

Charon (1946-2004) specialized in unemployment law, sex discrimination law and LGBT adoption law. Charon dedicated her legal career to serving her clients with passion, particularly focusing on cases involving discrimination and social justice.

Notable cases include successfully suing WVU to overturn a faculty member’s denied tenure decision. She also won a sex discrimination case at the West Virginia Supreme Court, and the decision led to better hiring protocols within the University. Charon was also instrumental in facilitating second-parent adoptions for same-sex couples before they were legally recognized.

Her commitment to justice extended to her role in establishing the Department of Women’s Studies at WVU, helping establish the free clinic Morgantown Health Right, and serving as an advocate for individual civil rights and the administration of justice.

Charon served as a board member for the WVU Council for Women’s Concerns, a board member for Legal Aid of West Virginia and president of the Monongalia County Bar Association. Later in her life, Charon was appointed as a State Administrative law judge in unemployment.

Charon, born in St. Paul, MN, grew up in a family deeply affected by the Holocaust, with her father, a Jewish immigrant who had fled Nazi persecution. After excelling academically and majoring in International Relations at the University of Minnesota, she pursued her dream of becoming a lawyer. She graduated near the top of her class in 1976.

Charon passed away in 2004 after a battle with myelogenous leukemia, but her legacy still lives on through the Regina Charon Fellowship for Law and Public Interest within the WVU College of Law. Also, the Regina Charon Zealous Advocate Award was established in her honor for attorneys that advocate for civil rights and justice throughout administration.

Charon’s portrait is the third work in the Inclusive Portrait Project. Last year, Julia Zaph, a Morgantown native who graduated from WVU in 2022 with a Bachelors of Arts in Painting, painted the portrait of Kittie Blakemore, the first coach of the WVU’s women’s basketball team. Two years ago, Anna Allen, a 2021 WVU BFA painting graduate, painted the portrait of Victorine Louistall Monroe, the first known Black female to receive a graduate degree at WVU and the first Black female to join University’s faculty member.

WVU Libraries Exhibit and Programs Coordinator Sally Brown considers the initiative a success on multiple levels.

“The Inclusive Portrait Project provides young artists with a distinctive professional platform to enhance their portfolios and integrate their work into a prestigious University Collection,” Brown said. “Showcasing a diverse range of portraits within our spaces enriches visitors’ experiences and helps to tell the stories of trailblazers who brought positive change to the university and beyond.”

In addition, the effort expands the University’s portrait collection.

“It’s truly my favorite project. I so appreciate the Women of WVU for their support,” Brown said.

Charon’s portrait will join Blakemore and Monroe’s in the Robinson Reading Room on a semi-permanent basis and then be added to the WVRHC’s collection. The WVRHC holds a collection of papers that document Charon’s life and career.