Ford C. Quillen was born on September 21, 1938 in Gate City, VA. He graduated from Scott County Public Schools. He attended Fork Union Military Academy as a postgraduate cadet, earning accolades as captain of the varsity football team and as a distinguished graduate. He continued playing football in college at the University of Tennessee, earning his degree in 1961. He served as a commissioned officer in the U.S. Army and began his career as a practicing attorney in 1966 in Gate City.
Quillen was first elected to the House of Delegates of the Virginia General Assembly in 1970. He then served the next 24 years in such capacities as chair of the Privileges and Elections Committee; chair of the Joint Legislative & Audit Review Commission; vice chair of the Mines & Minerals Resources; the Joint Commission on Health Care; Member of Rules Committee, Coal & Energy Commission, chair of Coal Sub-Committee; Member of Appropriation Committee and its sub-committees of Higher, Education, Publication, and chair of Human Services sub-committee.
Quillen instituted a long-term regional focus on education improvement through his introduction of legislation creating the Southwest Virginia Public Education consortium. He also introduced legislation establishing the Coalfield Economic Authority.
In addition to being an effective legislator, Quillen is widely recognized for his support of education.
He was twice elected “Educator of the Year” by the Virginia School Boards Association. He was elected “Legislator of the Year” in 1987 by the Virginia Primary Care association, and he received “Conservationist of the Year” in 1989 by the Virginia Wildlife Association.
In 1995, Quillen was elected as a Circuit Court Judge for Virginia's 30th Judicial Circuit. He retired from the bench in July 2003.
Quillen, a tireless supporter of the college, called his years of service a labor of love and noted the contributions of MECC to education in Virginia. “Nobody does it like the community colleges as far as giving opportunities to young people. You do a great job and the Commonwealth is well served. I just feel lucky to be a part of it.” (MECC News Release, 1993)