Tech in Retrospect

Donaldson Brown: A man and a mission by Clara B. Cox M.A.'84
Donaldson Brown

Tens of thousands of people have passed through Donaldson Brown Hotel and Conference Center (DBHCC) since it opened in 1968 as the Continuing Education Center (CEC). Some--if not many--of the people who have participated in courses and conferences at DBHCC may have learned about the business practices developed by the building's namesake: Frank Donaldson "Don" Brown.

Reflecting pool to flood site

The idea for the CEC was born in 1953 when John R. Hutcheson, president of the VPI Educational Foundation and former president of Virginia Tech, proposed raising money for an adult education center. The board of visitors decided to remodel the Faculty Center, built to provide faculty apartments and a public dining room, for use as the adult education center.

TFaculty Centerhat center, now home of Alumni Relations, became a wing of the CEC, which was constructed on the site of a reflecting pool that fronted the University Club. When the center was named for Brown, it became the Donaldson Brown Center for Continuing Education, but after Tech opened the Hotel Roanoke and Conference Center in 1995, it changed the name of its campus facility to the Donaldson Brown Hotel and Conference Center.

Over the years, DBHCC has provided lodging and/or meeting space to a plethora of people--from football fans to the president of Guyana. But one of its more memorable events was the night in 1992 when a cloudburst left water gushing through Blacksburg to reach the low DBHCC site during a dinner meeting of the Old Guard. Water welled up, fountain-like, from the floor in the middle of the dining room, forcing a quick evacuation and resulting in a much-needed remodeling of the facility.

One smart kid, one brilliant businessman

Don Brown was only 13 when he entered Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College and Polytechnic Institute (Virginia Tech) in 1898. He graduated in 1902, at age 17, with a B.S. in electrical engineering.

In 1909, he went to work for the E.I. du Pont de Nemours Powder Company as an explosives salesman. Brown ultimately became company treasurer and sat on the board and executive committee. He played an important role in the diversification of the company into the chemical field following World War I. In 1921, he left du Pont to become vice president in charge of finance and a member of the board of General Motors Corp.

A man of dynamic ideas, Brown became widely recognized for his contributions to modern corporate management, particularly for his methods of relating pricing policies to financial control, decentralization, and modernizing industrial management. Textbooks in leading business management schools espoused his principles.

Throughout his adult life, Brown loyally and generously supported his alma mater. He chaired the first Alumni Fund, delivered the1929 commencement address, and was the largest single contributor to the CEC building fund. He was among the small group awarded the first Distinguished Alumni Citations in 1959. Brown died in 1965.

The future for DBHCC

When the university opens its Inn at Virginia Tech and Skelton Conference Center this summer, DBHCC will become a graduate center, but it will remain a memorial and tribute to Don Brown, a corporate trailblazer and dedicated alumnus.

Clara B. Cox is director of publications and outreach communications.