Alumni Shorts

Reelin' them in

Paul Ebert

Paul Ebert '59

Fellow lawyers regularly point to his down-home manner and lilting Virginia drawl which, they assert, juries respond to in spades. Although Paul B. Ebert (business administration '59) may not present the conventional image of a prosecutor--much less a commonwealth's attorney--to which we're accustomed, colleague Ronald Bacigal, professor of law at the University of Richmond, says, "He's very businesslike. Very methodical."

His rural heritage and fondness for fishing and duck-hunting aside, Ebert, the commonwealth attorney for Prince William County, Va. (the state's third largest jurisdiction), is no country bumpkin. His aggressive prosecution has sent 13 criminals to death row--more than any other Virginia prosecutor--during his 35 years in office. (Virginia has executed 89 convicts since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976.)

Ebert prosecuted the infamous Lorena Bobbitt case and most recently mounted the state's case against Washington, D.C.-area sniper John Allen Muhammad, which resulted in a guilty verdict and a recommendation of the death penalty for the man who orchestrated the murders of 10 people in the October 2002 rampage.

When Ebert, a Democrat, was personally selected by U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft to prosecute Muhammad, he had mixed emotions: "First, I was surprised and, secondly, honored to be selected." In the end, Ebert says that his "life has changed very little since the prosecution of John Muhammad insomuch as in this business, there is always another case waiting to be investigated and prosecuted."

So just how did this self-proclaimed "country boy" find his way into high-profile court cases? After receiving a J.D. from George Washington University and briefly working in private practice, Ebert moved to the Prince William County Commonwealth Attorney's office for more trial experience. When his boss left to run for a state Senate seat in 1968, Ebert entered the commonwealth’s attorney race and won the post at just 29 years of age.

In the decades since, besides his courtroom triumphs, Ebert founded the Prince William County Crimesolvers, established a Child Abuse Unit (for which he received commendation from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children), and launched an Expert Witness Clearing House for the county. As the recipient of an array of prestigious awards, Ebert, who seemingly understates his accomplishments at every turn, maintains that the level of success he has enjoyed is due mostly to his staff and 17 assistant commonwealth attorneys.

Not surprisingly, Ebert's capabilities go well beyond the courtroom. "I feel that my education at Virginia Tech was excellent. To this day, my knowledge of the business world, statistics, economics, and accounting has assisted me in being able to understand and prosecute many crimes where my colleagues were lacking in a business background."

Now just how much of a country boy can this Hokie really be?

To protect and to serve by Kate Wichmann

When the first plane crashed into the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, Liezel D'Souza (M.S. computer studies '00) was working in her Capital One cubicle in Fairfax, Va. An international student from Bombay, India, D'Souza chose Virginia Tech partly because Blacksburg was rated a safe place to live. After graduation, D'Souza--who married fellow international student Are Andresen (computer engineering '99)--decided to remain in the United States.

However, it wasn't until the events of Sept. 11, says D'Souza, that she realized "how much I love this country and everything it stands for. Freedom of speech, thought, and action is invaluable." To act upon her feelings, she chose to give back to her adopted country by becoming a volunteer firefighter.

Liezel D'Souza

"Growing up in India, I always used to look at the fire engines as they drove by and I did want to join them," she explains. "But India doesn't have a volunteer system, and opportunities for women in fire services were unheard of, and still are." After speaking with volunteer firefighters in Virginia--some of them women who share her petite build, which had been a concern--D'Souza decided to go for it.

Last January, D'Souza began five months of training, four days a week, with the Fairfax County Volunteer Fire Department, from which she graduated in May. She now spends 40 hours a month working alongside career firefighters, with duties ranging from participating in engine and ambulance crews to more light-hearted tasks, such as working at bingo games and helping with school field trips--in addition to her 9-to-5 job at Capital One.

Yet D'Souza believes that her time is well spent and that by helping citizens, saving people's lives, raising money for the fire department, and teaching children safety tips, she is giving back to America. She has also learned the value of her fellow firefighters: "They put their lives on the line every day," she says simply.

Her message to the community? "Make an attempt to get to know your local fire department, as a volunteer or not. Try to support them by volunteering your time or donating money." Remember, she adds, "these are the folks who will cut a car open to get you out, these are the folks who will crawl into your burning house to get you out, these are the folks who will be there for you when you need them--give them whatever support you can."

Liezel D'Souza '00

Auburn docs rooted in Tech tradition

When Tom Gallagher (M.S. forestry '84; Ph.D. '03) began playing basketball in Auburn University's Student Activities Building with fellow faculty members during their lunch break, he became, to his surprise, the sixth Virginia Tech alum to jouot;

The other Hokies--Leonard Bell (chemistry '87), Mac Cutchins (chemical engineering '56; M.S. '64; Ph.D. engineering mechanics '67), Joe Eakes (Ph.D. horticulture '89), Charles Gilliam (M.S. horticulture '76; Ph.D. '77), and Steve Merryman (electrical engineering '87)--only recently realized the extent of their Tech connections. And with the arrival of new Provost Thomas Hanley (chemical engineering '67; M.S. '71; Ph.D. '75), there are now seven "doctors" at Auburn who played basketball in Tech's War Memorial Gym as students over the past six decades.

Playing basketball, Cutchins recalls, helped him accomplish more as a student. "Current health research is verifying what I learned years ago--that you get more done on your work by taking a break from it and getting some exercise and stress relief," he explains. "You can’t play a round of golf at lunch, but you can work in three 24-point games of vigorous play up and down the court."

Cutchins estimates that he has played more than 12,000 full-court games which, he says, are "quite competitive." He adds that the games he plays these days are a "great way to meet and get to know other faculty," and Auburn faculty members from several dozen different departments have made friendships on the court over the years.

Instead of The Lunch Bunch’s practice of rotating teams, Cutchins hopes that he and four other Tech alums will some day form a permanent team. He believes that their cumulative experience rooted in their student days could make for a winning combination: "The baskets are the same height and size as those in ol' War Memorial Gym, you know."

Making his own mark

Chris Scott

Chris Scott '77

For Christopher Paine Scott (finance '77), living up to family history is no easy feat. One ancestor, Robert Treat Paine, signed the Declaration of Independence, and another, great-great-grandfather Sumner Paine, won two gold medals at the first modern Olympics in Athens. Yet, 108 years later, Scott is following Sumner's footsteps back to Greece to stake out his own turf.

Scott is the president and co-founder of GreenTech Inc. (the maker of the same natural grass sports turf used in Lane Stadium), which was named the technical consultant and supplier of the turf grass system to be installed in Olympic Stadium for the summer 2004 games. The system's portability--the grass is grown in large trays that can be moved and assembled in sections--made it an ideal option for the Olympics organizers because the stadium is being constructed under a tight timetable. As it happens, the grass will literally be installed at the last minute.

"We have to move the field from a vineyard-turned-construction-site in Spata, Greece, to the Olympic Stadium just after the opening ceremonies are completed on the night of August 13th," Scott notes. "That's about a half-hour drive for 300 truckloads in 48 hours." While he ordinarily would have preferred to have more lead time for installation, he says cryptically that the fact that the grass is specifically not part of the ceremonies is "the reason we will bring the field into the stadium immediately afterward. The opening ceremony production is a big secret and I am not allowed to reveal it."

At least it won’t be the turf grass' debut in the stadium--up to one-third of the field was installed in late June to test the system. Scott oversaw the test, his seventh trip to Athens since last summer to supervise construction, train workers to build and move the grass, and work on future projects. One of the perks of his hard work will be taking his family with him when he returns in August for the games. Because work commitments will keep him there until early September, however, he laments that he will "regrettably miss the first couple of Hokie football games."

Even though Scott will earn no medals for his own Olympic efforts, he says that's fine, thanks to another legendary family member. "My grandfather, Charles Paine, won the Distinguished Flying Cross in World War II while flying bombers against the Japanese," he notes proudly. "I have that medal now."

Where's HokieBird?


HokieBird at Cambridge University

Although he doesn't sport a striped stocking cap like the ubiquitous Waldo, the HokieBird does have the tendency of late to pop up in unexpected locations, thanks to the world-traveling Camerons.

Last year, Douglas Cameron (Ph.D. mathematics '70), professor emeritus at the University of Akron, saw a photo in the Akron alumni magazine that showed a stuffed Zippy (Akron's mascot) in front of the Sidney Opera House. Naturally, he and his wife, Nancy, decided to join in the fun.

"We got a Zippy and took it on a trip to New Zealand and Australia, and we both got a kick out of taking photos of Zippy with kangaroos and wallabies. I'm a big Virginia Tech fan, and I thought, 'We should do this with the HokieBird.'" And sure enough, they did. To date, the Camerons' HokieBird has traveled to Cambridge University, the Prime Meridian, Antarctica, and Cape Horn (Chile). Later this year, he'll take a little trip on the mighty Mississipp'.

Cameron reports that the general public seems strangely accepting of the stuffed maroon-and-orange bird. "At the Prime Meridian, the security guard made a comment about HokieBird and Zippy getting to see a lot of places. Otherwise, I have had people look at me wondering what I was doing but not say anything."


. . . and in Antarctica.

When faced with the spectacle of the HokieBird posing with penguins or perched on the Prime Meridian, one can only imagine the vacation stories. "When we were in England, this guy walked onto the bridge, a turkey under one arm, a camera under the other…"

Chalk one up for the HokieBird: He's always ruffling feathers wherever he goes.