Virginia Tech Magazine
In Retrospect
Summer 2008

Theodoric Pryor Campbell

Maybe he didn't have to be good, but Theodoric* Pryor Campbell was. The Nottoway Courthouse, Va., native focused untiring efforts on the success of Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College (VAMC; known today as Virginia Tech), and his colleagues attributed "the steady progress of the institution" during his 39 years as an administrator and professor to his work.

Educated at Hampden-Sydney College, Campbell worked at several colleges and academies before finding his professional home on the VAMC faculty in 1889 as a professor of modern languages. During the same year, he was elected head of the Department of Foreign Languages.

After teaching for a couple of years, he approached Charles E. Vawter, rector of the board of visitors, and asked Vawter's opinion of his teaching. Said the rector, "I think your influence [at VAMC] is for the building up of the college, but I do not think you know enough about modern languages to be a professor of modern languages."

Vawter suggested that the professor go to Europe where he could "talk the language." Campbell crossed the ocean in 1891 and returned several months later, presumably a better teacher since his colleagues later said of him, "As a teacher, he was both scholarly and inspiring."

Campbell Hall
Campbell Hall

After his return, Campbell's rise in the ranks was meteoric. He was named dean of the Academic Department in 1904. The next year, when the board of visitors granted President John M. McBryde a leave of absence, it appointed Campbell and Professor E. A. Smyth to serve jointly as the president on campus, although the rector of the board was the official head. When McBryde retired in 1907, according to D. Lyle Kinnear in The First 100 Years, Campbell "was reported as being an active candidate for the presidency," but the job went to Paul B. Barringer.

Campbell added another title to professor and department head when Joseph D. Eggleston assumed the presidency in 1913. Eggleston's first official act was to create an office of dean of the general faculty, to which he appointed Campbell. According to Kinnear, "This appointment proved to be a happy one for the faction-ridden faculty, which, after a series of meetings, began to manifest a community of interests essential to the college's welfare."

The triple position of dean, department head, and professor continued until 1920, when Eggleston's successor, Julian A. Burruss, reorganized the faculty and appointed Campbell as dean of the college. While in the new deanship, Campbell expressed his opinion of the college authority/student relationship, which he said should be "that of parent to a child, as far as possible." That philosophy apparently was manifested in his actions because his colleagues later wrote of him, "Students found him a wise and sympathetic advisor."

Health problems forced Campbell to resign as dean of the college in 1924, but he continued to head and teach foreign languages until his death in 1928. According to his obituary, "[T]o all who knew him, his moral principles and his life of unselfish Christian service seemed fit 'to serve as a model for the mighty world.'" His record of service remained in the institutional memory of Virginia Tech, and in 1952, the Civilian Dormitory was renamed Campbell Hall.

* Spellings of Theodoric Pryor Campbell's first name can be found in publications as Thomas, Theo, Theodorr, Theodore, Theodoric, Theodrick, Theodorick, and the Theo. abbreviation, a number of them even appearing during his lifetime.

Clara B. Cox is director of University Publications.

Virginia Tech