Virginia Tech Magazine
President's Message
Spring 2009

Goodbye to a gentleman: William E. Lavery, 1930-2009

The Virginia Tech community and hundreds of friends from around the world recently said goodbye to Bill Lavery, the university's 12th president, who died Feb. 16.

It is fitting that he was in Blacksburg, his adopted home for the last 42 years. While he was not a graduate, there were few more passionate about Virginia Tech than Bill. (See the Spring issue's Around the Drillfield to read about his plentiful accomplishments and accolades). Let me tell you about the man behind the achievements, however.

As we in the Blacksburg area absorbed the loss of President Lavery and spoke with many of you around the nation, we heard a common theme: "What a great guy. He was so friendly. He never spoke without a smile. He was always interested in me."

Indeed, Bill's humanity was moving. His love and concern for others was genuine, and it was legendary. Generations of Tech alumni received periodic career checkups from Lavery during and after his presidency. I know that many of you got those calls. And many alumni became de facto extensions of his large and loving family.

Bill was gregarious. He loved to laugh and to have a good time, and that was infectious and inspirational.

His years at the university were pegged with significant achievements. We continued to move forward and mature. He could look back after his retirement and say, "I made that school a better place." But more importantly, he could look back, as we do today, and say that we are better people because of his influence and character.

Those of us who have had some hand in shaping the programs of a great institution know that we stand on the shoulders of others. Universities don't change overnight. They are built on the foundations laid by many who walked before us. Bill helped bring to academic fruition the program expansions wrought by Marshall Hahn. The university truly became a full-fledged research academy with Lavery's emphasis, leadership, and investments.

Virginia Tech's 12th president, William E. Lavery

The late Lon Savage, executive assistant to both President Hahn and President Lavery, said of Bill, "Virginia Tech couldn't have found anybody with greater skill at bringing the university together after a decade of rapid growth. Faculty and administrators found him open and very receptive to their ideas. In his low-key, easy-going way, he created the environment in which Virginia Tech could grow in quality."

Bill was a man with integrity and a strong moral compass. He was so committed to Virginia Tech and its ideals that when, as president, he was faced with problems of others' making that would nonetheless sunder the university, he elected to move on to give his beloved university a fresh start rather than cause it harm.

Today, new generations of scholars and students continue to benefit from his vision and his tireless work on behalf of the academy, the commonwealth, and those who are committed to the life-changing power of education.

Leaders leave their marks for many reasons and in many ways. Bill Lavery was a man of the people.

Virginia Tech