William Edward Lavery

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William Edward Lavery
President of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
Term 1975 – 1987
Predecessor T. Marshall Hahn
Successor James Douglas McComas
Born November 20, 1930
Geneseo, New York
Died February 16, 2009(2009-02-16) (aged 78)
Blacksburg, Virginia

William Edward Lavery (November 20, 1930 – February 16, 2009) was the 12th President of Virginia Tech. He served from January 1, 1975 to December 31, 1987.

Lavery brought stability to the university following the years of explosive growth under President [T. Marshall Hahn Jr.] But, he ushered in rapid growth in other areas, complementing Hahn’s successes. He emphasized research, and expenditures in support of research totaled more than $70.2 million by fiscal year 1987, moving the university into the top 50 research institutions in the nation.

He enhanced research opportunities by initiating the Corporate Research Center (CRC) and Virginia Tech Intellectual Properties (VTIP). During his 12-year term, the first two buildings were begun at the center and two more were planned.

Under Lavery the university made giant technological leaps. The CRC received an antenna to link Virginia Tech to the world via satellite, and the Extension division developed a series of 26 downlink sites throughout the state. Installation began on a new communication system for the campus, the university purchased a supercomputer, and the first proposal was developed for what later became the Blacksburg Electronic Village.

Lavery also placed a high priority on alleviating shortages of classroom, laboratory, and office space, and during his term the total inventory of available space increased by 50.1 percent. A $108 million construction program during his presidency included additions to Newman Library and the War Memorial Gymnasium and construction of Johnston Student Center. Another $17.5 million funded a complex to house the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine, which was established during his presidency and opened to students in 1980.

Under his watch, the university introduced a core curriculum and added degree programs. The number of minority scholarships and fellowships grew, and students applied in record numbers. Faculty salaries moved from the bottom third to the top fourth among research universities.

Lavery hired the university’s first vice president for development, Charles Forbes, who launched a campaign to raise $50 million — then raised more than $118 million. Large contributions during his presidency included gifts from John Lee Pratt of $11 million to support engineering and agricultural programs and Marion Bradley Via of $3 million to establish the Harvey W. Peters Research Center and $5 million each to support the departments of civil engineering and electrical engineering. Additionally, Robert B. Pamplin Sr. and Robert Pamplin Jr. gave $10 million to support the College of Business. Assets of the Virginia Tech Foundation grew from $6.2 million to $140.1 million during his term.

Lavery also hired the university’s first female vice president, Sandra Sullivan, vice president for student affairs.

Lavery joined the faculty at Virginia Tech in 1966 as director of administration for the Extension division before being tapped as vice president for finance in 1968. In 1973, he became executive vice president, and he was appointed president in 1974, effective Jan. 1, 1975.

Born in Geneseo, New York, Lavery earned his bachelor’s degree from Michigan State University, his master’s in public administration from George Washington University, and his doctorate in extension administration from the University of Wisconsin.

He began his professional career as a teacher and coach at Clarence Central High School in Clarence, New York, before serving two years in the Army. He began working for the federal Extension Service’s Division of Management Operations in 1956, where he remained until 1966.

Lavery married the former Peggy Johnson of Pawnee City, Nebraska in 1956, and the couple had four children.

During his presidency, he received numerous honors and awards. Among them, the National Conference of Christians and Jews presented him with the Brotherhood Award, the governor of Virginia appointed him to serve on the Commission on Virginia’s Transportation in the 21st Century, United States President Ronald Reagan named him chair of the Board for International Food and Agricultural Development, and the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury appointed him to the National Savings Bond Committee, where he chaired the Higher Education Industry Campaign. In 1985, Xavier University in the Philippines presented him with an honorary doctorate.

Desperate for additional farmland for the support of teaching, research, and extension programs in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Virginia Tech acquired Kentland Farm on December 31, 1986. Virginia Tech secretly traded about 250 acres of research orchards adjacent to a commercial area that would soon become Christiansburg's main shopping district to a group of developers for the Historic 1,785-acre Kentland property. The developers on the other end of the swap, one of whom was a former Tech athletics official, quickly sold 40 acres of the former university farmland for $2.7 million. News of the swap, and especially the fact that it was done behind closed doors, sparked outrage.[1]

The controversial land swap along with highly publicized problems within the Virginia Tech athletic program created a furor across the Commonwealth, even as the university took steps to correct its athletic nightmare.

Lavery developed a reorganization plan for the Athletic Department, and Frank Beamer was hired to replace Bill Dooley as head football coach, but with negative publicity continuing to swirl within and around the university, he announced his resignation on October 16, 1987, effective December 31, 1987, to prevent polarization of the campus.[2]

After stepping down as president on Dec. 31, 1987, Lavery continued to serve the university, first as honorary chancellor, then as the William B. Preston Professor of International Affairs. After his retirement on Aug. 1, 1991, he was named president emeritus. The university recognized his contributions by presenting him with the Ruffner Medal in 1993 and by dedicating the William E. Lavery Animal Health Research Center in his honor in 1995, the same year he was named an honorary alumnus of Virginia Tech. Additionally, the Class of 1997 named its class ring in his honor.[3]

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