Feature Stories Campus Events

W&L Alum Rob Rain in Afghanistan

A little more than three years ago Rob Rain, of the Class of 2007, was conducting honor hearings as president as Washington and Lee’s Executive Committee. Today he is leading weekly shuras with Afghan elders as part of his deployment in the Helmand Province.

First Lt. Rain is a platoon commander with the 81 Millimeter Mortars Platoon, attached to Company B, 1st Battalion, 8th Marines, Regimental Combat Team 2. He began his deployment in early September and has been focused on counter insurgency, including the establishment of the weekly meetings, or shuras, that allow members of the local community to express their concerns.

Rob’s work was featured in a recent story distributed by the Marine’s public affairs division. Rob described the weekly consultations as allowing the Marines “to let people know we’re legitimately doing our best to assist them while providing them security, and trying to give them a better life.” He added that these conversations have led to the discovery of many IEDs (improvised explosive devices).

The work is dangerous. One member of Rain’s platoon was severely wounded in an IED blast in early October.

“The Marines out here are performing extremely well,” said Rob. “Everyone has made a huge effort to interact with the people. Every patrol that goes out tries to sit down and have chai with someone, just to sit down, drink tea and really talk to them.”

You can see some photographs from Kunder Village where Rob’s platoon is currently conducting its mission on the website One-Eight Basetrack, which features the work of several freelance journalists and photographers. Rob is featured on the second and fourth images on the page.


Art and Fiction

Comedian, actor, author and art collector Steve Martin’s new novel, “Object of Beauty,” has an interesting Washington and Lee connection. The novel is set in the New York City art world. Martin is a renowned art collector in his own right.

The W&L connection (actually, there are two) is the presence in the novel of real-life art dealer William Acquavella, a 1959 alumnus who heads up Acquavella Galleries in New York. Described as a “mega dealer” in a New York Times feature story about Martin’s new book, Bill is cited by name in at least two different scenes in the novel.

In one passage, Martin refers to the Italian restaurant Saint Ambroeus where the art crowd gathers. Martin describes the restaurant this way: “When Larry Gagosian, the champion art world muscle-flexing aesthete, and Bill Acquavella, the connected and straight-shooting dealer in Impressionists and beyond, were at their separate tables, the place had a nuclear afterglow.”

Martin goes on to discuss the rivalry between the two dealers, who deal with “different corners of the market, though temperatures could rise to boiling when their merchandise overlapped. Picasso was implied to be Acquavella’s, and Cy Twombly was implied to be Gagosian’s, but what if some Saudi prince wanted to swap his Picasso for a Twombly? Star wars.”

There, of course, is the other W&L connection. Artist Cy Twombly is a member of W&L’s Class of 1953.

Acquavella Galleries are located at 18 East 79th Street. The gallery was founded by Bill’s father, Nicholas Acquavella, in 1921, and originally specialized in works of the Italian Renaissance. Once Bill joined his father in 1960, the gallery expanded its focus and is now known for major works of the 19th and 20th centuries.

In 1990, Bill partnered with Sotheby’s to buy the contents of the Pierre Matisse Gallery. It was one of the largest art deals of the late 20th century — a $143 million deal for 2,300 works by Joan Miro, Jean Dubuffet, Alberto Giacommetti, Marc Chagall and other 20th-century masters.


Drive Safer Sunday is Today

Today (Nov. 28) is Drive Safer Sunday, the sixth annual national observance of an event created in memory of Cullum Owings ’03 by Road Safe America, an advocacy group founded by Cullum’s parents and brother, Pierce ’06.

At the end of the 2002 Thanksgiving vacation, Cullum and Pierce were driving back to Washington and Lee from their home in Atlanta when their car was struck from behind by a tractor-trailer on I-81, just three miles from the Lexington exit. Cullum, a senior, was killed in the accident; Pierce , a freshman, sustained minor injuries.

Road Safe America is designed to bring awareness of the hazards of highway travel and to campaign for better driver training for all drivers and a limit to the top speed for large trucks. Each year the organization reminds drivers of the special dangers on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, the busiest day of the year for highway travel.

The Road Safe America website includes an electronic petition, urging the administration to order activation of speed governors set at 65 mph on all large commercial vehicles.

In a recent article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Pierce cited pending regulation in front of the Department of Transportation calling for all electronic governors on trucks to be programmed at a top speed of 65 miles per hour. “If LaHood rules favorably on that, it’s something that could save lives immediately,” he said.

Pierce went on to talk about his family’s efforts in memory of his brother.

“Cullum was my big brother and my best friend,” he told the Journal Constitution. “I am proud of my parents for taking something that is so horrible for my family and trying to help others by getting the speed governors done so that other families don’t experience what we did.”

If you’re traveling on Sunday, drive safer in Cullum’s memory.


W&L's Connection with the First Macy's Parade Telecast

The following post is a reprise of the one we published on Thanksgiving two years ago, but we thought the story should be retold, and we invite you to forward it to W&L alumni, or others, who might not have seen it. Happy Thanksgiving!

When you’re comfortably seated in front of your televisions on Thanksgiving Day watching those huge balloons float down 34th Street in New York, you might want to thank a Washington and Lee alumnus, Don Hillman, for his pioneering work that put the parade on television for the first time back in 1949. Hillman, Class of 1946, had been hired as a stage manager at NBC and was quickly elevated to a director. It was as producer and director that he ran the show on the first live telecast of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade for NBC. Hillman went on to become the first executive producer of National Educational Television (NET), which became the Public Broadcasting System (PBS, Inc.) in 1970. There’s a terrific account of Hillman’s TV career in the Horace Mann School Alumni Magazine. It includes his several encounters with such luminaries as Eleanor Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy.

But back to that first Macy’s live telecast. In an email exchange this week, Don explained how it worked in those earliest days when a coaxial cable had just been built from the West Coast to the East Coast. Prior to that, according to Don, black and white kinescopes were exchanged within four regions of the country to create a kind of network. But he remembers vividly when he first saw a live picture come up on the screen from Chicago. “It felt like Columbus discovering America.”

NBC-TV’s Mobile Unit handled the Thanksgiving Day Parade as a network telecast in 1949. It was later taken over by WNBT — the local New York City NBC station. On Thanksgiving Day 1949, Don recalls how the NBC Mobile Unit was parked on the north side of 34th Street in the middle — sideways to the Macy’s entrance, where a stage area was set up for the entertainment, i.e., Radio City Rockettes, Milton Berle — and NBC commentators Ray Forrest and Bob Staunton. The unit had a floor dolly camera plus two cameras on the roof, including one with a Bok Zoom Lens to pick up the parade and the balloons as they turned right off Broadway and down 34th Street. There was, Don says, no coverage up town where the parade organized for its march downtown.

Wrote Don: “We had to bounce our microwave signal from our dish on top of the Mobile Unit across 34th Street positioned to angle up from a building with a clear sight path to NBC’s antenna on top of the RCA Building at 30 Rockefeller Plaza. The signal was then relayed from master control to the antenna on the Empire State Building.”

In many respects, as Don notes, the parade has always been familiar. Those famous balloons and their handlers, who were Macy employees, along with floats and vehicles carrying show business stars. The lip-synching of performances by the casts of Broadway shows didn’t come until later.

Don’s recollections about that first “hysterical” telecast were part of a History Channel special that was shown several years in a row but is now available on DVD.


Tom Wolfe '51 Honored by National Book Foundation

Tom Wolfe, of the Class of 1951, became the 20th recipient of the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters from the National Book Foundation last week during the National Book Awards ceremony in New York last week. Previous recipients of the award included Joan Didion, Maxine Hong Kingston, Norman Mailer, Toni Morrison, John Updike, and Gore Vidal.

In presenting the award, Tina Brown, founder and editor-in-chief of the Daily Beast, said that “We read as we watch fireworks, with wonder and joy.”

Tom’s acceptance speech, which he termed “a tour of his life in six minutes,” included a vivid description of his first assignment with the New York Herald, which was to interview a mob boss. He went on to talk about the way that his life in journalism and in writing nonfiction was a huge advantage because “you can’t make this stuff up.”

“I wouldn’t dare do a piece of fiction — I’ve done three novels — without treating it just like a reporting assignment,” he told the audience. “I brag with tremendous ego that my novels are highly journalistic. I think that is the future. The new writers to watch in this country, Michael Lewis and Mark Bowden, are both nonfiction writers.”

Offering advice to future writers, whether of fiction or nonfiction, Tom amended Sinclair Lewis’s advice to writers, which was “First, sit down,” to “First, leave the building. Then, sit down and write.”

Tom is currently working on his fourth novel, Back to Blood, which is set in Miami.

You can watch the entire proceedings on the National Book Award’s site. Tina Brown’s introduction begins at 19:38, and Tom’s remarks start at 23:45.


Saving a Ship

At a news conference in Philadelphia later today, the results of a feasibility study to save one of the world’s fastest passenger ocean liners will be unveiled. The SS United States, built in 1952 and withdrawn from service in 1969, set a transatlantic speed record on its maiden voyage when it sailed from New York to Cornwall, U.K., in 3 days, 10 hours, 40 minutes. It also set a new westbound crossing record on its way back (3 days, 12 hours and 12 minutes), a mark that it still holds.

What does all this have to do with Washington and Lee? The ship has been docked at Philadelphia Pier 82 since 1996, but the new efforts to give it life were spurred by a gift from Gerry Lenfest, ’53, ’55L, who is credited with saving it from the scrap heap.

The current issue of Preservation magazine, a publication of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, has a story about Gerry’s involvement in the project. His $5.8 million gift in July to the S.S. United States Conservancy allowed the organization to buy the ship from Norwegian Cruise Line and maintain it for up to 20 months.

Gerry is quoted in Preservation as saying “She was a beautiful vessel, the most iconic example of the greatness of the United States in shipbuilding, so I felt she was worth preserving.” He also noted that his decision to help was based, in part, on hearing his father, a naval architect, tell stories about working for the company that built the ship’s watertight doors.

According to a story in Sunday’s Philadelphia Inquirer, the proposal to be unveiled today will be to “enovate and refit the 58-year-old vessel — an estimated $150 million to $200 million job — with gaming floors, restaurants, event space, a museum, and, possibly, a boutique hotel.”

UPDATE

For the latest on the project, see this story from the Philadelphia Inquirer following Monday’s news conference.


Remembering Adam and Kristin

 

A group of alumni and friends gathered at the Hotchkiss Alumni House earlier this month to honor two of their classmates, Adam Burchett ’02 and Kristin Shelton ’04, who died in a tragic automobile accident a decade ago.

The accident inspired a student-led initiative that created the Traveller Safe Ride Program. Those who returned for the Nov. 13 event made a $5,500 donation to that program in honor and memory of Adam and Kristin.

More than 80 donors from the classes of 2000 through 2005 contributed to the fund. Those who attended (and are pictured above): Thomas, Cindy, Chase and Mary Burchett (Adam’s parents, brother and sister); Charles and Judith Shelton (Kristin’s parents); David (’02) & Kristen French; Evan James ’02; Clayton Kennedy ’02; Baxter Lee ’02; Jimmy Miller ’02; Blair Newman ’02; Tom Radcliff ’02; Louis (’02) and Jessie Sterchi; David Thornhill ’02; Damian (’03) and Emily Horan (’04); Richard (’03) & Jessica Morse; Stacey Gearhart ’03; Serena Carr Debergh ’04; Kelly McFarlane ’04; Tyler Tokarczyk ’12, Traveller Steering Committee; Richard Saum ’11, Traveller Steering Committee; and Jarrett Brotzman ’11, Traveller Steering Committee.

 


First-Year Students Help Kids with Cancer

 

In 2008, Alex Baca started Alexander’s Auction, a biannual event that raises money for Special Love’s camps and outings for children with cancer who are being treated at hospitals in the mid-Atlantic region.

Alex, a member of W&L’s first-year class, from McLean, Va., knows firsthand what it means for these children to enjoy the kinds of activities that normal kids — i.e., those not suffering from cancer — take for granted. He survived childhood leukemia, missing both kindergarten and first grade while he battled the disease.

Not only did he create the auction, but Alex also volunteers each summer as a counselor at Camp Fantastic, in Front Royal, Va., joining medical personnel and others who give their time so that the children can have a chance to feel normal and enjoy life. “The children enjoy friendship and fun while receiving medical treatment, and the National Institutes of Health are involved in management of the medical aspect of the camp. I know how hard these kids have it and how much they need support. Camp Fantastic is a supportive world in which the children do not feel different or isolated from their peers.”

And this past Saturday, when Alexander’s Auction was held in McLean, Alex got some extra support, too, when his three W&L residence-hall suitemates — Garrett Koller, John Paul Beall and Andrew Seredinski — all volunteered to help stage the event.


Chris Coffland Continues to Inspire

A year after he was killed in Afghanistan, Washington and Lee alumnus Chris Coffland’s story continues to resonate in several different ways. Chris was a member of the W&L Class of 1988 and co-captained the 1987 Generals’ football team.  He had joined the Army Reserve a month before he turned 42, the enlistment cut-off date. An intelligence specialist, he had volunteered for the mission on which he and two others were killed by an improvised explosive device. The alumni magazine published a story about Chris in the Spring/Summer 2010 issue, written by fellow alum Greg Esposito, Class of 2000.

This past Monday in Arlington, Chris’s friends and family gathered for a memorial service on the first anniversary of his death. As reported by WBAL television in Baltimore, the service was the first time that many of Chris’s family members met those with whom he served. And the event was also where the family announced plans for the Christopher Coffland Memorial Fund, which will raise money to help soldiers returning from combat.

As Chris’s sister, Lynn, told the TV station: “My brother was a hero, but his pain ended when he died. These have to live every day with that.” A website for the fund is currently under construction.

Meantime, as W&L’s ODAC champion football team plays Thomas More College on Saturday in the NCAA Division III tournament, they will continue to get motivation from Chris, as they have in recent weeks. Earlier this fall, Col. Lee Cummings ’86, a former teammate of Chris’s, delivered a special brick to Coach Frank Miriello and the football team. Athletic director Jan Hathorn told the story on the W&L Sidelines blog of how Lee had carried the brick during an eight-mile march that he and fellow soldiers in the Boston area staged this fall. They each carried in their backpacks bricks adorned with the names of their fallen brothers. Lee’s brick has Chris’s W&L No. 6, his name and the phrase “Lest they be forgotten.”

The brick resides in the Generals’ locker room, where players touch it on their way to practices and games. Lee had one rule for the brick: “Can’t touch it unless you are going to bring it!” He delivered the brick prior to the Emory & Henry game on Oct. 9. Since then, the Generals have won six in a row.


Loyal West Virginian

At halftime of last Saturday’s football game between West Virginia University and the University of Cincinnati, in Morgantown,  Judge Frederick P. Stamp, a 1956 Washington and Lee alumnus, was honored with his wife, Joan, as “Most Loyal West Virginians.”

The recognition was part of WVU’s 63rd annual Mountaineer Week.

Judge Stamp, who had a private practice in his hometown of Wheeling for 30 years, was nominated to the U.S. District Court by President George H.W. Bush in May 1990.  He assumed senior status on the court in November 2006. In addition, he has served in the state legislature, as president of the WVU Board of Regents and on the WVU College of Law Visiting Committee. Joan Stamp, who owns a jewelry design business, currently serves on the WVU Foundation Board of Directors.

The Most Loyal West Virginian designation exemplifies faithfulness to the ideals and goals of the state of West Virginia through business, professional and civic achievement, as well as support for WVU.


W&L at the Richmond Marathon

We can identify at least four members of the Washington and Lee community among the finishers in Saturday’s running of the SunTrust Richmond Marathon, plus 13 other W&L-connected runners in the event’s half marathon and three more in the 8K.

We undoubtedly have missed runners who work at W&L but may not have listed Lexington as home. And we’re sure that plenty of alumni were participants, too. So drop us your name and results by commenting below. And if there are some group photos of Generals runners, we’d welcome those.

Here are the finishers we found (and you can look up their places and times here on the marathon’s database):

In the marathon, Laura Ball, a junior from Eldersburg, Md., finished 752 overall (out of 4,952 runners). She was joined on the course by Sydney Brooks, regional development officer for the West and Midwest; Tom Contos, director of planning and University architect; and Louise Uffelman, managing editor of the university’s alumni magazines.

In the half marathon, the W&L-connected finishers were Alex Shabo, a junior from Hingham, Mass., who finished 573 (out of 6,605 runners); Catherine McCulloch, a junior from Dallas; Louisa Phillips, a sophomore from Charleston, S.C.; Anne Masich, a junior from Raleigh, N.C.; Fran Elrod, coordinator of co-curricular activity for the Shepherd Poverty Program; Caroline Helms, a senior from Charlotte. N.C.; Caroline Bovay, a senior from Gainesville, Fla.; Susan Wager, assistant director of the Lenfest Center; Noel Price, a sophomore from Nashville; Scott Boylan, professor of accounting; Mary Galbraith, a sophomore from Rochester, N.Y.; and Tilden Bowditch, a sophomore from Williamsburg, Va.

The three competitors in the 8K were Emily TenEyck, a junior from Cincinnati, Ohio, who finished 745 (out of 4,549); Katie Tonneman, a senior from Fair Haven, N.J.; and Kim Ruscio, wife of W&L President Ken Ruscio.

An all-time record of 16,106 runners participated in the weekend’s events.

And, by the way, congratulations to all.


Wireless Explosion

For the past two years, Washington and Lee’s Information Technology Services, in collaboration with the Office of Institutional Effectiveness, has surveyed incoming first-year students to find out what kinds of technology they are bringing to campus. Those of us in the manual-typewriter and clock-radio generation of college students can only look in awe at what we’re seeing on campus today, especially the explosion in wireless devices.

For instance, about 60 percent of the entering students this fall brought smart phones with them. Smart phones are defined as those cell phones that offer data service, including Web browsing and e-mail. That represents a significant increase of 21 percent over just one year ago. As Jeff Overholtzer, director of strategic planning and communications for ITS, indicates, this is only the beginning. “We expect the increase in ownership of smart phones to continue. Virtually all students use cell phones, and use them in many ways, including texting (99 percent); the Web (61 percent); Facebook (59 percent); e-mail (55 percent); personal calendar (45 percent); and music (34 percent).”

When it comes to computers, only two out of 466 entering students did not bring one. On the other hand, 36 students brought two more more computers. And laptops now represent almost 99 percent of the total computers. While Macs had been in a steady climb in recent years, that trend leveled out this year, with about 61 percent of students bringing Macs.

The number and variety of wireless devices continue to grow, and as Overholtzer notes,  students overwhelmingly prefer to use their laptops in wireless mode rather than plugging into the W&L network. In addition to the smart-phone surge, other wireless devices include the iPod Touch (36 percent of first-years) and the Xbox 360 gaming device (20 percent of first-years). First-years also brought Rokus (for streaming movies over the Internet) and wireless printers.

One device that appeared on the survey for the first time is the iPad, but only 10 students brought them. The same is true with the e-readers like Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook, with just 5 percent of the entering students using them.


A Salute to W&L's Veterans

Staff and faculty members of Washington and Lee University who have served in the armed forces commemorated Veterans Day today, Nov. 11, by gathering to note their service to the nation.

They span all branches of the military and all ages. Larry Stuart, a senior sergeant in public safety, spent six years in the Marine Corps. Buddy Atkins, the director of donor relations in University development, served in the Navy, including 23 years in the reserves. He is a 1968 graduate of W&L. Christine Burkett, who specializes in HVAC and plumbing in facilities management, spent 10 years in the Army, with a stint at Ft. Sill, Okla.

The most senior veteran on hand, Captain Robert C. Peniston, is retired from a long career in the U.S. Navy that began when he was a midshipman at the U.S. Naval Academy during World War II, and continued through Korea and Vietnam. He is also retired from the directorship of Lee Chapel at W&L.

The youngest vet, Kevin Booze, came in uniform. The public safety officer just returned from a deployment in Iraq with the Army National Guard. He’s proud of his service and glad to be back at work with the students. After the event, he headed to his child’s school for another Veterans Day observance.

Mike Young, director of public safety and an Army veteran of Vietnam, has been organizing the event for the past several years. He also was headed for an elementary school, which gives a tea in honor of veterans on this national holiday.

Front row (l. to r.): Leroy C. (Buddy) Atkins II (director of donor relations), Captain Robert Peniston (retired director of Lee Chapel), Dale Lyle (senior lead custodian). Center (l. to r.):  Kevin Booze (public safety officer), John Hufnagel (senior biology technical manager), Tom Tinsley (director of network and telecommunications), Ted Hickman (assistant director of facilities services), Christine Burkett (HVAC/plumbing), Mark Fontenot (fire safety systems inspector/electrician). Back row (l. to r.): Mike Young (director of public safety), Lloyd Goad (technology support supervisor), Paul Burns (director of environmental health and safety), Jerry Clark (plumber), Laurie Lipscomb (communications technologist), Larry W. Stuart (public safety sergeant), Daniel R. Rexrode (public safety officer).


Wiman Profiled in “Poets & Writers”

Christian Wiman, the editor of Poetry magazine, is the subject of an elegant profile, “The Resurrection and the Life,” in the current issue of Poets & Writers Magazine. The occasion is the publication of Every Riven Thing, his fourth book and his third collection of poetry. Christian is a member of Washington and Lee’s Class of 1988.

The profile (which is in print only) describes his struggle to write poetry, even as he made his name with essays and criticism and became the editor of Poetry in 2003. For one year, writes Kevin Nance, Christian would “sit for hours in front of a blank computer screen or an open notebook, but the words that came, if they came at all, stubbornly refused to cohere, intensify, ignite.”

Writer’s block is far from the only challenge Christian has faced. He has Waldenström’s macroglobulinemia, an incurable cancer of the blood. Within the past two years, however, he’s undergone successful treatment with an experimental drug. He and his wife, the poet Danielle Chapman, recently welcomed twin daughters Fiona and Eliza. He’s undergone a spiritual renewal. And now comes his new book.

Christian, who grew up in Snyder, Texas, tells Poets & Writers that “up until the age of twenty, I was like a goat, I was so unconscious. I had no intellectual wherewithal at all.” During the summer of his junior year, however, the English major discovered the poems of William Butler Yeats and T.S. Eliot while studying at Oxford University. “From that point on, I was obsessed with being a poet.”

His other books of poetry are The Long Home and Hard Night. Ambition and Survival: Becoming a Poet contains his essays. Read more about Christian at our blog post from last year, when he made news as one of Chicago’s top publishers and writers.


Serial Entrepreneur

An article in the Nov. 2, 2010, edition of Youngentrepreneur magazine refers to Washington and Lee alumnus Brent Beshore as “a 27-year-old serial entrepreneur.” It’s an apt description of the 2005 graduate, who has been cited in the What’s News blog once before, after being profiled in the Columbia, Mo., Business Times.

The Youngentrepreneur article takes the form of a Q&A in which Brent candidly describes the ups and downs of starting companies. He describes his first venture this way: “The business concept was terrible, but I was so desperate to start something that I jumped head-first into the shallow end of the pool. Painful experience. I burned about $150,000 and a really great friendship. I also learned a ton, turned around the company, sold it off, and went in a different direction.”

Brent recently stepped down as CEO of his last company and says he is hoping to avoid “entrepreneur’s let-down.” You can get a glimpse into Brent’s views on the entrepreneurial life by following his blog, Innovate & Curate.


Inverting Utopia with Sculptor Bob Trotman

This past weekend, the North Carolina Museum of Art, in Raleigh, unveiled “Inverted Utopias,” an exhibition by Bob Trotman, a 1969 alumnus of Washington and Lee. The exhibition runs until March 27, 2011, in a new gallery that showcases North Carolina artists.

Trotman’s exhibition comprises works from the NCMA, private collections and the artist himself. He also produced a new piece (“Vertigo,” pictured here) under commission from NCMA for the permanent collection. He’ll give a lecture there on Dec. 5.

Trotman, a native of North Carolina who lives in Casar, N.C., majored in philosophy at W&L. The former school-teacher and furniture maker writes on his website, “As a figurative sculptor my concern is the exploration, interpretation, and representation of the human body as a primal medium for projecting thought and feeling: in the expressive language of its poses and dress, its gestures, its facial expressions, and in its disposition in relation to its surroundings.”

The Staniar Gallery at W&L’s Lenfest Center displayed his show “Business as Usual” in the spring of 2008. Some of the many museums with Trotman pieces include the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and the Museum of Art and Design in New York. Legendary art patrons Frances Lewis and her late husband, Sydney Lewis, a member of the undergraduate Class of 1940 and the law Class of 1943, also own work by Sydney’s fellow alum.


Charley McDowell '48, 1926-2010

Shortly after the news broke on Friday that Charles R. McDowell Jr., Washington and Lee Class of 1948, had died from complications of a stroke, several of his former colleagues on the Richmond Times-Dispatch were retelling stories about Charley and summing up his role as a newspaperman for almost half a century.

One especially apt assessment in today’s Times-Dispatch came from Bill Millsaps, longtime sports editor and later executive editor of the paper. Said Millsaps of Charley: “He always left open the possibility that he could be wrong, and people trusted him because of that.”

Charley was a faculty kid at W&L before he was a student here. His father, Charles R. McDowell, is widely regarded as the most beloved law professor in the history of W&L’s School of Law. His mother, Catherine McDowell, worked as a secretary to the law dean. In his final column for the Times-Dispatch, Charley tells about growing up in Lexington, attending W&L and being hired at the newspaper in 1949. He also relates the pivotal role the late Lea Booth ’40, former W&L PR man, played in his hiring. The Times-Dispatch reprinted that column on Saturday, and it’s well worth the read because no one can tell that story, or any story, like Charley could. The bottom line was that Lea got Charley an interview at the T-D after Charley finished graduate school at Columbia. And when it appeared that the editor might not hire Charley, Lea Booth told the editor “without a pause or a wisp of accuracy that a competitive newspaper was about to sign me.”

Another excellent way to remember Charley is to look back at a series of his more memorable columns, which the Times-Dispatch has collected on this page.

Charley became known well beyond Virginia’s borders by way of his role on PBS’ “Washington Week in Review,” where he was a panelist for 18 years. In the New York Times’ piece on Charley’s death, there is mention of a 1984 story about his role on that program in which the writer, John Corry, described Charley this way: “Mr. McDowell apparently has covered Washington for some time, and when he is not sitting in one of Mr. Duke’s chairs, one supposes he perches on a cracker barrel. Abetted by his colleagues, he comes close to being a raconteur.”

Back in September, we blogged about Charley’s donation of his papers to the Library of Virginia, and last February, as we faced yet another snowstorm in Lexington, we also wrote about a column in the Times-Dispatch that recounted Charley’s famous annual musings about the month of February.

The graveside service for Charley will be on Friday, Nov. 12, at Stonewall Jackson Memorial Cemetery in Lexington.


Law Grad Inducted into Aviation Hall of Fame

Albert M. Orgain IV, a 1971 graduate of the Washington and Lee School of Law, may be known first for his success as a trial lawyer. He is a principal with the Richmond firm Sands Anderson, and is listed in Best Lawyers in America and Super Lawyers of Virginia, among others.

But Al is equally well known for his love of flying. It is this passion that has resulted in Al’s election to the Virginia Aviation Hall of Fame. He will be inducted on Nov. 13.

More than 100 Virginians have joined the Hall of Fame since it was founded in 1978. Inductees include pioneering explorer Admiral Richard Byrd and Vietnam War POW Commander Paul Galanti. When he is inducted this month, Al will join fellow 2010 inductees Edward Boyer, founder of Mercy Medical Airlift (Angel Flight), and George Lutz, a Virginia-based expert in aviation safety.

Al received his undergraduate degree from VMI and then flew a tour of duty as a combat gunship pilot in Vietnam before returning to Lexington to get his law degree at W&L. He has served as a helicopter section leader with the Virginia Army National Guard and has piloted his Cessna 182 Skylane throughout the region. Aviation law has been a major part of his law practice, too, and Al is known nationally for his skills in aviation accidents, especially wire-strike matters involving collisions between aircraft and surface-bound towers and cables.

He is immediate past chair of the Virginia Aeronautical Historical Society (VAHS) and was for 20 years the chair of Sands Anderson’s Risk Management practice group.

In a video on the Sands Anderson website, Al makes his priorities clear: “If my lawyer partners don’t already know it, they should know now: I practice law so I can fly.”


Another W&L Cruciverbalist

Back in May, we noted that a Washington and Lee alumnus, Bob Doll, of the Class of 1974, had just published his fourth New York Times crossword puzzle of the year.

Now it turns out that we can boast of another, newer crossword constructor among the W&L alumni body. Neville Fogarty, who graduated in May, was the author of this past Saturday’s Los Angeles Times crossword. And look for another of his puzzles in next Monday’s L.A. Times. You can read reviews (and solutions) of Neville’s initial L.A. Times puzzle at Diary of a Crossword Fiend and L.A. Crossword Confidential.

Neville majored in mathematics and economics at W&L, which recognized him as one of the Celebrating Student Success winners last year. He constructed puzzles while an undergrad and published twice previously in the L.A. Times, in 2008 and 2009. He’s long been a fan of puzzles and game shows and competed on “Jeopardy!” at the age of 12.

If you want to keep track of Neville and be entertained, too, you should check out his blog, Neville Takes Brooklyn, where you can enjoy slices of life from the big city, and occasional photos of Neville’s dinner.

Thanks to Neville’s W&L classmate, Lucy Hundley, for tipping us off about the L.A. Times puzzle with her timely Tweet. You can follow her on Twitter at @LucyisLike.


Cumming & Cumming Book Signing

The Cummings’ books — Joe’s “Bylines” at left; Doug’s “The Southern Press” at right.

When Washington and Lee journalism professor Doug Cumming holds a book signing on Thursday, Nov. 4, at Lexington’s Books & Co., he’ll be joined by a fellow author and Southern journalist — his father, Joe Cumming.

Joe Cumming will be signing and reading from his new book, (AuthorHouse, 2010), while Doug will sign copies of his, The Southern Press: Literary Legacies and the Challenge of Modernity (Northwestern University Press, 2009).

The event will be from 5 to 7 p.m. Books & Co. is at 29 West Nelson Street.

Father and son are both journalists with Southern roots. Joe Cumming, 84, was bureau chief for Newsweek magazine from 1961 through 1979 and had a ringside seat for the civil-rights years. After leaving Newsweek, he taught journalism at West Georgia College and continued to write, including a book-page column for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

In a review of Bylines on Amazon.com, novelist Pat Conroy wrote: “Joe Cumming is a grand and legendary figure in my life and the life of the south he writes about with such eloquence and precision. Though he is a native of an aristocratic and cultured Georgia family, he lives his life as Zorba the Greek. Get Joe’s book and you will understand why I say that he has made the world a far better place with his writings.”

Doug Cumming, a graduate of Bennington College (B.A.), Brown University (M.A.) and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (Ph.D.), spent 26 years as as a reporter and editor for newspapers and magazines in Raleigh, N.C., Providence, R.I., and Atlanta. He joined the W&L faculty in 2003. Doug teaches courses in early American newspapers, Southern journalism and various aspects of reporting.


“60 Minutes” Horse Whisperer

Viewers of the Oct. 31 edition of “60 Minutes” enjoyed the profile of Zenyatta, the unbeaten racehorse who is aiming to win her 20th and final race on Nov. 6, at the Breeder’s Cup Classic. One of the CBS staffers who created the story, as much with her equestrian skills as with her journalistic talents, is Michelle Boniface, a member of Washington and Lee’s Class of 2009.

As a broadcast associate at “60 Minutes,” Michelle performs the usual entry-level tasks of that position. As a “60 Minutes Overtime” web story puts it, however, “Michelle suddenly found herself on her first shoot, helping veteran producers and correspondent Bob Simon understand Zenyatta, and how special a horse she really is.”

She found herself in this position because of her upbringing in Darlington, Md., on a Thoroughbred farm. Her father, Kevin Boniface, is a trainer of racehorses, and her mother, Chris, is a former jockey. “Being on a racehorse is the coolest feeling in the whole world,” said Michelle in the web piece.

For “60 Minutes,” she served as a translator between the worlds of journalism and horse racing. She also got to spend some literal face time with the famous Zenyatta. Said correspondent Simon of Boniface, “She was an enormous help.”

Michele holds a B.A. in journalism and mass communications. While she was a student at W&L, she played field hockey and club lacrosse. In 2008, she interned with CBS News in New York City, and got a thank-you from CBS reporter Daniel Sieberg for her help on a story about his trip to the Arctic. Naturally, she also worked as a producer for the Washington and Lee “Rockbridge Report.” Her profile there read, in part: “She hopes to pursue a career in news production and documentary filmmaking while still keeping horses and horse racing in her life.”

Looks like she’s finding a way to make that happen.


Candlelight Vigil Against Hate

Students, staff and faculty gathered on Cannan Green the evening of Oct. 28 for 8 Minutes to Stop the Hate, a candlelight vigil to honor the memories of Tyler Clementi, Seth Walsh, Asher Brown, Billy Lucas and Justin Aaberg. The suicides of these youths, who took their own lives reportedly because of bullying and harassment over their sexual orientation, have made national headlines. Attendees heard brief remarks by Josh Bareno ’13, president of the event’s sponsor, the W&L GLBT Equality Initiative (G.E.I), before lighting candles and observing eight minutes of silence.

Formerly known as the Gay-Straight Alliance, G.E.I promotes equal rights, justice and opportunity for all members of the W&L community, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. This fall, G.E.I. has co-sponsored (along with the W&L Office of Diversity and Inclusion) a talk on campus by Brian Sims, an attorney and the only openly gay football captain in NCAA history. It also promoted National Coming Out Week from Oct. 10–17.