Local History Comes Alive in “Letters to the Editor”
Residents of Lexington and Rockbridge County, will undoubtedly turn first to the index to see if they recognize the names of the letter writers in the new book The Lexington Letters: Two Centuries of Water Under the Bridge (Mariner Publishing, November 2011), which collects 200 years of letters to the editors of the local newspapers.
“I think that part of the dynamic of this book is that people will see letters from their fathers, grandmothers, neighbors and ancestors,” said Doug Cumming, editor of the book and associate professor of journalism at Washington and Lee University. “The history is alive and present, and the names of the letter writers are also the names in Stonewall Jackson Cemetery and the local phone book.”
• See below for audio of the letters read by the author
Cumming described the book as perfect for browsing. “You can pick it up, open it anywhere and read for one minute or 45 minutes,” he said. “It shows how in a particular place in America the local newspaper was a public forum where people expressed themselves, complained and generally interacted. I hope readers find it challenging and engaging and that it opens their eyes to some of the tensions and ironies in local history.”
Letters to the Editor is the culmination of research that started in the summer of 2010 with W&L students and community researchers reading 8,000 letters to the editor and transcribing 1,367 of the most interesting ones. “Matthew Paxton IV, publisher of the Lexington News-Gazette, was essential to the project,” said Cumming. “He allowed the researchers into the back rooms of the newspaper where many bound copies were stored.”
The criteria for selecting letters were suggested by Kimberly Jew, associate professor of theater at W&L, in preparation for turning some of the letters into a stage play, “Lexington’s Letters to the Editor,” which was performed at the Lime Kiln Theater in May 2011. The script is included at the end of the book.
However, fewer than 200 of those letters were used in the stage play. “The unused letters had been selected because they were interesting,” said Cumming, “and I didn’t think they should go to waste.”
Cumming said that he tried not to favor any particular segment of local life in selecting which letters to publish and decided to organize the letters into themes. “I wanted to follow a chronological arc generally in the book, and again within chapters,” he said. For example, “The Gathering Storm,” is about the ante-bellum Civil War period, “Remembrance and Commemoration” follows the Civil War, and then there are chapters on “Prohibition” and “World War II.” Other themes in the book include race, holidays, farming, fires, firecrackers, traffic, parking problems, tourism, and guns and hunting.
“These letters are direct communication, unmediated to a large extent by either editors or historians,” Cumming pointed out. “You can hear your neighbor from 150 years ago talk about things that are either familiar to you or are now alien because of history. Also, while some of these events can be found in local history books, other events have never been cited in any history book.”
One of Cumming’s favorite chapters concerned Stonewall Jackson Hospital. “I found it fascinating,” he said. “The chapter starts with a letter from Mary Nelson Pendleton, the daughter of the local Episcopal rector William Nelson Pendleton, and quotes the widow of Stonewall Jackson and her circumstances. The widow has this house and she can’t afford to keep it up, but can’t afford to give it away either. So she’s politely asking for donations to turn it into a hospital. The chapter ends with a letter from Washington and Lee English professor Suzanne Keen thanking the hospital for being there when she had her first child.”
Another favorite chapter is one describing a fire in 1915 on the corner of Nelson and Jefferson streets. “As the letters say, the fire destroyed a third of the block, but it could have been much worse than it was,” said Cumming. “It’s interesting to read the letters thanking the members of the volunteer fire department.”
Cumming also found and included in the chapter a photo of the fire taken by Matthew Paxton II, grandfather of the current publisher of the Lexington News-Gazette, who was a student at Washington and Lee at the time. Being from a journalism family, Paxton always kept his camera at the ready and so was available to take pictures of the fire.
Local residents were not the only writers of letters to the editor as the last chapter shows. For example, someone who passed through Lexington wrote to say they how they appreciated all the American flags flying in the streets when the business community first started paying for the flags.
Elaine Emerson wrote the following in 1991 from Turkey:
“…the place I would very much like to be at this moment—sipping a cold brew and floating a tube at Goshen. I look up from my laptop to the still Aegean, and think of another paradise, Rockbridge County. Goshen Pass is still as green as I once was. It is first picnics, first swimming lessons, first loves, and I want to go back.”
Five newspapers were included in the research, beginning with The Lexington Gazette, the primary newspaper of the 19th century dating back to 1804, but under different names. Then, in the 1880s, the Rockbridge County News was launched. The two newspapers merged in 1962 to become the News-Gazette. Other newspapers were the Ring-tum Phi at W&L and the VMI Cadet. Copies of the newspapers, either in bound volumes or on microfilm, are in W&L’s Special Collections in Leyburn Library, Preston Library at VMI, Rockbridge Regional Library and at the News-Gazette archives.
Both Cumming and Jew received Lenfest grants from Washington and Lee for the project.
The Lexington Letters will be available at local book stores Books & Co. and The Bookery.
Audio of letters read by Doug Cumming:
Response to a 1915 fire in Lexington
W&L professor emeritus Milton Colvin on free market enterprise in 1983
A Rockbridge County senior citizen writes in 1980
The Sunday movie show debates of 1942
W&L librarian Annie White on vandalized newspapers
Former W&L Professor Marshall Fishwick on the University’s namesakes
W&L Alum Heads National Horse Racing Organization
Washington and Lee alumnus Phil Hanrahan, a retired Army brigadier general and a Lexington, Ky., attorney who has specialized in bankruptcy, creditors’ rights and equine law, has been named the chief executive officer of the National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association (NHBPA).
The NHBPA is a non-profit corporation that works “to improve the economic health and public acceptance of the Thoroughbred horse industry in the United States and Canada.”
Phil received his undergraduate degree in 1976 and spent almost seven years on active duty in the Army as an armor officer. He then returned to W&L and its School of Law, from which he received his J.D. magna cum laude in 1986.
A native of Long Island, N.Y., Phil grew up working on a horse farm there, and, according to a release from the NHBPA, he learned to ride in exchange for mucking stalls. He also spent part of a summer at Belmont Park, walking “hots” at Belmont for Hall of Fame trainer Allen Jerkens.
Once a licensed Thoroughbred trainer, he has owned, bred and “pinhooked” racehorses (bought them as yearlings, sold them as two-year-olds). He is currently a handicapper and plays in handicapping tournaments.
Phil, who will start in the organization’s Lexington, Ky., office next month, retired from the Army in 2009 after rising through the Army Reserve as an armor and cavalry officer. He not only earned the rank of brigadier general but also served in two commanding general positions and received a master’s degree in strategic studies from the United States Army War College.
Eyewitness to the Clemson-S. Carolina Pigskin Rivalry
Brent Breedin, of the Washington and Lee Class of 1947, enjoyed a long career in newspapers, sports information, and the corporate and political world. The South Carolina native now lives in Columbia, S.C., and recently gave an interview to the Columbia newspaper, The State, about the legendary rivalry between the football teams of Clemson University (for which he worked as sports information director) and the University of South Carolina. It was published on Thanksgiving Day, two days before the Tigers and Gamecocks played their 103rd consecutive game. You can read the feature story here.
Among Brent’s many vivid memories dates to 1956, when he was working for Hunt Petroleum. He had to travel to Pakistan on business and arrived back in Columbia only the day before the game. “I didn’t have a ticket,” he told the paper, “but I went to the stadium and was standing outside when (Clemson assistant coaches) Banks McFadden and Carl Wise came by on their way to the coaches’ box in the press box. They said, ‘Come on with us,’ and I got in that way and watched from the coaches’ box.”
Unfortunately for Brent and other Clemson fans, the Tigers lost, 34-13, to the Gamecocks on Nov. 26. There’s always next year.
In Spain for Thanksgiving, pining for Dundalk
The following piece by Washington and Lee University junior Michael McGuire was published in The Baltimore Sun on Nov. 24, 2011, and is reprinted here with permission.
By Michael McGuire
SEVILLE, Spain—Here, the orange trees are the only things changing color as autumn takes its hold. The palmeras and the jasmine vines that climb the wall outside my apartment — and fill the patio below with an inimitable scent — are alive and will flourish well into winter. The cypress trees in the gorgeous royal gardens of Alcázar, silent witnesses to endearing displays of Spanish affection, have been that same dusty green for dozens, if not hundreds, of years and won’t start changing now.
But it’s not the fall colors I miss while I’m spending this semester in Spain, even though not a thing could compare with seeing the Blue Ridge Mountains ablaze with autumn. When the sun is shining in Seville, I can still find those beautiful colors in terra cotta roofs and on the sides of buildings painted albero, the golden color of the soil that fills the bull ring downtown. Even the oranges, now half-ripened on trees all over the city, mimic the changing maple leaves that are now being raked into piles all across Maryland.
I miss something more. My mind, ever conscious that Thanksgiving is approaching, is wandering through memories of my grandmother’s table as I make my way down the sinuous cobblestone streets I walk every morning.
We flock there at least once a year, to her tiny kitchen in Dundalk, to share a meal and an afternoon. My family usually gets there first. Dad and my brother Logan retreat to the living room to find a football game on TV, and my sister finds a quiet place to send text messages until my cousins arrive. Mom offers her help to my grandmother Martha, though it’s always in vain. Additional hands are, more often than not, interference. They couldn’t possibly peel potatoes, whip cream or kneed the dough for her world-famous rolls — at least not the right way.
She’s completely focused, my grandmother, whom I’ve always called Mammies. She moves back and forth between the sink and the stove, probes her sweet potato bake in the oven and takes what’s ready to her meticulously planned buffet line. She rarely comes up for breath, and when she does, it’s usually just to apologize.
“I’m sorry,” she tells me, taking a few seconds for eye contact. “I don’t mean to be rude. I’ve just got to —” Ding! A timer sounds, and without finishing her sentence, Mammies is back to business.
My grandmother directs her apology to me since I’ve taken a seat at the table nearby, watching her maneuver her way from dish to dish and snacking on the Jordan almonds or whatever treat she incorporated into this year’s table decorations.
I’m amazed by her as she prepares a feast for 12 more easily than I make my own lunch. Although, that’s not to say it’s effortless.
The day before we celebrate — I assume this, because she couldn’t possibly have time on Thanksgiving Day — she decorates her table with tiny gourds, Indian corn, candles and bunches of colored wheat bound together with twine. She sets out silverware and glasses, and on top of each plate she rests a tiny place card to make sure we seat ourselves in an orderly fashion.
The same handwriting found on these cards is littered about her kitchen. My grandmother writes down quotes, lists and promises to herself, and she hangs them on the fridge between our old school portraits and family engagement photos. (My personal favorite: “I’ll give 110 percent if you give 109.”) She even wrote my name on the kitchen doorframe a few years ago, measuring my height in a moment of respite.
Not long after I’ve taken a seat, my aunt Kathy comes in with her own children in tow. She balances pies and cakes in her hands until my grandmother rushes over to help, and the admiration begins.
I don’t know how she does it, but every year her desserts are more beautiful, and more delicious, than the last. Layered pumpkin cake with homemade cream cheese frosting and chocolate ganache, lemon meringue pie 4 inches thick, apple pie covered with little pastry oak leaves, egg washed and sprinkled with coarse grains of sugar: I remember them all. She’s too modest, for sure, always answering our compliments by explaining how whatever she did was “nothing, really.”
The sound of the electric carving knife means dinner is moments away. Once the buffet is set — salads, gravies and sauces in their proper places — Mammies stops to say a blessing, and then we move the food to our plates. My cousin Erin starts to tease about our predetermined lineup for the buffet, and Dad reminds us all of the year my grandmother, his mother, forgot the sweet tea.
Once we’re all seated, the stories drift further back into time as we collectively recall odd Thanksgiving guests, stories of my great-grandfather and the year we had Thanksgiving dinner at a small church in Wye Mills. (My parents had just been in a car accident, so the rest of my family brought the Thanksgiving feast as close to them as possible.)
Our Thanksgiving table becomes the birthplace of inside jokes. Only here would the phrase “Slice it, wrap it and freeze it” cause an outburst of laughter. Certain jokes are even more intimate; my brother nudges my leg underneath the table every time we want to laugh and can’t.
I’ve heard every one of these stories before, and that’s my favorite part. We’re not here to inform, to recount our days like we would at any other meal. We’re instead here to entertain each other. Every old yarn about my crazy uncle Mike is treasured because these stories, this holiday — they are the constancy we lack 364 days a year. They’re familiar, and they change only if Dad decides to exaggerate a little more this year. We’re thankful for these stories and the storytellers themselves, more than anything.
Because of this, the food has always been secondary to me. What matters most is the sound of my father’s laughter, the pleasure that registers on my aunt’s face when people ask to try “a little bit of everything” for dessert, and the way my grandmother watches over all of us from her own little table in the next room. She has invited too many people once again this year. And after a marathon day of slicing, basting, mashing and baking, she’s happy to sit just outside of all the action, to watch her family be just that.
Especially this time of year, this beautiful Spanish city by a river cannot compare to my Maryland hometown by the bay. The centuries-old Universidad de Sevilla, whose massive lecture halls and sunlit courtyards are steeped in history, is no substitute for my tiny Lexington, Va., university, right now surrounded by mountains of red and gold. My señora (host mother) cooks like a dream, but she knows nothing about sweet potato bake, homemade applesauce or my mom’s Chesapeake chowder.
The table in the dining room here, passed down to my señora by her own grandmother, won’t be crowded today. It holds different stories than the ones I’m used to, all of them told with an Andalusian accent and punctuated by the laughter of a different language. It celebrates its own holidays.
So instead, I’ll gather with a few other American students at an Irish bar named Flaherty’s. I’m not sure whose idea that was, but I suppose it’s better than eating at one of the American restaurants in Seville: McDonald’s, KFC or TGI Fridays.
I haven’t a clue about the menu, but I doubt it will be very traditional. It’s a real challenge to find autumn staples in this city. Spanish stores sell iPods, Orbit gum and Heinz ketchup, but the seasonal joy of warm apple cider is lost on the sevillanos. My señora prepares flan, natilla and arroz con leche — not apple pie — when something she’s making calls for dessert.
Apples are out of season here, anyway, for now the orange is coming into its own.
But we’ll celebrate, nonetheless, because Thanksgiving is a holiday that cannot be skipped. As we sit there, Americans carrying on our conversations in stilted Spanish, some of my friends will be thinking about football games and turkey. Someone will bring up Black Friday shopping, I’m sure.
And my mind will be elsewhere, drifting through honey-colored oak leaves, imagining the whir of an electric carving knife, the taste of a long-anticipated forkful of pecan pie and the sound of the stories being passed around at my grandmother’s table.
Michael McGuire studies Spanish, journalism and creative writing at Washington and Lee University and is this year’s recipient of the Landon B. Lane Memorial Scholarship in Journalism. His work has appeared in several newspapers. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Saying something doesn't make it so
The following piece by Washington and Lee University finance professor Scott Hoover appeared in the Nov. 27, 2011, editions of the Richmond Times-Dispatch and is reprinted here with permission.
By Scott Hoover
Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.
Listen to some pundits and you hear that conservatives are rabid protectors of the rich while liberals are staunch defenders of the poor. Listen to others and you hear that liberals fight to kill the American dream in favor of a socialist society while conservatives preserve incentives for people to be inventive and entrepreneurial. This is clearly shown in the tax debate, a longtime political battlefield that has recently been fueled by various budget proposals. We can endlessly discuss whether the current tax system is fair, but what ultimately matters is whether higher taxes on the rich would make a difference.
The IRS provides useful data on individual income taxes. For example, in 2009 (the most recent data year), the 723,000 households earning more than $500,000 per year raked in $900 billion dollars of taxable income. Sounds like a lot, but it is not. To understand this, let’s pretend a bit. Let’s pretend that our political leaders agree on a balanced budget that applies to each year now and forever. Let’s pretend that they also increase the tax rate on rich households to 100 percent yet these rich people maintain the same level of productivity. What would that do for the economy?
Those rich households currently pay an average income tax of 29 percent, leaving them with about $640 billion dollars after federal taxes. A portion of that goes to state taxes and other fees, so let’s pretend that there is $600 million left to play with, all of which is collected by the government under the new 100 percent tax law. How long would it take to pay off the national debt? Not one year or two or three, but 25 years.
Note that our national debt has grown by more than a trillion dollars each year recently. Implication? A 100 percent tax on the rich would not even offset the annual deficit. The national debt would never be retired. It’s that simple. Note also that that one recent proposal is for a 5 percent surcharge on the rich, a mere fraction of the 100 percent rate in our pretend world. The reality? The rich make a lot of money relative to most of us, but they don’t make enough to make much of a difference in the big picture. The fate of America rises and falls on the backs of the middle class. Solutions must start there.
Most find it difficult to argue against raising taxes on the rich. After all, we tend to be jealous of the rich and wish, albeit secretly, to somehow bring them down to our level. Greed is a sin, but so too is envy. This is the same sort of envy that causes us to root against teams like the New York Yankees. We justify our demands for higher taxes on the rich by saying that higher taxes would be fairer, yet we offer no definition or assessment of what “fair” means. We claim that our tax laws favor the rich, but we fail to show that higher taxes will actually solve our problems. Unfortunately, saying that higher taxes are fairer and would solve our problems does not make it so.
Legend has it that a man asked Abraham Lincoln for some appropriation, citing questionable facts to support his request. In denying the request, Lincoln asked, “How many legs does a dog have if you call its tail a leg?” “Five,” the man replied, to which Lincoln answered, “No, four. Calling a tail a leg does not make it one.”
Is it too much to ask that we stop pretending that taxing the rich will solve our debt and deficit problems?
Scott Hoover is an associate professor of finance at Washington and Lee University. He is the author of How to Get a Job on Wall Street: Proven Ways to Land a High-Paying, High-Power Job and Stock Valuation: An Essential Guide to Wall Street’s Most Popular Valuation Models. Contact him at email@example.com.
W&L Offers Two Evenings of Seasonal Holiday Music
Come and kick-off the holiday season with the W&L Men’s Glee Club, Cantatrici (W&L women’s choir), the University Wind Ensemble, String Ensemble and the W&L Swing for a family-friendly evening of seasonal holiday music. Two identical concerts will be presented, on Monday, Dec. 5 and Tuesday, Dec. 6, at 7 p.m. in Wilson Concert Hall in the Lenfest Center at Washington and Lee.
The earlier start time is intended to allow families to come and hear the festive music. Tickets are free but required and may be picked up at the Lenfest Box Office. Due to the large performer setup, seating will be limited.
The concert will open with pieces from Chanticleer’s Christmas Spiritual Medley and then move immediately to favorites such as Carol of the Bell, The First Nowell and Sleigh Ride performed around the audience by Cantatrici and the W&L Swing.
The University String and Wind Ensembles will close the concert with energetic renditions of The Eighth Candle and Sleigh Ride before closing with Leroy Anderson’s classic A Christmas Festival that will include a festival audience sing-along. It is sure to be a great evening of joyous music for the entire family.
Antique Scientific Instruments Show How W&L Students Used to Learn
An exhibit of 19th-century scientific instruments on the main floor of the Leyburn Library at Washington and Lee University shows how students used to study physics, chemistry, mathematics, surveying and other scientific disciplines.
Yolanda Merrill, humanities librarian and associate professor, originated the idea for the exhibit after noticing similar instruments on display in the library’s Boatwright Room. “I thought they were very pretty, but I never knew where they came from,” she said.
• See Gallery Below
Tom Williams, who retired last May after teaching physics at W&L for almost 40 years, told Merrill that many more such instruments lay unidentified and uncategorized in the attic of W&L’s Science Center. “Every physics department has an attic filled with this stuff because physicists can’t throw anything away,” admitted Williams. “Some of the items, like those on display in this exhibit, are well worth keeping and chronicling.”
Williams and Merrill collaborated in selecting items for the exhibit, concentrating on those that were most interesting, aesthetically pleasing and practical. “We had to move a lot of dusty items to get to other dusty items,” said Williams.
Merrill, who acknowledges she has no scientific background, cleaned the selected items for exhibit and prepared captions with the assistance of Williams and Tom Greenslade, professor emeritus of physics at Kenyon College, who researches the history of science
“One thing I learned was that hardly any of these are stand-alone instruments,” said Merrill. “They all have to be attached to something else such as a jar or a pump in order to work. That’s why I can’t do demonstrations with them. But all these instruments do turn and move and you’re allowed to touch them.”
Williams said that one of his favorite instruments among those on display is the Wimshurst electrostatic generator. “This device has a crank handle that you turn and through an arrangement of pulleys it turns and rubs metal discs against a brush and generates electricity, the same way you might in scraping your feet against a rug in winter time and touching a doorknob,” he explained.
Williams added that Benjamin Franklin used an electrostatic generator to make public displays of electrical experiments to shock people. “He would have five or six people hold hands and one touch here and another touch there and they would all be shocked. It was also a popular entertainment to show sparks and how things moved because of electricity,” he said.
He went on to describe how in the 1970s he and Taylor Sanders, W&L emeritus professor of history, took this particular electrostatic generator on tour. “Taylor lectured on the college curriculum in the sciences in 18th-century America, and I did a series of electrical experiments. We would put this item in the trunk of our car and carry it around as part of our show and tell,” he remembered.
Both Merrill and Williams pointed out the attraction of another instrument, Thacher’s Calculating Device, on display in a glass cabinet. “It’s quite fun,” said Williams, “It’s a precursor to the slide rule, which is a precursor to the calculator and the computer. It’s not only historically interesting but pretty to look at. We’ve also displayed the instruction book that came with it.”
Other favorites are the optical devices and prisms displayed in a cabinet near the front entrance. “They are gorgeous,” said Merrill. Williams pointed out that such items are still used quite often in class and demonstrations today. “But they are not nearly as pretty as these prisms, which are French and beautifully made,” he said.
Unable to identify one of the items on display, instead of a caption Merrill wrote “What is this?” on a card. Williams noted that one person wrote that the item was a string model of a hyperboloid. “That is correct,” he said. “It was a way of demonstrating a three dimensional surface by simply stretching strings and attaching them to different points.”
Williams explained that although computer demonstrations have displaced much of what used to be the standard way of teaching, many of the instruments on display could still be used in teaching today. Merrill added that she hopes the exhibit will make students curious as to how people 100 years ago used these instruments to try and achieve the same things students do now on high tech computers. “In a way it was a much more joyful way to understand science,” she said.
Student feedback on the exhibit has been positive. “I’ve had several students tell me that this is the most awesome exhibit they’ve seen,” said Merrill.
Merrill is a member of the University Collections of Art and History committee, and she pointed out that one of their missions is to highlight university collections. “This was part of the collections that was sitting in the dark and unseen and I wanted to bring it out,” she said. She is also creating a website as an online inventory of the items on display that will last after the exhibit concludes at the end of the academic year.
W&L's Blaise Buma Addresses International Youth Summit
In a speech to 1,200 youths from 170 countries earlier this fall, Washington and Lee University junior Blaise Buma urged attendees at the One Young World summit to support a resolution calling for leaders in Africa who have ruled for more than a decade to hand over power to the next generation.
Buma, a mathematics and economics double major from Cameroon, was one of 32 delegates chosen to debate six key resolutions at the summit.
“It was quite a momentous event for me,” Buma said in an email exchange from London where he is spending the year on a study abroad program at the London School of Economics. “I was about to open the session on leadership when we got the news that President Nicolas Sarkozy had tuned in to watch. I had come to the summit with the hope of sending a strong message to world leaders about the grievances that young people like me feel about their performances as leaders. I could not in my wildest imagination have thought that President Sarkozy would be watching when I spoke.”
• See Video Below
Buma said he was mindful of the fact that France enjoys “a cozy relationship” with Cameroon and all other former French colonies in Africa. “Indirectly, my speech was also a message to President Sarkozy because those African dictators wouldn’t be in power in the first place without French support,” he said.
The One Young World summit was held in Zurich, Switzerland, in September. It was the second such summit, designed to give young people a platform to partner with world leaders in solving issues facing the world today. Nobel Peace Prize laureate Desmond Tutu, musician and activist Bob Geldof, Nobel laureate Mohammad Yunus, Crown Prince Haakon of Norway, Antony Jenkins, CEO of Global Retail Banking for Barclay’s, and other notables joined the delegates for the event.
Buma said that the opportunity to network with those luminaries made his experience at the summit one of the most memorable moments in his life. “I was encouraged and inspired by their passion, motivation and works,” he said. “I met ambitious and talented young people from all walks of life who had already achieved so much and were eager to share their learning and experiences with others. When I left Cameroon to study abroad at Washington and Lee, I wanted to immerse myself in a different environment and learn about different cultures. One Young World was a unique opportunity for me to do exactly that. I made many new friends from diverse backgrounds and I had the chance to talk with them and learn about their perspectives on different global issues.”
As a result of attending the summit, Buma is currently working with other One Young World delegates to establish an organization that will provide an efficient mechanism for providing relief aid to disaster-stricken regions of the world such as the Horn of Africa and Haiti. “The advantage of being part of the One Young World family is that we have thousands of counselors and ambassadors to reach out to if we need any help or support,” he said. As an example, Buma pointed out that former French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner, who co-founded Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontiéres), is advising the new venture.
Buma, who comes from a middle income family and went to public school in Cameroon, said that he is passionate about world affairs and politics. He stressed that his native country is rich in resources and has great potential. “But as with most other African countries, the resources are a curse and not a blessing,” he said. “Our leaders are more concerned with enriching themselves off the resources than in helping young Cameroons to realize their potential.” He added that, in his opinion, “corruption, lack of transparency, diseases, famine, wars, economic stagnation and many other problems common in Africa are symptoms of poor leadership.”
In his speech at the One Young World summit, Buma told the delegates: “As a young man growing up in Cameroon, I dreamed of a better future for my country. I even dreamed of becoming a leader in my country one day. But those dreams were dashed when I grew up and confronted the grim realities of my society.
“People are fed up with a failed system rife with corruption, such as the one I grew up in, and become apathetic to the political process and leave it entirely up to politicians to do with it as they see fit. As a result they become unrepresented, disempowered and disenfranchised.”
Citing the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, he also noted that technology has enabled the free flow of information on the Internet and that “young people today are more empowered than any other generation of youths before them.” In conclusion, Buma called on world leaders to reform the United Nations and for Africa, India and Brazil to have permanent seats at the United Nations Security Council.
“For me, W&L has provided a gateway into the world,” said Buma. “I was attracted by W&L’s commitment to help me realize my potential. In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, when other schools were cutting back funding for international students,W&L awarded me financial aid covering more than 90 percent of the cost of my education.”
Now at the London School of Economics, Buma said that the support he receives as a member of the W&L community has extended beyond the campus. “I have met many alumni here in London who are very supportive of my initiatives. Right now I am teaming up with an alum to continue my effort of collecting and sending books to my former high school in Cameroon,” he said.
Buma’s attendance at the One Young World summit was supported by a Johnson Opportunity Grant and the Eric T. Wooley Fellowship. He also received support from W&L Provost Bob Strong, Laurent Boetsche, director of the Center for International Education, Dean of the College Alison Bell and Amy Richwine, international student advisor.
Watch a video of Buma’s participation below:
Further information on One Young World can be found at www.oneyoungworld.com/home.
From Words to Windows: Elizabeth O'Byrne ’00
For more than two centuries, students, professors and staff have watched the comings and goings of their colleagues from the windows of the Colonnade. With the historic structures now under renovation, one of those students is helping preserve those windows. Liz O’Byrne ’00 and her two-year-old company, O’Byrne Contracting Inc., restored the windows of Payne Hall, which re-opened this fall after a year of construction. She’s on tap to work on other buildings around campus, including the rest of the Colonnade.
O’Byrne, who grew up in Milwaukee, Wis., developed an interest in construction and how things work as a child. When she was 12, she bought lumber with her babysitting money and built her own room in the basement. With guidance from her dad and from books, O’Byrne put up stud walls and hung the drywall. “I was surprised when she took on that project. She’s a very motivated lady, but I didn’t extrapolate that into a future career,” said her father, Michael O’Byrne. “I thought she just wanted a space away from her sister.”
Despite that early start in the construction business, O’Byrne came to W&L to be a reporter, graduating with a major in journalism and mass communications. “The academic side of it appealed to me,” she said. “You stand up and hold government accountable and stand up for the little guys, and I loved that. I thought that journalism would really be like that, and it wasn’t.”
It was only after buying and remodeling her house in Lexington, a project she took on herself, that O’Byrne considered construction as a career. She started digging ditches for a company in town, moving through the ranks until she became a project manager. As for her formal qualifications, O’Byrne said, “Most of construction is really hands-on and learning it that way.”
W&L hired O’Byrne to handle the windows for the Colonnade project due to her professional experience in the preservation of glass. “She has a unique process for refurbishment and restoration of historical elements of the buildings,” said Tom Kalasky, director of design and construction at W&L.
O’Byrne first restored windows as a project manager for another contracting company. Doing so without breaking the glass can be tricky. The window sashes are removed from the building and transported to a shop, where someone must remove the putty that attaches the glass to the wood, restore the windows and then transport them back to the building. In this process, there are five opportunities to break the glass. Steam is often used to soften the putty and allow the glass to be removed. Afraid of raising the grain of the wood with steam, however, O’Byrne’s previous employer cut the putty out of the sashes, breaking around 80 percent of the glass in the process.
After reading about steam and talking to people who had used it, O’Byrne had a steam cabinet built and began to experiment on window sashes she purchased from an antique mall. She developed a process that worked beautifully, so when she started her own company in 2009, she took it with her.
O’Byrne Contracting is based in Fairfield, north of Lexington. “I wanted to do my own thing,” she said. “There is a lot of risk and there’s a lot of reward, too. I decided that eventually I want to be the one make the decisions.”
Walking onto her company’s first job, O’Byrne said, “I had been thinking of my company as an experiment. I was very intimidated at first and then it got better. Now that I have a shop, tools, more infrastructure and everything else, it’s not my little thing that I do out of the back out of my house. Now it’s a real job.”
Besides window restoration, the company focuses on commercial construction for businesses and universities. Often companies hire her to fulfill punch lists by seeing to the final details of a project, such as retouching paint and realigning ceiling tiles.
O’Byrne plans to grow her business, starting with getting a bond. The state requires a bond on jobs over $100,000 to cover the financial risk. She can see herself taking a break from commercial construction and using her creativity and design skills to remodel homes.
Don’t think she has left her journalism major behind. “It was good, because it lets me write good proposals in order to get work, and it taught me to do research,” she said. She also finds it beneficial knowing how to do “the more pragmatic research, which is more, ‘where do I find this,’ and clever ways of thinking and approaching problems.” She can also speak Spanish, which comes in handy on a construction site. “She’s a real go-getter,” Kalasky said.
Of O’Byrne’s status as a graduate who is helping to renovate the Colonnade, he added, “There’s a sense of stewardship.”
— Story by Campbell Massie
— Photographs by Kevin Remington
W&L's Annual Christmas Candlelight Service Dec. 8
Washington and Lee University’s annual Christmas Candlelight Service, which dates from 1880, will be held Thursday, Dec. 8, at 8 p.m. in Lee Chapel. Seating will begin at 7:15 p.m.
The public is invited to the presentation. Admissions is free, and no tickets are required.
The “Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols,” broadcast each year from King’s College Chapel, University of Cambridge, and widely used in England, the United States and around the world, is an ancient form for corporate worship at the Christmas season. The prayers, lessons and music tell the story of sacred history from the Creation to the Incarnation.
Music for the traditional service again will be provided by the University Chamber Singers, this year conducted by Shane M. Lynch, director of choral activities. Timothy Gaylard, professor of music, will be the organist for the service.
Nine members of the W&L community are chosen to read the lessons. The Rev. Tom Crittenden, the Rector at R.E. Lee Memorial Episcopal Church will be presiding over the service.