In Memoriam: Farris Hotchkiss ’58, former Vice President of University Relations and Secretary of the University Hotchkiss worked at his alma mater for 35 years. After retirement, he was an active W&L volunteer and alumni ambassador.
Farris Pierson Hotchkiss ’58, died in Lexington, Virginia, on June 21, 2023. He was 86.
Hotchkiss, who was born in St. Louis, Missouri and raised in Ann Arbor, Michigan and Richmond, Virginia, received a bachelor’s degree in economics from Washington and Lee University in 1958.
He was involved in numerous activities as a student at W&L, including serving as president of the Student Service Society, which he started with the guidance of Dean Frank Gilliam, who wanted students to help make the campus more hospitable to visitors and assist with campus events. He was editor of the Calyx yearbook and editorial advisor for the Ring-Tum Phi student newspaper and was a member of Beta Theta Phi fraternity, Phi Eta Sigma and Omicron Delta Kappa.
After graduation, Hotchkiss took a job with the Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Company. Shortly after, he began working in the Foote & Davies Printing Division of the McCall Corporation.
Hotchkiss left his business career in 1966 and returned to W&L to serve as assistant dean of students and director of financial aid and scholarships. In 1968, he became the university’s first director of development, presiding over the first official capital campaign, as well as two subsequent campaigns. He served as vice president of university relations from 1987 to 2001, with responsibility for alumni relations, communications and development. From 1987 to 1999, he was secretary of the university, and a senior advisor to four university presidents.
He retired from his role of university secretary in October 1999, and retired fully from W&L in December 2001. Under his leadership, the university’s endowment grew from $18 million when he joined the W&L staff to more than $400 million when he retired in 2001. He has been credited with building a thriving development department at W&L, laying the groundwork for what exists today. In 2002, W&L awarded Hotchkiss an Honorary Doctorate of Letters.
He and his wife, Judy, were lifelong W&L ambassadors, both on campus and off. Since 1966, they hosted hundreds of W&L alumni and friends in their Lexington home. After retiring, Hotchkiss began volunteering for the university and was a class agent for more than 20 years.
To recognize the couple’s commitment to the university, the Class of 1958 — as one of its 50th reunion projects — raised $1 million to rename the Alumni House in their honor. In May 2008, President Emeritus Ken Ruscio ’76 declared that the building that welcomes university alumni and guests would now be known as Hotchkiss House.
In 2022, Will Bou ’24 interviewed Hotchkiss to learn more about his service and dedication to the university.
“Ever since I enrolled at W&L in 1954, I have had a real love affair with the school, and I wanted to do what I could for it,” Hotchkiss said in the interview.
“Farris devoted his life to service and leadership on behalf of Washington and Lee University,” W&L President Will Dudley said. “His contributions to W&L as an alumnus and administrator over the 65 years since his graduation are nearly impossible to measure. Farris served as a mentor and friend to countless students, alumni, faculty, and staff, and shared his love of Washington and Lee with everyone. He welcomed me warmly to the W&L community when I arrived in Lexington, and I am personally grateful to have known him. As we mourn Farris’ passing, we express our condolences to the Hotchkiss family and our immense appreciation for his vision, dedication, and generous nature.”
In addition to his work with W&L, Hotchkiss was involved in many civic activities in the City of Lexington and Rockbridge County. He served on the advisory boards of Stonewall Jackson Hospital (now Carilion Rockbridge Community Hospital), SunTrust-Lexington, Rockbridge Regional Library Foundation, Beta Theta Pi Fraternity Foundation, Lexington-Rockbridge Chamber of Commerce and Kendal at Lexington. Additionally, he was a member of the vestry of the Robert E. Lee Episcopal Church (now Grace Episcopal Church) and the Blood Program Chair for the Lexington Chapter of the American Red Cross.
Hotchkiss is survived by his wife, Judy; his children, Pierson (Ellen), Julie ‘89L, and Cliff; and his grandchildren, Millie, Pierson III, and Jackson ’24.
A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. on July 1 at Grace Episcopal Church in Lexington. Memorial gifts can be made in his honor to Washington and Lee University and to Grace Episcopal Church.