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Lavery, William Edward


Biographical Note

Born in Geneseo, N.Y. on November 20, 1930, to the late John R. and Mary Irene O’Bryan, William Edward 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, N.Y., before serving two years in the United States Army. He was a veteran of the Korean Conflict. He married the former Peggy Johnson of Pawnee City, Neb., in 1956, and the couple had four children, Debra, Lori, Mary Beth, and K. Michael. He began working for the federal Extension Service’s Division of Management Operations in 1956, where he remained until 1966.

Succeeding President Hahn, William E. Lavery became the university’s president on January 1, 1975. Lavery had been executive vice president since 1973, preceded by five years as vice president for finance and two years as director of administration for the Extension division. He first came to the university in 1966. Complementing the years of explosive growth under his predecessor, his presidency not only brought stability to the university but also expanded its growth into different areas. Lavery placed a high priority on alleviating shortages of classroom, laboratory, and office space – increasing the total inventory of available space by 50.1 percent. The new “infill” concept for constructing buildings and additions would subsequently win an award from the American Planning Association. A $108-million construction program included additions to Newman Library and the War Memorial Gymnasium, construction of Johnston Student Center, and a $17.5 million complex to house the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine, opening to students in 1980.

The president also emphasized research, and expenditures in support of research totaled over $70.2 million by the fiscal year of 1987, moving Virginia Tech into the nation’s top fifty research universities. He enhanced research opportunities by establishing the Corporate Research Center. The center received an antenna to link Virginia Tech to the world via satellite, and the Extension division developed a series of twenty-six 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. Additionally, Virginia Tech played a vital role in developing the concept for Virginia’s Center for Innovative Technology.

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. The university opened the Cranwell International Center. Lavery hired the university’s first vice president for development, Charles Forbes, who launched a campaign to raise $50 million and then raised more than $108 million. Lavery also hired the university’s first woman vice president, Sandra Sullivan, vice president for student affairs.

In other developments, President Ronald Reagan appointed Lavery chair of the USAID 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. He also served on the first NCAA Presidential Commission. In 1985, Xavier University in the Philippines presented him with an honorary doctorate. During his presidency, the National Conference of Christians and Jews presented him with the Brotherhood Award and the governor of Virginia appointed him to serve on the Commission on Virginia’s Transportation in the 21st Century.

A controversial land swap in 1986 – in which Virginia Tech traded 247 acres of land for 1,700 acres needed for agricultural research – along with highly publicized problems with the basketball program posed challenges to Lavery’s presidency. Despite the fact he developed a reorganization plan for the Athletic Association, negative publicity continued. On October 16, 1987 Lavery announced his resignation, effective December 31, 1987. He continued to serve the university, first as honorary chancellor, then, after October 1, 1988, as the William B. Preston Professor of International Affairs, and, after his retirement on August 1, 1991, as president emeritus.

The university recognized his contributions by honoring him with the Ruffner Medal in 1993 and by dedicating the William E. Lavery Animal Health Research Center in his honor in 1995. Additionally, the Class of 1997 named its class ring in his honor. He died on February 16, 2009.

Source: Buchanan, Todd, Lawrence G. Hincker, and Clara B. Cox. Images & Reflections: Virginia Tech, 1872-1997. Blacksburg, Va: Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, 1997.

Found in 3 Collections and/or Records:

Records of the Office of the Executive Vice-President, William E. Lavery

 Record Group
Identifier: RG-04-03
Abstract This collection contains correspondence and other official records of Lavery during his years as Executive Vice-President (1973-1974) and Vice President of Finance (1968-1973) before becoming President of the University. Collection includes materials concerning budget matters, Board of Visitors, Computing Center, Computer Science, Community Colleges, each of the Colleges, Building Committee, Institutional Research, Task Force for Innovative Approaches to Instruction, University Council and...
Dates: 1968 - 1974

Records of the Office of the President, William E. Lavery

 Record Group
Identifier: RG-02-12

William Edward Lavery (1930-2009) was president of Virginia Tech from 1975 to 1987. The collection contains mainly incoming and outgoing correspondence (1975-1987) concerning college activities and issues of Lavery's administration including admission and records; commencement exercises; inaugural activities; homecoming; the Alumni Association; faculty and student affairs; the College of Veterinary Medicine; speeches and speech material.

Dates: 1975 - 1987