Ren Harman: Good afternoon. This is Ren Harman, the Project Director for VTStories. Today is April 6, 2018. We are in the Holtzman Alumni Center on the campus of Virginia Tech with a very special guest. This is the only time that I will prompt you in any way, if you can just state in a complete sentence my name is, when you were born, and where you were born.
Mayer Levy: My name is Mayer Levy, and I was born in Newport News, Virginia,November 22, 1932.
Ren: Thank you. So you were born in Newport News, Virginia. Did you grow up inNewport News?
Mayer: I grew up in Newport News and my family had been there since 1800s.
Ren: Oh wow.
Mayer: I'm the second-generation Hokie. My father who was born in Newport News1:00in 1901 received the first Collis P. Huntington Scholarship to VPI then.
Ren: What was life like growing up as a young boy in Newport News?
Mayer: Well, it was totally different from the way it is now and the way mychildren or grandchildren are growing up, because we were totally segregated, living, schooling, work, everything was totally segregated. There were no constraints as there are today because there were few bad people that made it difficult. So most of the time my family didn't know where I was until I came home from dinner. I walked to school, Stonewall Jackson Grammar School and then hitchhiked or took a bus or got a ride to Newport News High School. That led to 2:00VPI, which it was still at that time. I played, I lettered in football. I lettered in sciences. I lettered in band. I was in the all-state band and when I came to VP I thought there a Music Department and I received an offer of a music scholarship. I was a fairly good musician and I couldn't break into the first section of the Highty-Tighties. I couldn't break into the second section of the Highty-Tighties, so I was in the third section of the Highty-Tighties, deflated ego.
Ren: What was your instrument?
Mayer: Well I play three instruments, clarinet, English horn, and bassoon, butI was playing clarinet in the bands. I played in marching bands, played in 3:00concert bands, played in orchestras.
If you want me to carry it further, when I was flying in the Navy I carried alittle metal clarinet, and I would land at the Naval Air Station Pontchartrain outside of New Orleans, and I would go in and sit with, this was back in the 50s, and I sat with some phenomenal musicians. I had a ball.
Ren: Jazz I guess?
Mayer: All jazz, yes. It had gone from j-a-s-s to j-a-z-z, so we had made thetransition, but that phenomenal, and I credit the Highty-Tighties for letting me carry on.
Ren: So I was in the band in high school. Mine is percussion, primarily a snare drum.
Mayer: Oh you made noise.
Ren: Yeah, very loud and it drove my parents crazy growing up. You said yourfather was a graduate of Virginia Tech. What did he do for a career?
Mayer: He was not a graduate, he was a special student. He went to high4:00school. From there he went to the Newport News Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Company Apprentice School, and there he finished #1 in his class and they sent him by scholarship. Collis P. Huntington was the gentleman who started the shipyard and the C& O Railroad and some other things, and they named the scholarship for him. He was awarded the first Collis P. Huntington Scholarship. Came here as an ME, mechanical engineer, took some graduate work, and ended up being in charge of all of the efficiency of the largest industry in the State of Virginia.
Mayer: I guess I just followed him up to VPI.
Ren: What about your mother?
Mayer: My mother went to the State Teacher's Norm, which is now MaryWashington University, and she got her teaching certificate and taught in 5:00Emporia. She was going to go for her degree. She was the only one of her family who went to college, and she actually roomed with my father's sister at Mary Washington, and they asked mother to come back to Emporia because they needed a teacher for the one school in Emporia in Greensville County.
Ren: Emporia is the home town of Tom Tiller, is that correct?
Mayer: That is correct. That is exactly it.
Ren: I did two interviews with Tom, so I remember that one.
Mayer: Tom and I have talked about that.
Ren: Wonderful. Were you an only child?
Mayer: No, I have a brother. He's a retired ophthalmologist. He's wayward. Hedid not go to Tech, but we accept him anyway.
Ren: We won't hold it against him, right. So when you were in high school andyou were doing music and in the band and you started thinking about college, how 6:00did Virginia Tech kind of come into the picture and what was that process like?
Mayer: Well, we have to back-up. I didn't think about college. We just assumedwe were going to go to college. Have no idea where, have no idea why. Some people are uni-direct. I'm undirected and have been all of my life. I played football and I lettered in football.
Ren: What was your position?
Mayer: You're going to laugh. I was single wing pulling guard on offense andnose guard on defense, smallest one on the squad. Obviously, I was mean.
Mayer: We had our senior letter dinner at the YMCA and Frank Mosely who hadjust taken over coaching at VPI then was the speaker. He came around and he was offering scholarships and he looked at me, he looked down at me, put his hand on 7:00my shoulder and said, "Son, when you're up there on campus come around and visit me." In other words, you don't make the grade. [Laughs] You don't make the cut. But anyway, then I spent a good bit of time digging up the York River because we lived on the Bay on James River and so I always sailed and fished and clammed and oystered and did all those things. There was a disease which is called Fish [00:07:41 Tickiness], which some bottom-feeding fish get during a certain time of the year, and I decided I would see if I could find out why nobody had ever done any research on it. So I dug up the bottom because they were bottom-feeders, and I found that there were two precordate worms that lived in 8:00the mud at the bottom of the seabed. The names were balanoglossus and saccoglossuss. There will be a quiz later on that. [Laughs] But anyway, I dug them up and I did a little bit of research on the iodine content which is what tickiness smells like and tastes like. I did it through a very nice PhD at the Virginia Fisheries Laboratory in Yorktown. I proceeded with that and I colonized some of these cordate worms and, precordate worms, and then the Virginia Fisheries Laboratory was taken over by William & Mary's Virginia Institute of Marine Science, and VIMS was building this magnificent facility and I'll be having dinner in a week with the outgoing president of William & Mary there in VIMS. 9:00
So I moved my colonies over to this magnificent modern facility, and whathappened? The electricity failed and all of the colonies, everybody's colonies failed, so I never got a chance to complete it. However, I did take the test and I got my scholarship to VPI.
Ren: Virginia Academy?
Ren: Virginia Academy of Science Scholarship, right?
Mayer: I can't think of the name of it, anyway that's what it was, yeah.
Ren: Take me to the day when you first saw the campus of VPI, Virginia Techduring that day. Was it when you came up I guess as a freshman to maybe be fitted for uniforms or before then?
Mayer: I came up one time before that. I had no idea where VPI was. There were10:00no interstates and so we had two options, one was to come by car or to take the Norfolk and Western train out of Suffolk. I was invited by the father of two of the football players, Doug Petty, his son Doug Jr., quarterback of the football team in the 40s, and Tom Petty his other son was a friend of mine. He was a punter and an end, a big boy. Mr. Petty brought me up and showed me around and then we went back, and then the next time I came up I got fitted for a uniform and found out where I was going to be living.
Ren: What was your first impression of the campus? What do you remember about it?
Mayer: I remember it was stark. We had Burruss Hall. We had Price Hall,Davidson, but the only thing that really interested me was we had two academic 11:00buildings, Academic 1 and Academic 2, two brick structures. I think they caught on fire and burned down, and Lane Hall where the Highty-Tighties lived. And my only interest really was Lane, where the Highty-Tighties were and practiced, and Price and Davidson where I would do...and I guess the Academics 1 and 2.
Ren: Yeah. When you came in as a freshman did you come in as a biology major?
Ren: That was your experience because of working with the fisheries and things?
Mayer: Well, I had been the president of my high school biology club and so Ihad been very active in biology and I found it very interesting, and I had no idea what I was going to be doing later on, so it was a good basic course to be taking.
We didn't have any College of Science or College of Arts & Sciences or college12:00of anything. We had the Department of Biology and Dr. I. D. Wilson was the head of the department. He was a garrulous old guy, but he was easy to get along with.
Ren: As I mentioned I'm a Class of 2011 graduate with a BS in Biology from theCollege of Science, but one goal of VT Stories and one thing we're always interested in is the idea of a mentorship for students while they're here. Are there any professors or mentors that you had during your time here that you can remember that stick out in your mind in any way?
Mayer: That's an interesting question and I have an interesting answer, but ofcourse none of them are still alive. The course I think that I enjoyed more than any was biochem, and if I had time to think about it I would be able to think of 13:00the professor of biochem. He was interesting, he smoked when he lectured, and he had chalk in one hand and a cigarette in the other hand. You're bringing back memories now. We used to joke which one is he going to smoke and which one is he going to write with? [Laughs] Because they were interchangeable.
Ren: This wouldn't be Engle would it?
Mayer: No. That was before Engle. But anyway, he was rather young and hereally was a good mentor and he wanted me to go into biochem. It was biochem and nutrition, not just biochem. I thought that would be a good thing to do, but I was already on my biology track and it wasn't worth changing because by that time I had decided that I didn't know how long I was going to be here. We had Army ROTC. I'm digressing a little bit. I can get tangential. 14:00
Ren: Go for it. [Laughs]
Mayer: We had Army ROTC, which I signed up for coastal artillery. Why? Becausemy father had been in the coastal artillery ROTC. Then they disbanded coastal artillery and it became field artillery, which was a lot of fun. I really enjoyed that, and I aced that pretty well. But I wanted to be a carrier pilot. I had worked in the shipyard in the summers and I worked on carriers, and I found carrier aviation to be just a phenomenal interest to me. So there was no NROTC, and along about my junior year I had already taken the physical. I had taken the battery of tests and pretty much aced everything.
It was not too difficult. It was not for college boys. [Chuckles] Then I got a15:00call and they said the Korean War is starting to wind down and we think that the Naval Aviation Training Command is going to be disbanded because we're not going to need it anymore. If you want to become a carrier pilot you have to come now. Well, it hit the fan at home, but I packed up, went down to Norfolk, had a few going away parties up here, and I went into the Navy, so I did not follow a straight track.
Ren: Okay, yeah. So you came here for a year?
Mayer: No, 3 years, actually about 31/2. I was in the beginning of my senioryear when all this occurred.
Ren: Oh wow, okay.
Mayer: So you can imagine.16:00
Ren: Yeah. I want to ask you, because we've interviewed a lot of Corps membersin the 50s and the 60s and the infamous rat year always comes up in stories.
Mayer: I've heard about that.
Ren: Are there any good stories or bad stories even from that time period, fromthat first year?
Mayer: You have to remember there were only a couple of thousand students. Myrat year I was in my room and getting ready to study and this fellow rat walked in and he said, "Do you have a minute? Can we talk?" and I said, "Sure, why not." And he was from West Virginia and he said he just wanted to talk to me, so I said, "That's fine." So we talked and after about 15 minutes he said, "Well I'll go now, but I'll tell you why I wanted to talk to you." And he told me 17:00where he was from in West Virginia and his church and all of this, he said, "And I've never met a Jew before and I had to find out whether you really had horns or not."
Mayer: Now remember back the statue of David with the horns and all. So Isaid, "Well I really don't have horns and I am Jewish." So anyway, that was an interesting event, but there were a number of interesting things that occurred. About four or five of us had a Model A and we would take turns double-dating. Why did we double-date? Because gas did cost 20-something cents a gallon and it was good if you could share it. And I will never forget, we were over near Pearisburg and we ran out of gas. So I said, "We are right near a farm that I know." So, I went over, and I went up to the farmer who was providing us with 18:00hard cider. Not that we ever drank, we never drank, but we looked at it.
Mayer: Provided us with hard cider and I went up to him and I told him who Iwas and I said, "We are out of gas. Could we get some gas from you and we will bring you the money to pay for it?" And he said, "No, I don't want your money. You boys have got it hard enough. But the only thing I have is this cracked crock." He said, "I'll put gas in there, but you've got to hurry because it will leak out, so you've got to get there before you lose it." So I told him how much I appreciated it and he sent me on my way and I poured the gas in and we started her up, set the mags and drove off, and my date said, "What did you put in the gas tank?" So I said, "Shine." And she said, "This car runs on moonshine?" and I 19:00said, "Sure. This is a special engine. Don't forget there are engineers over at VPI." And to this day I think she believes it was moonshine we ran on. [Laughs]
Ren: You really must have impressed her.
Mayer: Yeah, right. [Chuckles]
Ren: Oh that's a good one. I'm sure there's hundreds and hours of stories thatwe can talk about. Is there any other favorite memories or experiences that you can remember?
Mayer: Well I did some other things, like during the summer, in fact my firstsummer I was on the poultry range. We had chickens and turkeys. At the end of that my father called me or wrote me I guess and said, "You haven't been home in a year. If you don't come home your mother is going to come up and move in with you." So the next vacation I went home. But anyway, I would go in in the morning and open the shop and the cracked eggs we would give to a cat named Charlie. And 20:00Charlie was a good old cat, but he had outlived his nine lives I think. And I went in one morning and I said, "Charlie you're eating good eggs," and I tossed him over on his head. That's the only time I've ever seen a cat tossed on his head and he landed on his head.
Ren: Oh wow.
Mayer: He could not upright himself in air. He never came around again. But anyway.
Ren: Oh my gosh. [Laughs]
Mayer: It was interesting anyway. And another one, I was up here on a summerand I worked with a vet and Dr. Wilson had put me with a vet in Dublin, and there was a rabies problem with the cattle, so we were collecting specimens, and we would bring them back at night to Price Hall and we would get under the microscope and see if we could find rabies. I was the one who found it, but when 21:00I think now what am I doing working with rabies? [Laughs] And I mean we didn't use rubber gloves.
Ren: I was getting ready to say it is probably not sanitary.
Mayer: No protective devices at all. So anyway, there was a lot going on atVPI other than the academics and the band and the athletics.
Ren: On the reverse side of that question what were some difficult experiencesor things that you can remember? Any hard times, hardships?
Mayer: I really don't remember any hardships. I would say the first memory waswe had a band conductor named Jim Schaeffer who is renowned for being really the founding father of the Highty-Tighties, although there were some others, but he was instrumental in it. He died my rat year, and we marched and played Dirges up to the cemetery up on the top of the hill here in Blacksburg. Tom Dobbins took 22:00over and there's a Dobbins Scholarship now. I contribute to it every year. It's tough to lose somebody who is, particularly in music a specialty who has been so important to you. That was very difficult.
Ren: What year did you graduate?
Mayer: You mean actually graduate?
Mayer: 1960. And I will have patients who would come in and I would hear this,"Dr. Levy Johnny is taking 6 years to get his degree," and I would say, "Mother, it took me 9 years to get my baccalaureate." [Laughs]
Ren: I guess you claim the class of '55?
Mayer: Oh yeah, those are my friends.
Ren: After you graduated, and we will come back to your military service because23:00I do want to talk a little bit about that, after you graduated how did dental school in Georgetown, how did all this kind of come about?
Mayer: Well, that came about because... Well, in the first place I was gettinga little older, like I was the second oldest in my Georgetown Dental School class. There was an old marine who was Russ Leech who was probably 2 years older than me, and I had more maturity to reflect on what I was going to do the rest of my life. I had the usual choices, research, dentistry, veterinary medicine, medicine, probably some other things, and I decided that dentistry I liked it for the reasons, the patients became more of your family. You didn't see them and that was the end of it. I think they remained with you for decades. 24:00
Mayer: I liked it because it involved sculpture with what you design and whatyou do. It involved medicine and it involved, and I loved doing surgery and I did a lot of shadowing, both in medicine and in dentistry. Dentistry was my bag.
Ren: Once you started at Georgetown, what year was that?
Mayer: That was '60.
Ren: So did you graduate I guess in Georgetown...?
Ren: '64, okay. Where did life kind of take you after that?
Mayer: Interestingly, I would have been President Nixon's dentist. His dentistoffered me a position in the district, Bill Chase, and I decided that I wanted 25:00to go back because I love playing in the dirt. I love playing in the water. I love a more rural type of suburban, really a more rural-type life rather than the District of Columbia. So then it took me back and I went into the old home back in Newport News which was Denbigh at the time. I've been in the area ever since.
Ren: Wonderful. I know you have a son, Guy, correct?
Mayer: Yes, a Hokie.
Ren: Who is a Hokie and also a dentist.
Ren: And then a granddaughter, Clare, is that correct?
Mayer: That's my baby.
Ren: Is also a Hokie, right?
Mayer: Right. Graduating, she's a senior this year.
Ren: For your son and your granddaughter, when they were thinking about collegedid grandpa have a say or did you kind of lean them towards Virginia Tech?
Mayer: I did not push any of my kids toward anything. I have always been an26:00advocate of put down on paper the pluses, the minuses, all of your options and then make a decision and it's your decision. They made their decisions. Clare, her father will tell you, never was going anywhere until she could go and be a Highty-Tighty and march in the homecoming parade with her Papa.
Ren: Wow. That's wonderful.
Mayer: It really is, and she's Dean's List and all everything.
Mayer: She's a brilliant beautiful girl. I'm not biased.
Ren: Not at all, right. During your time in living in Newport News, obviouslyyour son and like we said son and granddaughter were here, did you come back to campus often? Did you come back to Virginia Tech often?
Mayer: I've been very active in the Alumni Association and on the Alumni Board27:00here I was president. We didn't have Hokie clubs then and we had alumni chapters and I was president of the alumni chapter.
Ren: That was the Peninsula?
Mayer: The Peninsula. We were an outstanding chapter when I was president. Itwas really fun. Dr. Wilson came down. He was provost and I had him speak. I had the coaches come in and speak and we had oyster roasts. The things I enjoy it seems like people have not been exposed to, and by bringing those out at whatever organization I've been president of it enlivens the lives of other people.
Ren: And to that, I want to get to a couple of other things, you're a College ofScience Dean's Roundtable Advisory Board, you were the past chairman, so I guess that's kind of what brought you to campus today. 28:00
Mayer: That's right.
Ren: Like you said, the president of the Alumni chapter. I want to ask you aboutyour College of Science Hall of Distinction in 2017, last year.
Mayer: They made a mistake. [Laughs] That's all I can say.
Ren: How did that make you feel? What was that experience like?
Mayer: It was quite an honor, and when you look at those who have beenawarded, I mean I don't know how they got my name, seriously.
Ren: Can you talk a little bit about the Highty-Tighty Alumni Band? Because Isee them out at football games.
Mayer: Oh, I'm a charter member.
Ren: A charter member?
Mayer: Yeah, so that goes back about 35 years, maybe more, I don't know. TheHighty-Tighty Alumni, you know how marines say, it's not that I was a marine, I 29:00am a marine and then 90 years old, it's the same way with the Highty-Tighties. My roommate Ben Kitchen, played trombone. I don't understand brass players. Anyway, he was a nice guy and we were very close, and back about 19-sometime in the 60s, I was the only one who was in the alumni band of our group. We had a good number of classmates, and I was the only one who came back and marched in the homecoming parade. Eventually I was the only one in the 50s who marched in the homecoming parade, so we would get together and had dinner at the Farmhouse or somewhere around. One time Beamer had a restaurant and we went there. We would have probably 50 including wives.
And then my compatriots couldn't walk up the steps of the stadium and then they30:00couldn't drive here, and they got old, so Ben died. He had a glioblastoma and, ridiculous, so they asked me to continue. So I continued to get people together, but generally we had dinners down in Yorktown, Gloucester, and Newport News, because that's where the mobile people could attend. And we just lost Harry Corr, which leaves two of us who can get to anything. We still have three others from my class, so it's been decimated, but we still have this comradery to the degree that the widows come now, and so we may have three or four widows as well 31:00as alumni. So it's a very close-knit group. We have always been close-knit. I like to think I've been a good party to that, because I'm sort of the sentinel note of the whole business. [Chuckles]
Mayer: It's very important. Well, Tech is very important. This is a veryimportant aspect of Tech, and you would probably not be aware that at one time they tried to disband the Highty-Tighties. The Marching Virginians were supposed to be the only musicians, and of course they had the Music Department, which the Highty-Tighties were not a party to, and we overcame that.
Ren: Yeah, great. I also want to mention, this is more dental-related, you are a32:00fellow of the Academy of General Dentistry and Honorary Fellow of the International College of Dentists, the American College of Dentists in the Virginia Dental Association, Adjunct Faculty Member at VCU there in Richmond. Can you talk a little bit about Missions of Mercy?
Mayer: Well you missed - the most important Mission of Mercy that I've beeninvolved in was 12 years ago. I was seeing a lot of indigent children in my practice pro bono, and they came from no family, single family, dual households that could not provide enough funding.
And so what I did was I got with the president of the Boys and Girls Club and Isaid, "I have an idea, why don't we..." Because I had run marathons and I had 33:00participated in road races forever, "Why don't we have the Boys and Girls Club and Delta Dental of Virginia," which I was on the board of, "Sponsor a 5K race once a year to raise funds to treat indigent kids," and he said, "No." So I said, "Why not?" He said, "Mayer, I get these suggestions all the time and that's as far as they get. Nobody will work with it." I said, "You've got the wrong boy. I will be chair of the committee," which I had been, and this year will be the 11th year. We raise close to $30,000 a year to treat indigent kids. And the treating isn't necessarily the cost of the dentistry. They've got to have bus service. They've got to take them from school and back to school. They have to have physicals in order to get dental treatment. I am so proud of that. 34:00I named it the Smart Smiles 5K, and it's been really a boom to dentistry, and to the Boys and Girls Club treating indigent kids, which is what it's all about.
Now, the MOM projects, Mission of Mercy. My good friend Terry Dickenson, who isjust retiring as head of the Virginia Dental Association has been instrumental in establishing this, which is now nationwide. And this is where various sites, and I have participated in these for years, people can come, they don't question. If you come nobody is going to ask you can you afford dentistry, how did you get here, what do you want. All we want to do is provide pro bono dentistry and that's what it is. Giles County has one. I've been to Burke, 35:00Virginia, Gloucester, Emporia, Northern Virginia, Portsmouth, Chesapeake, they are all over at different times. We set it up so that it's first come first serve. And as long as we can see them we will stay and treat them, and those days are long days. If I'm doing triage I may start at 5 in the morning and some of the people sleep in their cars so that they can get dentistry. And they get it. Nobody charges them a penny. There are limitations on what we can do, and it's just a wonderful program to help people who need help.
Ren: I grew up in southwest Virginia in Tazewell County and my wife is fromBuchanan County. I don't know if they are the same, but there are similar 36:00programs like that and it's such a big help.
Mayer: Yes, the RAM program for medical, yeah.
Ren: To do like at an elementary school, and the amount of people that attendthose, and you really see how much it means to them to have a smile that they can be proud of. It's unbelievable.
Mayer: I was in Emporia and somebody came over and said, "I've got this womanand nobody can handle her." So I went over and there are some advantages to being older, so I went over and I said, "Maam, you tell me how I can help you." Nobody had asked her that.
Mayer: [Laughs] Simple things in life. So she said, "I've got this tooth andnobody can take it out." I said, "I can take it out." So I had to do it surgically. I took it out and she said, "Doctor, I've got to know who your preacher is because I'm going to get in touch with him and tell him how 37:00wonderful you are." I said, "Well actually I don't have a preacher, I have a rabbi. I'm Jewish." She said, "Oh. Well I'll get in touch with your rabbi." She gets up out of the chair and this is a huge woman and she hugs me, random. I disappeared in her bosom. I mean I didn't know if I was ever going to breathe again. But these are the rewards that you get for doing this.
I had another interesting one over in [00:37:34 Gloucester]. Now I've workedwith the Portuguese over in [00:37:39 Gloucester of England], these watermen who still speak the old English. Somebody came over and said, "You're doing triage today. How about triage for this guy, nobody can understand him." So I went over there, and I looked at him and I looked at his hands and he had calluses up to 38:00his elbows, not quite, but pretty much. And so I said, "You are a waterman aren't you?" He said, "I am." I said, "Well we've probably met out on the bay today. Have you tonged over Tue Marsh Light?" He said, "Yeah." I said, "Have you raked clams over the area there?" He said, "Yeah." I said, "Well let's talk now. Tell me what you've done and how you work on the water," and so we started talking. And I said, "You know you're here for a reason. What's your reason?" And he told me, but nobody would talk to him, his language.
Mayer: So anyway, these are interesting experiences, really interesting experiences.
Ren: You mentioned this a couple of times and I hope it's okay that I ask, whatrole has your faith and your religion played in your life?
Mayer: A lot. It has made me accepting of other people. I will give you39:00another example. I mentioned I grew up in a segregated world and Tech was segregated. We had an all-everything football player down on the Peninsula, a young man named Tommy Reamon. Whoever was coach then called me and said, "Can you find out anything about this Tommy Reamon?" Now this was before alumni could not be involved in any way, because I used to fly recruits and families in and they would be [treated]. In fact, I have my Charlie Coffey tie on. It was a four-in-hand, but I could never learn to tie a four-in-hand. I can only tie 40:00bowties, so I had it converted to a bowtie. So Charlie gave me that and a "Coffee" hat.
But anyway, I called up Tommy Reamon and I said, "I would like to talk to youabout where you're going to college." I said, "Why don't we..." and this goes so far back that the only place we could meet was a bus station, so we went to the bus station and we had sandwiches, and I said, "You know you have a responsibility. You have a responsibility to be successful, to come back to the Peninsula and share your success to make other black kids successful, and he said, "I know that." So I said, "Well what I'm going to ask you to do is consider a scholarship to Virginia Tech," which may have been VPI then, I don't know. So he said, "I'm not going there." So I said, "Well, that's always your 41:00choice, but why not?" He said, "There is no black coach. I have nobody to relate to." So I said, "Wait a minute." I went over to a pay phone and I called up whoever was coach and I said, "I've got Tommy Reamon who I think if there were a black coach would be at Tech and he's going to be all-American because he's all everything." Well, the coach said, "I've already hired the half-back of the previous year to be an assistant coach next year." And I went back and I told Tommy. He said, "You know Dr. Levy," he said, "I'm not talking about you, but I can't believe any white man." He said, "I've heard stories. I can't believe it." He said, "If he were there now then I would understand."
So he went to Missouri, became an all-American, and then played in the American42:00Football League for a few years. These are things that just happened and shouldn't have happened, and he came back to the Peninsula and he became a coach. And guess what? I was telling, I had dinner with Fuentes and I was telling him this story. He said, "I'll tell you what, his son is on my staff." Is that wild?
Mayer: Is that wild?
Ren: That's wonderful. Wow.
Mayer: What a story. I said, "Well when you see his son tell him to tell hisdaddy hello for me." [Laughs]
Ren: Wow. That kind of came full circle in a way almost. That's wonderful. Justa couple of broad questions here. If someone just kind of simply says the words Virginia Tech what's the first thing that you think of? 43:00
Mayer: Hokie Nation. It's not a school, it's a world. It's all encompassing.
Ren: Another thing that we're always interested in with VT Stories is when wetalk to alums, so there is a survey, a Gallup survey a few years ago and it talked about Virginia Tech graduates having this affinity for the University. That doesn't necessarily mean that they donate to the University, obviously as we know, right, and we hear that often, but what do you think it is about Virginia Tech or this place that makes people just really love where they went to college? And it's not the experience for everyone, I understand, but a majority of people, a high percentage compared to other universities. What is it about it?
Mayer: I'll give you some examples. One is my son who finished Tech, he leftTech in 3 years and went to Georgetown. He was admitted after 3 years. He's 44:00pretty bright, finished with all his honors. He's the one with three degrees. He was promised when he left that he would graduate with his class, which was the class of '84 but he left in '83. He came back to graduate with his class and was told no, we don't do that anymore, as if they had ever done it. So he called me and I said, "Well, let me make a phone call." I called Bill Lavery who was president, and I said, "Bill, here's a situation that I think is not fair." When I told him he said, "Mayer don't worry about it. Guy is going to graduate with his class," and he did. The tone of that is we are all all family. It's not individuals. We're a unit.
Ren: Right. And to that point, when you kind of look across campus and the state45:00of the University, what do you see that inspires you and then what do you see that concerns you?
Mayer: Well, what inspires me is the same thing that inspires me with mystudents in dental school. I look at these kids, they are so far ahead, they are so smart, they are so attuned to what's going on in this world. I'll give you another little anecdote. I'm full of anecdotes.
Ren: I love them. [Laughs]
Mayer: Guy called me up, he was I think a sophomore, and he said, "Dad, I justsigned up for genetics." I said, "Genetics -- I love it!" I said, "I had genetics under the world-renowned Dr. Gus Levitan," and I said, "I aced it. I loved it!" So he said, "Well, what about it?" I said, "Well, I have my notes. I 46:00have my books. I will send you everything." He said, "Send it up." He calls me up two weeks later and he says, "Dad, I got everything, and I looked at it. What you had in a year we took in a week and a half and yours was wrong." This was the old [00:46:23] genetics. [Laughs] This was before genomes as we know them, no DNA or RNA.
Ren: I had genetics at 8 AM on a Tuesday and Thursday in Davidson 3, and withJoseph Faulkingham was his name, Dr. Faulkingham. And one of the best professors I ever had, but oh my, it was like... So we moved a few years ago, and this is a little sidebar, and I found some of my organic chemistry notes and it might as well be in another language. Like I can't believe that's my handwriting doing 47:00these things, because it's been not that long ago, but it feels like a lifetime ago. I just forget it and my brain is in kind of a different mode now. What concerns you about Virginia Tech and maybe it's growth and things?
Mayer: Growth doesn't concern me. Controlled growth is okay. I have beenthrough deans, presidents, alumni. Sometimes it all seems experimental instead of experiential.
[Un]fortunately I'm involved in a lot of it, not actively, as an observer. And I48:00think sometimes we just sort of fly off to try something, and that's okay if you're in an experimental area. But when you're dealing with our kids and their futures and researchers and their present and futures, I get very concerned about that and we've had a bit of that.
Ren: If anyone was listening to this interview and they were interested inhaving the career that you've had and graduating from dental school, being a dentist for so long, what advice would you give them?
Mayer: I will go back to what I have always told my kids and grandkids, do youknow the pluses and minuses? Write them down on paper. Do your research. Shadow. 49:00I love to have students come in and shadow me. My son gets shadowed all the time. Then make your decision. But lay the groundwork. Know what you're dealing with and then make a decision. Now, you are not locked in to... I was a commercial farmer also. I mean I have not exactly followed a straight path. There are certain things in life that are fun. I'll give you an example.
Guy called me and Guy said, "Dad," he was on the cross-country team, he was veryvery good at long distance running, and he said, "I've really got a problem. I've got these labs. I'm running early in the morning, late at night. I'm going to labs. I'm in class all the time." He said, "I really don't know what to do, 50:00but I don't think I can do it all." So I said, "Well, I think what you ought to do is look at what you can do now that you can do all of your life. What can you do now that sets you up for what you can do all your life?" And I said, "I don't want an answer, just think about it," and so he decided he can run all of his life and he does, but he had one opportunity to make grades to continue on with his education and he couldn't forfeit that. And he made that decision, not I. I just told him put it down on paper and make a decision.
Ren: How many children do you have, one son?
Mayer: 18 of them. Oh no, three.
Ren: Three boys?
Mayer: No, two boys, an older son who is in investments in New Jersey, and Guy51:00who is in dentistry, and Betty Ann, my baby, who is just coming off of being CEO of Jewish Family Service, which is a large operation. She has about 200 employees and about 500 volunteers, and she is just going in to take over the entire Jewish Federation of Tidewater.
Ren: Oh wow. That's wonderful. How many grandchildren?
Mayer: 70. [Chuckles] Four.
Ren: Four, great. That's a big family. [Laughs]
Ren: I'm sure Christmas -- I'm sorry, Hanukkah is interesting.
Mayer: Christmas, don't forget I went to Georgetown. I'm part Jesuit.
Ren: How did you and your wife meet?
Mayer: A blind date.
Ren: Oh, okay. Did you meet here or in Georgetown?
Mayer: No. She did her undergraduate at Temple and her graduate at William &52:00Mary. A friend of mine called me and said, "There is this really pretty girl you ought to be dating." I said, "I've got plenty of dates. I don't need any more dates." And a friend of hers called and said, "You know there is this boy you really ought to meet." And she said, "I don't need any more boys. I've got enough boys." And finally I acquiesced, and I called her and I said, "You know I'm not looking for anything except would you like to have dinner?" So we had dinner and I plied her with liquor and she threw up as soon as she got home. I called her, and I said, this will be one date, I didn't tell her that, then I decided well you know she's a pretty girl and she's smart, athletic, enjoys 53:00things I enjoy, and I called her up again and I said, "Well do you want to have dinner again?" She said, "Sure." Threw up again as soon as she got home. The story is I made her sick every time we went out. [Laughs] And in spite of that we're still married. [Chuckles]
Ren: What year did you get married?
Mayer: Let's see, '75. Susan had been married previously. She was married to aphysician and intern, and when she was pregnant he died, so she was widowed as a single mother. I had been married previously and was divorced, but the others don't count. It's just Susan and me.
Ren: Right. I understand. Thank you so much for speaking to us. I just have a54:00couple more questions, but if there's anything that you've written down that you want to get to feel free. I will preface this question, so I had lunch with Bill Roth the other day, who is a friend of mine, and we were talking because we're working on a story that we did with him, and he goes, "You know, in a way you're writing these stories," the website that I showed you with Chris Kraft and Mickey Hayes and the like, he said, "You're kind of writing obituaries."
Mayer: [Laughs] Only Roth, only Roth. [Laughs]
Ren: He kind of had a point and I told him about this question that I like toask, but the question is, I'm not saying you're going to live to be 150, but what would you like people to know about you and what would you like to be remembered for? Again, I'm sorry.
Mayer: Hey, those are deep questions. Okay, to be remembered for. Contributing55:00to the welfare of humanity, and I think I've done that and continue to. Known for, my children, grandchildren, being a Highty-Tighty, having been a carrier pilot, having helped a lot of people with their health and dentistry, that's about it.
Ren: So my last question then I want to give the floor to you if there'sanything you want to add, and this is, and I apologize, another big question, but what does Virginia Tech mean to you?
Mayer: Well we're back to Hokie Nation. It's a big big family. And I like the56:00fact, obviously I'm in education. I have been in practice. Tech means all of these things to me. If we don't prepare our children we are lost. We are absolutely lost. If we don't research we're absolutely lost.
Ren: I will let you look if there's anything we didn't get to.
Mayer: I think we got to a lot of it. Oh, you never asked me about the Huckleberry.
Ren: Oh, okay.
Mayer: That's how we used to get here. We would go to Suffolk and ride thetrain up and then we would switch over to the Huckleberry, which trying to get up to Cambria. It was not Christiansburg, it was Cambria. We would get out and 57:00walk along beside it because it was so slow.
Mayer: Let's see, when we got a ride we would go through Appomattox Courthouseand there was a restaurant there, Maude's. And Maude was a very voluptuous black lady who cooked unbelievably. And you would go in and Maude would hug you, and again disappear into her bosom.
Ren: Oh my goodness.
Mayer: And if we came through Lynchburg there was a shoe factory,Craddock-Terry, and we used to get our shoes, because we wore shoes out, the Highty-Tighties and just the VTCC. Oh, John the barber. He cut my hair. He cut my father's hair back in the early '20s. When we were studying late, and we 58:00wanted to get something we went to the bus station and got grilled cheeses. The bus station I assume is not still there. [Laughs]
Ren: No. [Chuckles]
Mayer: Let's see, oh, in Lane Hall the huge windowsills, and we would put outour shoe polish out on the windowsills to freeze and then we would get a better spit-shine by doing that, and we would put our [clears throat] shine up there and nobody messed with it. It was outside the window on the windowsill. You know anything we had we put out there. Okay, I told you all about that and that.
The Highty-Tighties played a lot of concerts as well as marching. And I happened59:00to be all over from I guess Richmond, west, southwestern, and I've always liked that. I played in symphony orchestras. I've played in concert bands, played in all sorts of things. I told you about some of the sitting in on jazz. Southwest venues, okay.
When I went in the Navy there were a number of enlisted for flying with me whohad not had the experience that I had in the Cadet Corps and they washed out. They just had no concept, and it was a breeze for those of us who had either 60:00been to the Academy, the Naval Academy or to for instance Tech. Tech really made it special.
Ren: I mean to ask you earlier, what did you learn as member of the Corps ofCadets? There's probably a lot, what did you learn being a part of that that prepared you for life? Both in the military and then professionally and personally?
Mayer: Well, I'll give you an example, the current chair of the Roundtable,Debbie's father just died. He was a chief petty officer, and I wrote her just hoping it would give her some good feeling about her father. I was a new Ensign and we had flown off of the Randolph I think to Gitmo in Cuba. And my squadron commander said for me to make sure that the quarters were all cleaned up and 61:00ready for the next squadron to come in. I went down and I inspected the quarters and they were not really as good as they could be. I went up to our chief, the chief petty officer and I told him. Here I was an Ensign. He had been about 25 or 30 years, and he snapped to and clicked his heels, saluted me, and you never salute under a roof in the Navy, Army and Air Force too, but they don't know anything, and said, "Yes sir," and did an abrupt about face and he got it all taken care of.
Mayer: And that's when I figured out that the chiefs run the Navy. It's likethe warrant officers in other services. I went up to him and I apologized. I 62:00told him, "You know I really overstepped my bounds," and he accepted it and we were good friends for as long as I was in the squadron and he was in the squadron. You learn something about military protocol, but beyond that when you're in the Cadets Corps you learn how to behave. Not just military protocol, but it goes beyond that. I like to think of it as a capital H Humanity.
Ren: That's wonderful.
Mayer: So, I don't know if that answers your question.
Ren: Yes, absolutely. I'll let you get back to reviewing if there's anything else.
Mayer: I played in Eisenhower's first inaugural parade. We won first prize andwe got a medal. I gave a lot of my memorabilia to the museum, the Corps Museum.
And they just sent out an email that they had more than they wanted and they63:00were going to be getting rid of a number of things. So I emailed a young lady who sent the email in, and I said, "I don't care what you do with all of the other things, but for the Eisenhower Inaugural Parade first place medal if you are going to get rid of that sent it to me and I am going to give it to my Highty-Tighty senior granddaughter." And she wrote back and said, "We will never give that up." [Chuckles] She said, "That is one of a kind." So that was pretty neat.
Ren: That is wonderful.
Mayer: And you know the Highty-Tighties I think got first place in threeconsecutive inaugural parades and they wouldn't judge them anymore.
Ren: Do you know Nick Valdrighi?
Mayer: No. Oh yeah, yeah, he was a drum major I think?
Ren: A bass drummer, yeah, and he talked about marching in the parade and areally funny story. It was an inaugural parade for something, I don't know if it 64:00was a governor or president and he talked about the dog running out and grabbing his uniform.
Mayer: Oh really?
Ren: Yeah, it was a really good story. I interviewed him last summer, but yeah,he was a bass drummer.
Mayer: He was after me.
Ren: Yeah, I think he was '62 or something.
Mayer: I think everybody was after me. Oh, the story of this, those are myNavy wings. I was at a rehearsal about 5 or 7 years ago, 10 years, I lose track of time, maybe longer ago than that. I see the gray wings on the sweater of one of the alumni. I went to him and I said, "I see you've got some wings there. 65:00What are they for?" And he said, "Well I'm in the Air National Guard," or something, "And I thought I would wear my wings." I said, "Oh, that's interesting." And then I wrote an article for the Highty-Tighty Alumni Journal and I said how I had met him, and I don't remember his name now, and he had these mud gray lead wings and I think I should wear my wings of gold for being a naval aviator and a carrier pilot. It was decided that we should wear our wings if we earned our wings. There were a couple of us who were former naval aviators, and I haven't seen any more gray ones, but I really caught hell from some people, "What do you mean mud-colored gray?" And one of them was T. O. Williams, who was an Air Force pilot, a wonderful guy.
Mayer: I told you about that. Oh, we used to march into Victory Stadium and66:00play VMI every Thanksgiving, and VMI had a band sort of, not Highty-Tighties, but the Highty-Tighties were there every year. We went to the Sugar Bowl. We played Texas in the Sugar Bowl, and Susan and I sat with Chris Kraft and his wife. Now Chris had been on the Peninsula with NASA before he moved to Houston with the space program, and we just had a great time.
Ren: Betty Ann is his wife?
Mayer: I don't remember her name.
Ren: I think it is.
Mayer: The only Betty Ann I know is my daughter.
Ren: I think that's her name. She made us breakfast when we were in Houston.
Mayer: We have had dinner twice with Fuentes, and every time Susan reminds him67:00that we want to go back to the Sugar Bowl [01:07:10]. Whenever he sees Susan he goes, "I know, Sugar Bowl." He's a neat guy, very nice. All right, oh, you asked about what Judaism means. My family has funded an endowment for Judaic studies here. There [wasn't] one on the campus and we contribute to that every year. I was president of Hillel, which is the campus Jewish organization. We had about maybe a dozen plus or minus one or two Jewish students in the whole school. But we would have Friday night services sometimes that we would have to conduct our [01:07:58 ceremonies]. So anyway, it was just another little part of life on 68:00campus. Okay, moving right along.
Ren: I wish everyone was this prepared that I've interviewed. [Laughs]
Mayer: There was the Virginia Science Talent Search that I got my scholarshipthrough. I told you about Frank Mosley, the other coach. Oh, we used to go spelunking in the caves along the New River. I don't know if they still do that or not.
Mayer: Yeah. We had a good time. We had these little carbon lights that we hadon helmets and we had a good time.
Ren: I spent a lot of summers in Narrows. My parents have a place on the NewRiver, so I spent a lot of summers growing up there. 69:00
Mayer: Well, there were some cabins along there. When we had dances we wouldgo there for a party afterwards. I don't think we were supposed to; maybe we didn't.
Oh, some of my friends like Bill Latham and some of them were ag majors. Theysaid, "Well you know we had the little international livestock show every year. Why don't you come and show an animal at the little international livestock show?" I was like, "I don't know anything about showing animals." "We'll go over it with you." Well, at the time I was dating, this must have been my sophomore year, dating a cheerleader at the University of Wisconsin. Can you believe I used to hitchhike from here to Madison, Wisconsin and back?
Mayer: Can you imagine today hitchhiking anywhere?
Ren: Yeah. [Chuckles]
Mayer: So anyway, her name was Doris Sue. They said, "Well the easiest thing70:00to show, and we will provide you with a cane and a hat as a little gilt to pick." I had a Hampshire gilt and I named her Doris Sue, and my date, the girl I was dating she loved it. She thought that was the greatest thing in the world that I would name a pig after her.
Ren: Names a wild pig after her. [Chuckles]
Mayer: Obviously she was no pig.
Ren: Right. [Laughs] We got to interview Bill Latham twice actually.
Mayer: He's a neat guy.
Ren: Yeah, he is.
Mayer: And we've been good friends. In fact, he started flying and I gave himsome of my instruction manuals from the Navy when he started. So I showed Doris Sue, guess who won second prize? I got a year's subscription to the Hampshire News. I've still got the ribbon.
Ren: That's wonderful. That's a great story.71:00
Mayer: You got a lot out of me.
Ren: I tried.
Mayer: I told you I used to fly recruits and their families in. I waslecturing in Canada and the United States, Mexico, so I had my own plane because transportation was a lot easier that way. When I would bring them in the owner of the farmhouse who started it was Gene Thomas and his mother. They were Lebanese. Gene was a fantastic chef. His mother was better, and they would always serve us in the caboose with the recruits and their families.
The head of recruiting, the assistant for recruiting was Chuck Rowe who was an72:00outstanding track star at Memphis State, which became University of Memphis, so I worked very closely with him. Oh, you mentioned Bob Bates. Well how much time do you have? [Chuckles] You don't have enough. Bob, I go way back, he was I think my second dean on a roundtable, Arts & Sciences. Bob, we've been so fortunate to have personnel like Bob Bates just beyond compare. Well the Architectural School had started an overseas program in Riva Switzerland, and so Bob said, "Why don't we as a roundtable go over there and work on curricula with 73:00them?" So we thought that was a great idea. So there were about a dozen of us who went over and Arnold, I don't remember his last name, he taught German, he was our tour guide over there. We got on a bus and it was segregated. The rowdy ones were in the back. That was Bates, Levy, Leo, I could go through the names. And then the straight ones were in the front of the bus, and Susan would turn around and say, "Mayer look at that. That's what you're here for. You're way too busy telling stories and jokes." We had so much fun. We had a ball. We went to cathedral after cathedral after cathedral.
Now, I will not admit this, but I will tell you the story. We went in this one74:00cathedral. As we go in Arnold says, "Now they are saying mass in there so you've got to be careful," and that was fine. So we were going down to see the mummified priest in the basement of the catacombs. And as we go through, if anybody tells you I did this I didn't do it, I started singing, "Them bones them bones them dried bones."
Mayer: And I still get reminded by some of the people who were down there thatI did this. [Laughs] We had a ball. And Bob he was in the back of the bus.
Ren: I'll have to email him and tell him that we had to meet.
Mayer: That you heard the story.
Ren: Yeah, I heard the story.
Mayer: Oh. Now I have been at VCU for over 10 years now. That's hard tobelieve, and I have to carry stuff back and forth, so I have a backpack. 75:00
And hanging off the end of my backpack is a Hokie bird. I sent Jenny a pictureof it. She has that.
Mayer: Charles Steger, T. O. Williams, and I set up, well they were going ontour to different homes all over the State and they were recruiting money, not people, money, and they asked could they come to our house. So I said, "Well you know, I don't know any rich people." They said, "Well you can have your friends over." And they invited maybe ten people or so. We invited about 20 or 30 people who we thought might contribute to Tech. We live in the country. We live on 18 76:00acres. We're half a mile from a paved road. So I have this theory that if you grow something you ought to be able to eat it. Susan has this theory that she doesn't care whether you eat it or not as long as I grow that, but she wants her flowers. So Susan said, "Our place looks terrible." So she went down to Anderson's Greenhouse and she got all these flowers. I would have put the seeds in and grown them, but you know she went and bought them. The deer ate them before the party, and she said, "What are you going to do about this?" I said, "Okay." So she went down and bought replacements. I put them in. Every night I had to go out with this big bag of black pepper and put pepper on the flowers so that they would be there when Charles and T. O. and the others came.
As it turns out, they raised more money at our house than anywhere else on the77:00tour, and it was amazing. They had people come in. They moved all the furniture so that everybody could be there. Charles talked and showed a movie. It was great. People were out on the deck and by the pool and they were inside, and it really worked out great. I was the pepper boy.
Ren: [Chuckles] You were the pepper boy.
Mayer: Okay. I will just tell you one thing which I hadn't mentioned before,and that is the only thing that really matters is my granddaughter who is a Highty-Tighty. Close.
Ren: Close. Thank you so much for talking to VT Stories. I really appreciate it.I just want to thank you for both your service to this country and your military service, your service to Virginia Tech and all the things that you've been involved in.
Mayer: Well you don't know all the things. Trust me, Bay Foundation...78:00
Ren: Yeah, there's a list.
Mayer: You've got all that?
Ren: I've got it right here. That's a good idea, let's just go through this. TheJames River Jaycees, the York Chapter, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.
Mayer: I was vice president of the Virginia Jaycees.
Ren: Man of the Year Award for Temple Sinai Brotherhood in Newport News,Virginia, and the Humanitarian Award for the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities, all of that. I will just say Dr. Mayer Levy, thank you so much for talking to VT Stories. It was so nice meeting you. I had seen pictures of you before at the Grove and had heard about your obviously, so it's nice to actually meet the man behind the stories. Thank you so much.
Mayer: Ren, my pleasure.Ren: Thank you. Thank you sir.