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ï"¿Ren: So I'll just say good morning. This is Ren Harman, the project director for VT Stories. Today is March 27, 2018 at about 10:45 a.m. We are in the Holtzman Alumni Center on the campus of Virginia Tech with a very special guest with us today. And Miss Jones, this is the only time that I will prompt you. If you could just state, in a complete sentence, "my name is," when you were born, and where you were born.

Prim: Okay. My name is Mary Virginia Jones, and I was born in Roanoke, Virginia. I grew up in Blacksburg. My birthday is September 19, 1940.

Ren: Thank you. So you grew up in Blacksburg, and you may be one of the only people that we have interviewed, actually, that grew up in Blacksburg. Can you tell us about growing up in Blacksburg, and what kind of things did you get into as a child, and that kind of thing?

Prim: Oh. I lived on Preston Avenue. My father was a professor, so I grew up sort of on the Virginia Tech campus. When I was young we used to roller skate 1:00all over the campus, and I used to roller skate up in the ME labs with my friends. I'm sure the students loved that, but anyway, we could do it.

When I was growing up, practically everyone on Preston Avenue and Draper Road were university professors, so my life was VPI. I went to grade school and high school. We had a wonderful high school because at the time I was in school, a husband-wife team could not both work for the university.

We had many teachers whose spouses were university professors, and therefore because we had such outstanding teachers, I think our high school was definitely superior to most any high school in this part of the country. I have a lot of 2:00successful classmates.

Ren: What was your father's name, and what did he teach? And how did he end up in this area?

Prim: Okay. My father was born in 1900 and lived in Gordonsville, Virginia. And he came to VPI in, I guess it was, the fall of 1917 and studied mechanical engineering. His brother came earlier.

Ren: Wow.

Prim: At that time f you wanted to study engineering, VPI was the only place to go other than VMI, and of course they were big rivals back in those days. He rode the train to VPI. He got on the train in Gordonsville and got off in Christiansburg.

Ren: At Cambria?

Prim: Cambria then, yes. And I don't know how he got from Cambria--well, there was a train, the Huckleberry. It came in once a day from Cambria. So he could have taken the Huckleberry in. Anyway, he stayed. After he graduated he stayed 3:00and got a master's degree. Then he went to Cornell and Iowa State and got two more degrees, but he got those in the summers. So he had been here since he started as a freshman and lived here till he died in 1984. My mother came here in 1929 as a secretary.

Ren: Wow.

Prim: She had been a school teacher and didn't like it and then got a job as a secretary. And there were only two secretaries on campus. The president had a secretary and the commandant of the Corps of Cadets had a secretary. She was his secretary. So this is where they met. And of course married later and stayed here. That is a little bit of the history of why I was in Blacksburg.

Ren: What is your earliest memory of Blacksburg and of the campus? What's the 4:00earliest thing that you can kind of look back on and remember? I know that's probably been many years ago.

Prim: Well, there were a lot of fun things as a little girl. Back in the days when I was a child, there were formal dances. The Cotillion Club and the German Club had dances. It was a quarter system, so they had dances every quarter. And there were no motels or hotels in Blacksburg, so the girls, the dates, stayed at professors' houses. When I was a little girl, we called them the dance girls. The dance girls would come stay at our house and dress up in their pretty dresses and go to the dances.

That was always very exciting. And sometimes my mother and father would take me with them for a little while when they went down, and you could see all of them dancing in their pretty clothes. And they had big bands in those days. I don't 5:00know how they got here, but I think they came by bus.

It was not unusual to have the top bands in the late '40s and early '50s playing in Blacksburg for the dances. That's a very vivid memory. Also the fireworks. They would have fireworks I guess at intermission or something. And we could see them from our upstairs window at home.

Ren: From there?

Prim: And then I played on the campus. My best friend and I used to roller skate down Minter's Hill and around in front of Eggleston and all those sidewalks.

Ren: Wow.

Prim: It was very safe. And when I've thought about it, at ten years old, I was running around town on my bicycle, but it was very safe.

Ren: But it was very safe, right.

Prim: And it was small, so all the people knew who we were.

Ren: Yeah. You said obviously you attended Blacksburg High School. Now was this high school the one on Main Street or...?

Prim: I was the first class in the high school on Main Street that went the whole five years. My brother was the first class, I think, to graduate from that high school. So yeah, it's now gone. It's been torn down. It's kind of 6:00interesting. The hospital I was born in is torn down and the high school. But yes, that was our high school.

Ren: When you were in high school, what kind of extracurricular activities? Did you play sports or what kind of things were you interested in?

Prim: I kind of did everything.

Ren: You did everything.

Prim: Yeah. I was editor of the yearbook, and I was a cheerleader, and I was on the debate team, and the senior play, sort of everything. And in fact when I was in high school I got my lifesaving badge at Tech. Bill Daughtery, a classmate and I, got Professor Blair to let us take lifesaving with the Tech students. I think I was 16. And it was fun. And of course I was the only girl in the thing, 7:00but I got accustomed to always being the only one. And then we got our instructors' badges, too. But it was sort of, the town and the college were hard to separate.

Ren: Your father being a college professor and then your mother working also here, how important was education?

Prim: Oh, very important. It would never have occurred to me that I wouldn't go to college or that I wouldn't graduate. And it was true of my classmates. In fact the group I graduated with, and my friends, we were always in the same homeroom, and I think we were placed that way because we were the ones that were all going to college. So it was just unheard of to not go to college.

Ren: Do you think that your mother and father, because of the time that they were born and kind of raising a family--I guess you were coming out of the Great 8:00Depression, in a way--do you think that maybe that kind of drove them to ask their kids to excel in school?

Prim: I guess. I mean, my father was a professor, and he'd kind of been in school his whole life, so yes. I mean, he's the one who encouraged me to take engineering. And he never did say "I want you to be an engineer." But when I was a little girl he used to talk about the women he met who were engineers, so I didn't think it was so strange. And the first woman to get an engineering degree from Tech was a freshman when he was a senior.

And we don't brag about her as much as we should in the state of Virginia because she was the first woman to get an engineering degree in the entire state of Virginia. And that was in, I think it was in '25.


Ren: What was her name?

Prim: Ruth Terrett. And I unfortunately never met her. But I knew of her. But he talked about Rat Terrett when I was a little girl. And then he, you know, any time there was a woman at Tech that was in his class, he would brag about her if she made As or whatever else. So it was a given that I would be going to college.

Ren: And in that decision to go to college, was there ever any doubt that you would go anywhere else besides VPI?

Prim: Yes, I did look around. Now, there was no other place in the state of Virginia that I could attend and study engineering. It took the Civil Rights Act to do that. He gave me a list of schools that he thought would be okay. Georgia Tech and Cornell and Purdue are the ones I remember. And of course I realized later my cousin was at Purdue, and his roommate from college was at Georgia Tech, and there was someone else at Cornell. He knew they'd take good care of me.

I decided that if I didn't like engineering I could switch to math and get a 10:00degree in math. But if I started in math and switched to engineering I'd lose a year. I did go to Mary Washington on a tour, and if I had gone to Mary Washington I would have majored in math. I don't know if you've ever been to the Mary Washington campus. It's a gorgeous campus, but it has a very high fence. And I'll never forget that fence. I knew that I was not going there. I wasn't going to be locked in.

Ren: Right.

Prim: So that was about as much as I explored going somewhere else.

Ren: Do you remember the day--and maybe it was a family decision--do you remember the day when you told maybe your mother and father I'm going to VPI, I'm going to study engineering?

Prim: I remember--no, I don't remember that. But I remember when I was in high school I was in kind of a talent contest that I won. And they asked me what I 11:00wanted to do, you know, what my future plans were, and I said I'm going to VPI and I'm going to study mechanical engineering, and the audience laughed. They all laughed. I'll never forget it, because I just stood on the stage and stared. My basic feeling was "I'll show you. Damn it, I can do this." I had a lot of people say you'll never make it, you'll never do it.

Ren: Just because it was such a boys' club?

Prim: Oh, yeah, I wasn't tough enough.

Ren: Wasn't tough enough, yeah.

Prim: Wasn't tough enough. I had a few professors who went out of their way to try to make me quit.

Ren: Jeez.

Prim: But I didn't. You have to have thick skin. And I had many, many more professors who helped me all the time, so I don't have a big negative about it. But that generation of men and women just thought it was terrible that I was 12:00going to take engineering. But no, I don't remember the day.

Ren: I don't want to pass this up. Can you talk about your cousin a little bit, J.B.?

Prim: Oh, cousin J.B. Cousin J.B., he's James Beverly Jones, and he was my oldest cousin. His father graduated from VPI before my father. His father graduated in something like '18 and J.B. graduated in the '40s. He was a World War II grad, '44, '45, I'm not sure which year it was. I didn't really get to know him well when he was in college. I was a little kid. And he came up to the house some in his cadet uniform.

He was in the band. But it's just a glimpse that I remember him. I graduated in '62, and my father gave up heading the mechanical engineering department the next year. He stayed on a little while. And then cousin J.B. was hired as head of the mechanical engineering department. So J.B. Jones was head of the 13:00mechanical engineering department for 50 years.

Ren: Between your father and your cousin.

Prim: My father and my cousin, yes. And I really got to know my cousin J.B. after he came back to Blacksburg.

Ren: So he came from--did he come from Purdue?

Prim: He was at Purdue. He graduated from Tech and then he worked a little bit, right after the war. Then he went to Purdue for his Ph.D. and then stayed at Purdue and was a professor. His wife was the first woman to get a degree in aeronautical engineering from Virginia Tech, Jane Hardcastle. So she was a role model for me. And I do remember Jane when I was a little girl.

Cousin J.B. and I became friends in the '80s. I was on the Tech Board of Visitors, and he was my source, private source. If I needed some information on 14:00something, I would either call him or send him a note. It was before email. I would get a long letter from him, and he would tell me what I needed to know.

Ren: What was going on?

Prim: His opinion of what was going on. So we became very special friends.

Ren: So we've interviewed a lot of engineering grads, and his name comes up a lot. And I know he won the Ruffner Medal.

Prim: He was a Ruffner Medal, yes.

Ren: Do you remember what year that was?

Prim: No, but it's been within the last decade.

Ren: Yeah, okay.

Prim: And he certainly earned it. When he retired, he worked for Virginia Tech all the time. He was on boards and committees and fundraisers, and it was a nonstop for J.B.

Ren: So we go to these interviews, all these interviews that we've done and kind of search. Like we have a database where we take all these interviews and we categorize them by themes. And I'll look, and I can guarantee that his name came 15:00up a lot.

Prim: He was a wonderful teacher, I've heard. I of course didn't have a class under him. But I've had so many people have told me that he was the one who made it stick.

Ren: So you started at Virginia Tech, I guess in the--I guess it was on a quarter system then.

Prim: It was on a quarter system.

Ren: So that was 1958?

Prim: I started in the fall of '58.

Ren: '58, okay. One kind of goal of VT Stories is this idea of mentorship and advising, and how professors mentored you or advised you. Did you have any in your time as an undergraduate here that were kind of influential or that you remember?

Prim: Not particularly. My father more than anyone. He was always on my side, so yeah. I was a real lone wolf when I was a freshman. There were six women who started engineering my freshman year. Three of us graduated. I was rarely ever 16:00in a class with another woman. I was in a class with all cadets. Normally I was the only civilian and the only female.

And of course we were all white. We had one black classmate, but he wasn't in mechanical engineering. As far as someone, a faculty member, no. I can't say that I had a mentor. I had known many of the faculty all my life, so it was a little different for me. They were almost like, you know--

Ren: Members of the family almost, yeah.

Prim: Yeah, or like a local or something, yes. And I had--in fact I went out of my way when I was in my junior and senior year to not have class under some of the people who worked for my dad who I had known my whole life.

Ren: Right.


Prim: But now in the math department, Forrest Rollins taught me almost all the math I had. He was very good to me.

Ren: Another name we hear a lot.

Prim: He called me Mary Virginia in class. See, back then the students were called Mister. They were all cadets and it was Mr. Smith and Mr. Brown. And they'd call me Mary Virginia.

Ren: [Laughs.]

Prim: You know, just those things went on. And Prim, which was the nickname. I mean, it depended on who it was.

Ren: I was going to ask you that. Prim, where did that come from?

Prim: From my dad.

Ren: From your dad, okay.

Prim: He started when I was a little girl. He always called me Miss Prim. It sort of caught on in high school. When I went to Tech no one knew me as anything but Prim, just about.

Ren: And I've seen people still--

Prim: Yeah.

Ren: You're Prim to most everyone.

Prim: To Blacksburg, yes, I am.

Ren: Right.

Prim: When I worked I was Mary, but I'm not Mary here at all.

Ren: I want to ask you where did you live freshman year?

Prim: I lived at home.


Ren: So did you live at home? Okay.

Prim: Yeah, I lived at home. That was a clear decision. Hillcrest was the female dorm, and probably 95% of the women in the dorm were home economics majors. Engineering was so hard and so much studying, there's no way I could have lived--I don't know how I could have lived in Hillcrest and had the quiet and been able to study that much. And they had all these silly rules. You had to be back by 9:30. It was so restricted. So the rules at home were much better.

Ren: I'm not going to ask you what they referred to Hillcrest as.

Prim: Yeah, the skirt barns.

Ren: The skirt barn?

Prim: Skirt barns, yes.

Ren: Oh, man.

Prim: I lived at home the entire four years, and it was really very special. My parents got to be more friends than parents, because since they lived here, they understood college kids. They understood that you might go to a party and come in at 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning. We walked everywhere we went. I mean, very 19:00few students had cars. And I rode to class with my dad.

Ren: Wow.

Prim: That was kind of a unique little situation. Students couldn't park on campus. Of course they still can't. But he could park in front of his office, so I could park in front of his office. And there was a special license tag for faculty-student. It wasn't just a faculty tag, it was a faculty-student tag.

Ren: Wow.

Prim: I knew the campus police, and they kind of watched out for me, too. I don't think they would have given me a ticket. But I used to ride to class with him for an 8:00 class and then I'd bring the car home if I had a break from 9:00 to 10:00 and then go back and forth. And on snow weeks like this week, it was nice not to walk.

Ren: Yeah, I would say.

Prim: Yeah. But it was just a mile.


Ren: Just a mile. Not far.

Prim: Yeah.

Ren: So growing up in Blacksburg and then attending here as a student, kind of in that four years from 1958, and you graduated in 1962, correct?

Prim: Mm-hmm.

Ren: With a degree in mechanical engineering. Out of those four years--and I'm sure there's tons of stories of things--are there any favorite memories or experiences that kind of stick out most in your mind?

Prim: Just studying.

Ren: Studying, yeah.

Prim: Well, my junior and senior year I made friends with a group of guys who were classmates, and we used to study at my house because I couldn't go to the dorm. Bill Goodwin, Goodwin Hall, was one of my close friends.

Ren: Wow.

Prim: They could walk up to the house. We had a basement room with a blackboard in it.

Ren: Oh, wow.

Prim: We would sit and try to work through thermo problems and things. So that was always fun. And they were just friends, they weren't boyfriends. They were 21:00friends. Ring dance was a fun weekend, too, because I was on the decorating committee, and we worked night and day getting the gymnasium to look right. They were building Cassell Coliseum at the time, so we had a lot of spare lumber around that some way disappeared from Cassell Coliseum.

Ren: [Laughs.]

Prim: I mentioned that to some of the administration years later and they said oh yeah, we knew what was going on. [Laughs.]

Ren: Oh, yeah. And I think when they were rebuilding McComas when I was in undergraduate here, I knew of some thievery of some Hokie Stone, which is a little more expensive than lumber, so...

Prim: Ooh. Oh, yeah.

Ren: That might have been a problem.

Prim: I bet they did. And we got azaleas from the Horticulture farm in the middle of the night.

Ren: Wow.

Prim: It was fun. I mean, I think it was all good humor and the university didn't get after us.

Ren: Probably compared to what a lot of maybe students get into today, it was pretty, you know. [Laughs.]

Prim: Oh, yeah. Very naïve, really.

Ren: Very not...

Prim: Very naïve, really, yeah.

Ren: On the reverse side of that--you mentioned kind of the rigor of, and obviously rigor of being an engineering student--some difficult or hard times 22:00that you can remember kind of outside of coursework and studying. Or is that kind of all that you...?

Prim: Well, see, it was interesting. There was nothing for the women. We couldn't be in the German Club. We couldn't be in the Cotillion Club. We didn't have sororities. It could be very lonely for a female student. Now fortunately, I knew Blacksburg, lived in Blacksburg, had friends, and then I had my classmate friends that I developed. But it's unfortunate that the female students just weren't part.

And when we had our 50th anniversary class reunion, I'm the only female who came back. And I tried to get some of them to come and they said "No, I don't have a good feeling. It wasn't a good place to be." So that was a time that was not good for the female students until the '70s, really.

When we got our papers back from the first test in engineering graphics, this 23:00freshman cadet in his white belt,sort of a pudgy little guy, came up to me and said, "What kind of grade did you get?" And I said "I got an A." And he said, "Well, that's what it takes to get an A--to be a good-looking girl." And I blasted him... It was just...that was an attitude I had to get past.

Ren: Wow.

Prim: Now, when I talk about how much I studied, I had a very hard time getting a job, and I was almost a straight A student. And I knew the only way I was going to get a job was to be an A student. A C student, I wouldn't have made it. Now, my starting salary was the same as the guys that had Cs. But I had companies just refuse to interview me, and I had companies tell me then I won't hire you. I had companies write me a letter within 24 hours that they wouldn't 24:00hire me.

Ren: Wow.

Prim: I knew it was going to be that way, which is why I worked so hard. I knew I had to be an A student. Otherwise I wouldn't get a decent job.

Ren: Wow.

Prim: I went to work for a company in Northern Virginia, and it was not a Virginia company. The people who developed the company were all MIT grads.

Ren: Was this Atlantic Research Corporation?

Prim: Yeah, Atlantic Research. Men from the Northeast were accustomed to female people working. A lot of their mothers worked. It wasn't like the old South. Eastman Kodak turned me down. Hercules over here, Radford Arsenal I interviewed. When I walked in the man said, "What are you doing here? Who are you?" You signed up for interviews by your initials and your last name. And I told him who 25:00I was. And he said, "What are you doing here?" I said, "I'm here for an interview." And he said, "No, I won't hire you. No way I would hire you."

Ren: Jeez.

Prim: I left and called the plant manager, who was my friend's father, and said "Mr. Settles, you have a very rude man on our campus." They removed him.

Ren: Wow.

Prim: And I felt good.

Ren: [Laughs.] Where did you, you know, dealing with being, you know, hearing these male students say this and then some professors discourage you, where did you develop this, like you said, thick skin, but really this drive? I mean, it's...I mean--

Prim: I think I had it my whole life.

Ren: Okay.

Prim: I think I had it my whole life. I was always the one trying to be the head of this or the top of that or something. Yeah, I think I always had it. I had a big brother who liked to pick on me, so that--

Ren: That probably helped, right.

Prim: --that helps, too, yeah.

Ren: Because I think people often forget that we're not so far removed from women not being able to vote or African Americans not having equal rights.

Prim: I know.

Ren: And I think it's easy for people to forget--


Prim: They do forget.

Ren: --how not so long ago, and, you know, my grandmother and things, who weren't able to be hired simply because they were female.

Prim: Hey, it's still going on.

Ren: And it still happens, right.

Prim: I mean, we still can't get a female President.

Ren: Yeah.

Prim: You know, we can't get a female... You know, it's interesting. We do have female CEOs now. General Motors, IBM. Most of them are engineers. That next wave that graduated in the mid '70s, where I graduated in the '60s, and so they've had more opportunities. But still, after 50 years...

Ren: Yeah. Lilly Ledbetter is what, just a few years ago, right?

Prim: Yes, exactly right.

Ren: And it's still not the same, right.

Prim: So you either get thick skin or you give up. Now I will say one of my mentors--you were asking about mentors--was a woman who was a physician in Blacksburg, Dr. Mary Tom Long. Her husband was a professor of mechanical 27:00engineering, Huey Long.

And Mary Tom was a role model to me because she was the only real professional woman I knew, and she was a doctor. She was beautiful, she wore gorgeous clothes. She just sort of...she was married, had children. She did it. And she talked to me when I was starting Tech and she said it doesn't matter how feminine you are, or how you dress, or what you do, she said you can never cry.

Ren: Wow.

Prim: You can never, ever cry. And she said you can cuss, but you can never, ever cry. And I tell young women that now. You can't. If you do, you better slip off in a corner somewhere. But you have to learn that. But you learn that as a kid when your big brother picks on you, you know? All they want you to do is cry, so if you can get past that one, you know, it helps you the rest of your life. [Laughs.]

Ren: I'm the youngest of five, so--

Prim: You know.

Ren: Yeah. And, you know, I have three sisters, because my brother, he also came 28:00to Virginia Tech, so he left for college when I was in first grade. And my dad was always working and away, so I was really raised by my mother and my sisters. And I'm married to a very strong woman who's a public school teacher and is a Ph.D. candidate, and so I always admire very strong and powerful women, of course, like yourself. So once you graduated in '62 and you went to Atlantic Research Corporation, now is that Northern Virginia, you said?

Prim: It's in Northern Virginia. I also like that area. When I started working, I worked on what was Shirley Highway. It's now 95. But I lived down near the Pentagon. And in those days when we went out to dinner, we went in D.C. It was safe and it was fun, and so it was a great place to be as a single gal starting a career.

Ren: And so just in some research, you were a structural engineer and you 29:00developed rocket propulsion systems?

Prim: Yeah, I worked on rockets my whole life, my whole career. I was there 46 years. Started out in structural analysis, then I later moved into design. And then I was promoted be head of design, and then head of engineering. But we did solid propulsion rockets, not electric or...

Ren: Okay.

Prim: And it was fun. They were small. We did a lot of military weapon systems. We made the Stinger missile, which is the one that you use to shoot down airplanes.

The Tomahawk. Most people remember seeing on television the Cruise missiles coming off the ships when we went into Kuwait. I designed and made that rocket. In fact I was in charge of the design of the rocket that pulled it off the ship.

Ren: Oh, wow.


Prim: Because it went up and then it dropped the missile.

Ren: That's unbelievable.

Prim: So no, it was exciting. And, you know, we worked hard, we had a lot of fun. Most of the manufacturing people were in California, so it was not unusual for me to go to California three and four times a month.

Ren: Wow.

Prim: And usually take that 5:00 plane on Sunday. I mean, you didn't think about working a weekend, you know. I would get out there and be there Monday and Tuesday, and fly back Tuesday night or Wednesday, and back to work. So it was exciting.

Ren: So you were in D.C., I guess, right around the time of the Kennedy assassination, I guess.

Prim: Yes.

Ren: Do you remember? What was that like?

Prim: Oh, yeah, I remember that. Well, it was interesting. You know, everything shut down the day of the funeral, but we had to go to work. I was there Kennedy assassination, Martin Luther King's assassination. Terrible times. Vietnam. All the Vietnam War demonstrations.


Ren: Wow.

Prim: And marches. And lived down near the Pentagon in a high-rise apartment house that was... In fact, during Vietnam those apartment houses were primarily single guys in the military who were working at the Pentagon. And they didn't wear uniforms every day, so you didn't realize it until you got to know them.

Ren: I didn't want to miss this, also. You earned a master's degree in mechanical engineering?

Prim: Yeah, at GW.

Ren: From George Washington. What year was that?

Prim: '72.

Ren: '72, okay.

Prim: I went at night for four years.

Ren: Wow.

Prim: And worked during the day.

Ren: Wow. Can I ask you how and when you met your husband?

Prim: I met him on an elevator. [Laughs.]

Ren: Wow.

Prim: I met him in '73, and we were together for years. We didn't marry until '99, until I got Stage III cancer, IIIC, and we decided to marry because I was 32:00told I wasn't going to live, but I did. But we were always together. And I wasn't interested in having children, so there sort of gets to be no reason to marry unless you need somebody to be there when you're really sick.

Ren: Was he an engineer as well?

Prim: No. He had a business degree from American University, but he was an engineer in the Marine Corps, a combat engineer. So in many ways a good engineer, yeah.

Ren: That's awesome. So also in my research, in 1993 you were on the Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board Committee on Advanced Space Technology that reviewed NASA's technology development program for small spacecraft.

Prim: That's a long word.

Ren: That's a long thing.

Prim: The National Academy and the National Science Foundation have teams and boards all the time to study a problem, a technical problem, and I was fortunate 33:00enough to be assigned to that one, and that was kind of exciting.

Ren: So during this time from when you left Blacksburg and you graduated from Virginia Tech, did you come back often? You did?

Prim: Well, I did because my parents were here.

Ren: Because your family, right.

Prim: My parents were living here so I came home, you know, for ball games or events, or Christmas, Thanksgiving. And then in 1983, Governor Robb put me on the Board of Visitors. And I hadn't really done much with Tech for that 20 years before that. And then after that, I was put on the engineering advisory board and this and that and the other, so I've sort of been involved here since that time on something all the time. Still am.

Ren: Right. Your term on the Board of Visitors, what was that experience like?

Prim: Oh, I was on at a bad time. I was on the board when Dooley was fired, the 34:00football coach, and athletic director, and the president stepped down, and it was a tumultuous time. And a lot of things we still don't talk about, but we made it through it.

Ren: And in 1992 you were the first woman to be awarded the University Distinguished Achievement Award, and then the advisory board for the College of Engineering and Mechanical Engineering Department, former president of the Virginia Tech Alumni Association, and now an honorary member of the Alumni Board.

Prim: Yeah.

Ren: And then also let me get this in so I don't forget. In 2014 the College of Engineering inducted you into their Academy of Engineering Excellence. The Society of Women Engineers graded you a Fellow in 1998.

Prim: A fellow.

Ren: For your contributions in supporting women in engineering. And then American Institute of Aeronautics--Aeronautics and Astronomics.

Prim: Yes.

Ren: So all of these amazing things that you've been able to do, and to be on 35:00these boards and serve on these committees and things, I know that there are a lot of probably young women engineers. What advice you would kind of give to them if they see you and they want a career similar to yours and to be fortunate to have all these experiences? What advice would you give to them?

Prim: Well, these experiences help your career so much. I mean, any time they're asked to serve on a board or be on a committee I would advise them to accept because you meet people's just, it opens many, many doors. Now one thing I did at the time I was on some of those boards, my corporation had changed a great deal.

We went from the MIT grads who founded the company to the University of Alabama grads who were kind of good old Southern boys, okay? And that was not really that great. A lot of times I used my own vacation to come down here to meetings 36:00because they weren't interested in Virginia Tech. Now they would be. But, you know, Virginia Tech's reputation has taken some big leaps in the last two decades.

Ren: Right. Yeah, absolutely.

Prim: I work with the Society of Women Engineers and try to encourage women to take engineering, to keep going, to not give up all the time. And I hired...I tried to hire as many young women as I could. And it was discouraging because we'd work hard and hire someone, and then she, after baby number two, she quit. And then you say, you know, but we need to hire these women. And the men would say, hey, we keep investing all this money. We're hiring all these women and they won't stick to it.

Now that really was a problem, and still is a problem. But the corporation made 37:00a major change, and I had a lot to do with it. We changed the personnel rules so if you worked a 32 hour week you could get all of your benefits and be a part-time employee. And so that made it possible for these women to have a family and a career.

And what most of them did is they worked four days a week for maybe five years or six years and then when they got the kids in school they came back. And now they can work from home. Now you can do part-time work. And back in my era you couldn't. So that's been a big plus. And I hope more companies and more people recognize. Because these women will work until they're 70. You just lose a few years. But at the time so many people can't see the long run.

Ren: So my wife was actually offered an engineering scholarship to attend here, 38:00and she decided to go to another college, and she got her math degree, so she's a public school teacher. She's a math teacher.

Prim: Math teacher, yeah.

Ren: And she always talks about that she wished she would have came because of engineering.

Prim: Yeah, wished she had done it. Well, see, I had somebody to encourage me. You know, I had my dad. And my mother. My mother said you don't want to do what I did. You don't want to be a stay at home mom. I didn't have any other opportunities. Because she was working until the day she married and then she had to quit because a husband and wife couldn't both work for the college back in those days. Kind of crazy, but it's true.

Ren: Wow.

Prim: Yeah, but it was true.

Ren: So what year did you retire, if that's okay to ask.

Prim: I retired exactly ten years ago in '08.

Ren: 2008. Wow.

Prim: I was 67.

Ren: Can I ask you about your cancer battle?

Prim: Well, I had breast cancer. I was diagnosed in '99, and it turned out when 39:00I went back and got the previous mammograms it was there in '98, and I wasn't told. So it was very advanced when I found out I had it. I had 16 malignant lymph nodes and four is usually very bad.

I was told that I had about a 10% chance of living, but that there were some new medicines being developed that hopefully I would be able to take. My doctor was one of the people doing the research. So it's also fortunate to be in an area like Northern Virginia, where you have a top cancer center. So I had surgery, had chemo, had radiation.

I had very heavy chemo because they were throwing everything at me that I could handle. And fortunately I started out being very healthy and made it. And after 40:00about four years this new medicine came on board and they put me on it, and I had 15 years of the pill kind of chemo. And seem to be okay. It's been almost 20 years.

Ren: Wow. That's...cancer is one of those things that touches so many people in some way.

Prim: I know it does.

Ren: And we've interviewed, obviously, a lot of people who are cancer survivors, so I always like to get those stories, because I always admire the courage and the strength that it takes to overcome something like that, especially, you know.

Prim: But I had such a fabulous medical team. You can't ever sell that short.

Ren: That helps a lot, right.

Prim: Boy, it really is. And the thing I learned from my doctor is whatever kind of cancer you have, you want to go to a center and a doctor that only does--

Ren: That type, right.

Prim: --that kind of cancer. Somebody in a small town in the mountains of Virginia, West Virginia, there's a good doctor there and he's trying--he or 41:00she--trying to treat every cancer that exists, and they can't keep up. So that was...I was fortunate to be where I was at the time. Now around here there are more specialists.

Ren: Right. I read a really interesting and good book a few years ago called "The Emperor of All Maladies," and it's a biography of cancer, and it really, and it's written by an oncologist from Columbia, and it really just changed my understanding and perception of the disease. I had an uncle who passed away in 2008 of lung cancer, and that's really kind of the closest, I guess, family member that I have. But reading that book, I think, just really underscored what a monstrous disease this can be.

Prim: Yes. Yeah, it is. So I was very fortunate. And now they're doing research on the tumor and the chemo is to attack your tumor. But back when I had it, as 42:00they said, my doctor said to me one day, he said I can't say this to all my patients, but he said it's a real black art. He said I could give five people the same treatment and one made it and four didn't. And fortunately I was one. But fortunately, they hit it right with my cancer.

Now I have three first cousins who had breast cancer, and we're all okay. When I grew up in Blacksburg there was a group of us who were friends in high school. There were six of us. One died from breast cancer and then two others had breast cancer, so of the six, four of us had breast cancer. And it really makes you wonder. I always wonder about those trucks that used to go up Preston Avenue and spray the trees to kill the mosquitoes.

Ren: Wow.

Prim: In the spring, and we were on our bicycles.

Ren: Yeah, absolutely.

Prim: You really wonder about it. Because I think the statistics, you know, four of six of us--

Ren: That's saying something there, right.

Prim: And we all had it around the same time, within probably...certainly within a ten year span.

Ren: Wow. I was talking to someone, this was months ago, when I think we were 43:00originally trying to schedule the interview, and they described you as tough.

Prim: [Laughs.]

Ren: Which I, as we're speaking, I'm learning more and more that that's absolutely true.

Prim: You kind of have to be.

Ren: You kind of have to be. So I want to ask you just a few questions, kind of back to some stuff about Virginia Tech. And thank you for sharing your story. If someone just kind of simply says the words Virginia Tech, what's the first thing that you think of?

Prim: Oh, I don't know, it's home. It's hard to come up with a first thing I think of. But yeah, but my whole life's always been here.

Ren: What was your decision to--because you, I guess, moved back. When did you move back?

Prim: I moved back after my husband died. My husband had pulmonary fibrosis, and was told he wouldn't live more than about two to five years.Since we didn't have children I was alone. So while he was still alive I started planning where I 44:00would go, and started building a house down here. I was down here within a year after he died. It was clearly the place I should go. I have family here, I have friends here. And the Warm Hearth area is a very nice place to be because it has--

Ren: Amenities, yeah.

Prim: --all stages of care. And then I can do things at Tech.

Ren: Right. That's wonderful. As I mentioned before we started interviewing, my mother is widowed also, and she's a public school teacher, and she's getting ready to retire.

And I think she's seriously considering coming to this area because I'm here, and my wife, her grandkids. And we grew up in Richlands, which isn't far from Blacksburg. And like I said, my brother and aunts are alum. And she's really considering retiring here, so I'm excited.


Prim: I think it's probably a good idea, yeah. And there's a lot to do, you know, I mean--

Ren: That's what she says, yeah.

Prim: --lots you can be involved in. You know, I'm not a big sports fan, but if you are there's something all the time.

Ren: All the time, yeah.

Prim: The Moss Center is wonderful, and all year around there are things going on at the Moss Center.

Ren: I'm going to have to connect you guys and you can play bridge together. [Laughs.]

Prim: Yeah, and I play duplicate bridge at the rec center. Does she play duplicate bridge?

Ren: She plays, yep. Yep. She plays with her teacher friends. They play together.

Prim: Yeah, yeah, good.

Ren: So another thing that we've heard a lot from VT Stories, there is a, you know, in this Gallup survey that came out a few years ago that talked about the affinity that graduates have for Virginia Tech and how they love their university. That doesn't always necessarily translate to them donating to their university, as we hear.

Prim: That's true.

Ren: But why do you think a lot of graduates become engaged alumni, in the sense that they're proud of where they went to college and things? What is it do you 46:00think about this place?

Prim: Well, I think in my age group it was the Corps of Cadets because the men who were the top leaders in the Corps of Cadets when I was here are all still very active in Tech. And I've been able to see them through the years at class reunions and at ball games, and at things like that.

Today I don't know. I mean, I think there's some of that school spirit thing that athletics helps with. But then it's just that the community, the sense of community. Some people come back to the business college reunions or the engineering reunions. And I think Tech is working on that whole thing about the different affinity groups having reunions, not just class reunions.

Now my age group, it was the class of '62. And the people in the Corps, and I 47:00too, identified as part of the class. Now I don't think there's that much connection to the class year. Some people it's been five years, some people it's been three years, it's's different. I'm sort of the end of the Corps of Cadet era that everyone was in the Corps.

Ren: Right, where it was required, before it was changed.

Prim: Yeah. And when I was here a woman couldn't be in the Corps.

Ren: The first batch of interviews, a lot of them were obviously Corps, people that were in the Corps, because it was required. And then that's always a big story of when Marshall Hahn changed the rule and all that.

Prim: Oh, yes.

Ren: So we've heard that story quite often.

Prim: You've heard that story many times. It was a very hostile--

Ren: Right, environment, yeah.

Prim: --environment. And see, I graduated in '62, and Marshall Hahn came, I think, in '63.


Ren: Yes. So shortly after.

Prim: So that's when it happened. A good thing.

Ren: Yeah, so to that, as being someone who grew up in Blacksburg, attended here, was involved even when you were in Northern Virginia, and then has retired here--this is a big question--but what changes have you seen? I know there's a lot. But what changes stick out in your mind most, and what do you think maybe about some of these changes?

Prim: Well, the biggest change is, it is the Corps of Cadets. The Corps of Cadets is just a very small part of the campus. They're very visible. You don't realize what a small part of the percentage--

Ren: Of students, right.

Prim: --of the campus it is because they're very visible. They're marching and they're taking up tickets at this, that and the other or something. But the big change was women. You know, now it's half and half, or maybe more women than men.

Ren: Pretty close, yeah.

Prim: And that's just an enormous change from the school that I went to. I went to VPI, not Virginia Tech. They're different.

Ren: They're very different, right. Your VPI was, I guess, predominantly male, 49:00white, engineering.

Prim: It was an all white male engineering school, yeah.

Ren: Yeah, and now it's a--

Prim: It was mostly engineering and agriculture, and the business college was small then. And the reason we had women here--see, Radford was the sister school of VPI, and if something was taught at Radford a woman couldn't study it at VPI. You could major in English at Radford, but a woman couldn't major in English at Tech.

So those of us who were here were either in engineering or in the College of Agriculture, which was the home economics, nutrition, all of those fields were part of the College of Agriculture. So they couldn't study that at Radford. The cheerleaders were from Radford. The homecoming queen was from Radford. Radford 50:00was very visible as the sister school. Mary Washington had the same relationship with University of Virginia.

Ren: Right. You mentioned this earlier when you were talking about the ring dances, and I've heard this story a lot. When there were ring dances and the young women would come from Radford and they'd have to stay--and I can't remember the term that someone used, but it was like the house mom, so to speak, and like they had to be in contact, so like that the young women were actually staying with them or something like that. Like there was this whole process.

Prim: Oh yes, there was a process. And we called them the dance girls because when I was a little girl they would stay at the house. But then when I got in college, this is--I probably shouldn't tell--my classmates of course were all guys, and a lot of them were dating girls at Radford.

And then we figured out if they signed out for Professor Jones's house, the school didn't question anything. And we would tell my father--


Ren: [Laughs.]

Prim: --these people were staying at her house, and we never told my dad. He was such a straight arrow and he was so honest he wouldn't have lied.

Ren: [Laughs.]

Prim: But yeah, that was a process, but there were ways around it.

Ren: There was ways around it. That's a great story.

Prim: There were ways around. And, you know, they had to be back at and act time--it was crazy. There were car wrecks. There were all sorts of problems trying to race back because if they had to be back at 9:00, ten after was not acceptable.

Ren: I want to ask you about your supporting the Beyond Boundaries Scholars program. And to that, when you look across campus and kind of the university, what do you see that kind of inspires you, and then also, to the Beyond Boundaries thing, what concerns you?

Prim: Okay. I'll tell you why I got involved in Beyond Boundaries. I set up a scholarship, a fellowship in mechanical engineering years ago that I wanted the 52:00money to go to female graduate students. And I still believe that we need more female research faculty for role models both for the men and the women. I found when I was an executive it's hard for a young man to be accustomed to working for a woman. And that's still an issue.

Ren: Yeah, absolutely.

Prim: So I was giving money, a little bit every year, to this fellowship. And of course now could give a great deal more. And I was informed by someone in development that it could not be just for a female because that was discrimination. I even talked to the Attorney General about that. Nothing has changed.


So I didn't give any money to Virginia Tech for a number of years. I gave it all to the Society of Women Engineers for the Mary Jones scholarship because those old gals aren't going to give it to a young man. It's going to a girl. I had to pick five schools. It can go to UVA, or Georgia Tech, or Purdue, or Penn State, or Virginia Tech.

I picked Beyond Boundaries because that was as close as I could come to one for just females. I felt Beyond Boundaries is sponsoring female students. So I don't know how much of that you want to put in your story, but it's a true story.

Ren: Yeah, absolutely.

Prim: Women engineers are a minority. I see no reason on earth why I can't set up a fellowship that's only for females.

They can be black, they can be Muslim, they can be anything, but they have to be female. But I can't do that. And as I said, I talked to the Attorney General at 54:00an event this time last year, and he called me and he said they were going to look into it. But I haven't heard any more about it except I have heard that he or someone from his office called Tech, and I think Tech told them to stop. I'm pretty sure of that. And I probably have a good idea who it was, so...

Ren: Right. That's unfortunate. Right, right. What do you see that encourages you or inspires you? I mean, obviously you talked about not having enough women in this career of engineering, and your kind of efforts to kind of curb that a little bit. Do you see anything that inspires you? You know, we have, you know, 55:00finally, I guess, a woman as the engineering dean.

Prim: Yes, we do.

Ren: You know, Dr. Ross, or Dean Ross, I guess I should say. What else inspires you?

Prim: Inspires me in what--

Ren: Just about the university or encourages you that you see changes in the university. Is there anything?

Prim: Changes that I like?

Ren: Yeah, changes that you like, yeah.

Prim: Changes I like. Having a female dean of engineering is definitely one. Purdue had one for years. Yeah, it's interesting. The state of Virginia and Virginia Tech have been very backward about promoting women, including women. We've never had a female governor. We've never had a female Majority Leader in the General Assembly. We had Nancy Pelosi in Congress.

It's just amazing that it's taken so long. And I do see positive changes here. 56:00And I do see...I met a lot of the young women who came in last fall with Beyond Boundaries and I was very impressed. And one thing Beyond Boundaries is doing is trying to get the best of the best.

And if an extremely bright young person graduates from high school somewhere in Pennsylvania, and MIT is going for them, and Stanford's going for them, we have to have something very special to give them, and money is usually what it is. So that's a plus for the Beyond Boundaries. I'm all for it. It just annoys me that I can't make it specifically just for females.

Ren: Right. And I'll just say on the record I agree with you.

Prim: Yeah.

Ren: In 2017 you were named a Virginia Woman in History by the Library of Virginia, which seems to be a really cool honor.


Prim: About exactly last year.

Ren: So can you talk a little bit about that?

Prim: That was really fascinating. I knew nothing about it until I got a letter in the mail one day that I had been selected to be...oh, I guess I was the first female engineer to be recognized. There was a mathematician recognized the year before, and she was one of the NASA women. What was the...?

Ren: "Hidden Figures."

Prim: "Hidden Figures." Yeah, Johnson. I didn't meet her, but she was the year before. I did find out later that Lynn Nystrom in engineering had nominated me before she died.

It was a very special event. I think there were six of us who were selected. There was a woman who was the Deputy Attorney General, a black woman. Very impressive. William & Mary grad. There were some more like theatre arts and art type people. But that was a very special honor.

Ren: Yeah. Thank you. That's awesome.

Prim: And they had a display that went to the libraries all over the state for 58:00the first six or eight months.

Ren: Oh, wow.

Prim: I mean, it was in the Blacksburg library one day, yeah.

Ren: So my son is in fifth grade, and I think last year, I guess, they went and saw "Hidden Figures" and learned about, so he may have learned about you. I'll have to ask him. I just thought about--

Prim: Well, I wasn't in "Hidden Figures."

Ren: Well, I mean, but like I think they learned about important women in Virginia history, so--

Prim: Oh. Yeah, okay.

Ren: Because it was fourth grade is like Virginia history, right? So they may have learned some things. I'll have to ask him.

Prim: That is when you do Virginia history, yeah.

Ren: I'll have to ask.

Prim: Anyway, that was real special.

Ren: That's awesome. Thank you for being so generous with your time. I just have a few more things that I kind of want to talk to you about and ask you.

Prim: Okay.

Ren: And this is, again, kind of a broad question. But what does this place and what does Virginia Tech, what does it kind of mean to you, looking back on your entire life?

Prim: Well, there were a lot of years I wasn't involved. You know, I had my college experience, which was good. It was hard. It wasn't necessarily such fun 59:00because, you know, I was an outsider. And I'd say that's true for all the women students. And then I started my career, so for the next 20 years I was barely on campus. And then it's just been real nice to be involved, be recognized, see what I can do to help through that next 10 or 15 years. I'm back.

Ren: Yeah. [Laughs.] Thank you. Is there anything that you would like people to know about you that maybe they don't? I hate asking this question, but--

Prim: I don't know, I...

Ren: What would you like to be remembered for? That doesn't mean, you know, anything bad, but what would you like people to know?

Prim: Well, I think I'd like to be remembered for opening a lot of doors for other women. You know, because if you look at my resume, I was the first female 60:00professional engineer in the state--

Ren: Licensed, yeah.

Prim: --of Virginia. And I was the first to receive the Distinguished Achievement Award and whatever else. When you're the only one it's not that hard to be the first. But hopefully each thing has opened doors for the next wave of women, because I just keep trying to encourage them to... Don't sit back and, you know, you've got to take part.

Ren: What are you passionate about, do you think?

Prim: Equal rights. Equal rights for everyone. I just can't believe that a person can live in this country, be a citizen in this country, and pay taxes in this country and still not have equal rights. And the Equal Rights Amendment was...we couldn't do it.

And then Ronald Reagan got elected and I refuse to ever vote for a Republican, even for town council, until we get the Equal Rights Amendment. So that's 61:00probably the passionate thing. And we still don't have it. It comes up in the General Assembly of the state of Virginia every year and every year it doesn't get out of committee. And it's so dumb. But those guys in Richmond are determined. And I think we'll take them this fall.

Ren: Yeah, I think so. [Laughs.]

Prim: I think we'll take them this fall. So I hope to live that long so we can.. So yes, I guess that's my passion.

Ren: Thank you again. Is there anything that you thought I would ask or that you would like to add? This is just kind of wrapping up, if there is anything that you would like to include in your VT story.

Prim: I don't think so.

Ren: Okay.

Prim: I don't think so. You're welcome to call me or send me an email if you think of something.

Ren: Okay, great. Well, I'll just say Mary "Prim" Jones, class of 1962, thank you for agreeing to talk with us, and obviously your service to this university, and everything that you've done to open these doors for women. And like I said, someone, when I told them I was hopefully to set up an interview, they said oh, 62:00she is tough, and that's absolutely true. You remind me a lot of my mother, who of course I love. But thank you so much for talking with me, and I really appreciate it, so thank you.

Prim: Thank you.

Ren: Nice to meet you again.

Prim: Thank you.

Ren: Thank you.

Not sure what this means, but it was one of her edits