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Ren Harman: Good afternoon. This is Ren Harman, the Project Director for VT Stories. Today is May 10, 2018 at about 1:12 PM. We are on the campus of Virginia Tech in the Holtzman Alumni Center with two wonderful guests. If you could just state in a complete sentence my name is, when you were born and where you were born.

Mary Nolen Blackwood: My name is Mary Nolen Blackwood. I was born in Washington, DC, October 29, 1950.

Ren: What years did you attend Virginia Tech?

Mary: I was here from the fall of 1969 until June of 1973.

Ren: And your major?

Mary: Psychology major.

Ren: Same question to you.

Willis Blackwood: I am Willis Pulliam Blackwood. I was born in Oakland, California. I was a Navy brat. I was born August 20, 1950.

Ren: What years did you attend Virginia Tech?


Willis Blackwood: I arrived the fall of 1968 and surprisingly got out the spring of 1972 in only four years.

Ren: Your major?

Willis: I was in the business school.

Ren: Mary can you tell me a little bit about growing up in your early life? I know you come from a pretty big family, right?

Mary: Yes. I grew up in the Washington, DC area and I have six brothers and sisters, so we lived more a suburban city kind of life. We are all very close. I was the first in my family to go to college and several of my siblings followed me, so we have a pretty large group of family members that went to Virginia Tech. Just from my brothers and sisters, children, nieces and nephews the count 2:00is up to 15. Then if you start counting in-laws, outlaws, whatever, it really blossoms from there.

A great childhood, went to some great schools. I was very fortunate. I had a small scholarship to go to school in Virginia and at that time I wanted to go to a co-ed school and some of the bigger schools were not accepting females at that time. Our real choices were Virginia Tech, which was VPI at the time and William & Mary, so I chose Virginia Tech and have never looked back.

Ren: I'm the youngest of five so I kind of know a little bit -- all my siblings are pretty spread apart. What was it like growing up in such a large family?

Mary: Well busy, always something going on. I was one of the older ones so I did 3:00a lot of babysitting and bossing around and my husband will probably tell you I definitely have that personality. But it was great fun. We never needed anybody else to have a party. As I say we all get along and enjoy each other's company and still do. We try to see each other as much as we can now. The cousins are close, too, so it is a very close-knit family.

Ren: What did your mother and father do?

Mary: My mother was a homemaker, but my parents were both in the war. They were both in the Army and when the war was over they decided to settle in "a neutral territory," so they came to Washington, DC. My father was an auto parts salesman, with the government contracts, and gas stations; but because we lived in Washington he handled a lot of the bigger facilities there.


Ren: What role did education play in your home?

Mary: My parents were so supportive and insistent that education was the way for everyone to succeed. I wouldn't say strict about it, but it was just assumed that you were going to do your best, you were going to study hard. We had a very large dining room table and I mentioned this to someone the other day and they said, "Oh you didn't study in your room?" and I said, "Well we didn't have desks in our rooms. We all sat around the table. Everybody did their homework. My mother walked around and checked the homework, signed the page, whatever it was that was required and everybody did their best." I'm very proud of all my brothers and sisters, they've all done extremely well in their careers, very successful, and I think that's because my parents just never said there wasn't anything we couldn't achieve, never let us think that there wasn't anything we 5:00couldn't accomplish if we wanted it.

Ren: Where did you attend high school?

Mary: I went Annandale High School, Annandale ATOMS.

Ren: In high school did you do sports or extra-curricular activities? What kind of things were you interested in?

Mary: I was pretty active in extra-curricular activities. I was voted "the most active." I was the class treasurer for at least two of the years. I was active with several civic groups and sorority type activities. I played some sports but more intermural sports and that sort of thing. I actually had a job after school 6:00my last two years of school. I worked for veterinarians and I continued to work for them all the way through college whenever I was home on break. That was an excellent experience, I loved the medical field.

Ren: You kind of mentioned earlier about Virginia Tech and the decision to kind of come here was a little different than maybe most. You were kind of interested in going somewhere else possibly and then you were awarded a scholarship to attend a school in Virginia like you mentioned. Did you come to Virginia Tech and enroll sight unseen, is that true?

Mary: Yes, I did. I really was very interested in a school in Washington, DC and I was accepted early admission. Virginia Tech didn't promote that. We just weren't familiar with that process. And then I did get a scholarship to go in 7:00Virginia and when I went to that school to visit it just wasn't the right feel. So I applied to Virginia Tech. I got in and the first time I arrived, my parents brought me for orientation. At that time your parents stayed in the dorm. I can remember my father saying, "Okay I'll take the top bunk," and they stayed in a room down the hall and that's how it was. Obviously there weren't very many females and so it was just a little different for the school also. You didn't make 4-5 visits to schools.

Ren: Can you take me to the day when you first saw the campus? Do you remember what it looked like, how you felt, anything that sticks out in your memory?

Mary: I remember staying in the dorm. I remember the Drillfield. At that time there were no sidewalks across the Drillfield and obviously a lot fewer buildings. The Library was just a lovely structure. I liked the small town. We 8:00drove through the town before we came in.

One funny story with my father, I can remember we were here on a Sunday night I guess and Montgomery County was a dry county, or Blacksburg was dry. And so when we went to dinner and my father went to order a beer and they said, "Well we don't serve that," he didn't know where we were? He was like, "What is going on?" That was kind of amusing when we later found out you couldn't buy alcohol on Sundays.

Ren: Where did you live freshman year?

Mary: Freshman year I lived in West Eggleston. There were only females in the Eggleston complex and the Campbell complex and Campbell was upperclassman, so all freshman females lived in one of the three Egglestons. I think one of them has now been converted to offices.


Ren: I am just realizing that one of the aunts I mentioned she was here around the same time that you were here, but I don't know if you would remember her name or anything. Teresa Harman? I think she was a sociology major. I think she was in one of the Egglestons too. Wonderful. I will turn to you sir. You said 10:00you were born in Oakland and you said you were a Navy brat. Did you move around a lot?

Willis: Actually I did not have the typical Navy brat experience. After Oakland Philadelphia Naval Yard for two years and then moved to Northern Virginia Loudoun County from the age of 3 I never moved. My father had different assignments but the family stayed put, so it was not the typical seven or eight times moving most military brats experience.

Ren: Were you an only child?

Willis: No. I have one brother who went to Virginia Tech and he is a couple of years older than I am.

Ren: What was your life growing up? What kind of things were you interested in?

Willis: I was interested in goofing off, sports, palling around with my buddies. I was not a real driven student. I was an average student is probably the best I can say about myself but family always imposed succeeding in life, so driven in 11:00that regard. It was not always with necessarily a math book or science book in my hands. Sports -- I played football, basketball and track in high school and always enjoyed that. I was not very good but enjoyed it.

Ren: I'm sure you get this question a lot but your father being in the military in that area a pretty strict household?

Willis: No, not necessarily. My father was a career naval officer and a lot of my growing up years he was not at home. He was stationed not overseas; he was stationed in Orlando or Baltimore, Maryland and would be in and out. My mother was probably more of the disciplinarian and focus. She was an older mother. Actually the day before I was born she turned 43 years old. She was a major in the Army during the war. My father was obviously in during the war, so that postponed them having children.

Ren: Is that how they met?

Willis: They did meet in Washington, DC when my mother still had her commission. 12:00My father had been relieved of duty as the chief engineer on the Battleship New Jersey during the war and got reassigned to Washington and somehow they were introduced in Washington, DC in probably about 1945 or '46.

Ren: When you were in high school and you started thinking about college how did Virginia Tech come into this picture?

Willis: A good question. Growing up as a child I always wanted to be a commercial airline pilot and that's something that stayed with me actually all through college. I knew I wanted a business degree but I was not very good in foreign languages. I barely passed two years of Spanish in high school, and Virginia Tech's Business School did not require a foreign language to graduate at that time, so I said okay this is a business school. If I can get in I can 13:00get out and not get hung up on a foreign language. Another compelling reason my brother was here. He had come two years before I did. He started out in the Engineering School (pre-business,) so that was probably a pretty major influence on me as well. I only had one application to college and it was to Virginia Tech.

Ren: Was the first time you saw the campus was it with your brother on a tour or something?

Willis: No. Actually I remember in high school a bunch of us came down for the state high school basketball championship and Blacksburg High School was playing in the tournament. My senior year in high school, I remember after a football game that I played, one of my friends picked me up and we came down that 14:00evening; we were going to stay in my brother's dorm. The only problem was that about 2 in the morning we were getting close to Abingdon, Virginia and said we think we've gone a little too far.

Ren: [Laughs] A little too far down 81.

Willis: And then made a U-turn and came back realizing Blacksburg was not immediately on 81, it was a few miles off. And then we got to campus about 2:30 or 3 or whatever it was in the morning and it's like oh, where does my brother live? At that time of night. We finally found him fortunately. I also came down for a Virginia Tech/Miami football game, so that was my really first main experience of being on campus.

Ren: What do you remember about the campus or what did you think about it at that time?

Willis: It was big, overwhelming even at that time. I remember the Hokie Stone. I remember the Drillfield. I remember Lane Stadium. I remember Tech lost to 15:00Miami when Ted Hendricks was the Stork, was the defensive end all-American, so I just had a good time.

Ren: Where did you live your freshman year?

Willis: I lived in Barringer.

Ren: I lived in Pritchard my freshman year so I always ask that question hopefully to find some comradery. I've only had one person out of everyone we have interviewed.

Willis: I went to Pritchard the second year. Freshmen weren't there typically even though my second year there were freshmen in Pritchard at that time, but my first year everybody lined up. And what was ironic in Barringer I was on the first floor and just about everybody on the hall their names started with 'B' -- Banks, Berickman, Blackwood, Blakely, Baresback, Bates, I mean that's how they assigned rooms by alphabetical order. They may not have intentionally done it but that's what we ended up on our hall.


Ren: Just to ask both of you some questions. One big goal that we try to ask people we interview for VT Stories is kind of this role of like advising and mentorship that maybe some of your professors or advisors or friends or whoever played here during your time, because that's so important I think as you both probably know to undergraduates. Are there any professors or mentors that really stick out in your minds that were influential?

Mary B: In mine there was. My advisor in the Psych Department was Joe Skro. He was so helpful in course selection, in maneuvering through some of the requirements, in advising what to do when and how to work out a schedule that would work for all four years. Very encouraging. I did a lot of research work with one of the professors and he was terrific in human development and I think that helped sort of guide me later into some of my career choices, Jim Fritzen. 17:00In our department I felt the professors were supportive, very helpful if you just reached out.

Ren: Why psychology?

Mary: I was always interested in that field, always in the mind and that sort of thing. I ended up not going directly into that professionally but it was a great background. We were required to take two years of a foreign language, and math and statistics. It was much more science-oriented, a lot of statistics and I like that so it was great for me. And our degrees were not in the clinical 18:00field. Ours were much more in the research scientific field of psychology.

Willis: My experience was probably 180-degrees different than Mary's. I was not the stellar student. I loved the business classes. A lot of the periphery things I did not particularly enjoy. They were just -- I was obliged to take English and things so I did it. It was also an interesting period of time because when we were here from '68 to '72 it was the war protests and it was very prevalent on campus, and a lot of the mood of the student population was not embracing the establishment and things like that. So I didn't utilize professors probably the 19:00way I should have as mentors and I just did my classwork and got through and got my mediocre grades and graduated and got on down the road.

Ren: That was the next question I was going to ask of both of you. Because of the time that you were here just flipping through and what I know about Virginia Tech history and interviewing a lot of alums from this time, what kind of things that you remember about protests and things happening on campus I guess, right?

Mary: Willis will have to fill you in. The biggest protest I remember was the spring of my freshman year, but unfortunately I had had a very serious accident and was out of school half of that semester. So I remember some of my girlfriends writing or calling and telling me what was going on, but I missed it so he can tell you about the taking over Williams Hall?


Willis: There were different things going on and some of my timelines may be off. I remember students actually marching around the Grove and protesting. I think at the time the Hahns actually lived there and that caused them to actually move out of the Grove because they didn't want students every night out there protesting and the state police had a barricade around the Grove.

Also the Williams Hall experienced it. I didn't have any direct friends involved. Some of my brother's friends were involved and it was just ironic. They were actually removed from the building and thrown in a trailer, but the front door of the trailer was unlocked so somebody on the outside opened that door so they were thrown in the back and running out the front and the police didn't even realize it. [Laughs] Some of that actually ended up being caught on camera, the students buzzing on through and avoiding the ultimate arrest and such. [Laughs] It was a tense time. There were a lot of protestors that shut down schools. Obviously the classes did continue.


Ren: Do you remember like any vets that came back to attend college, came to Virginia Tech that had been in the wars? Do you remember the relationship with other students or anything like that?

Mary: I remember one particularly and I actually ended up working with him professionally years later. He was a graduate student in psych. He was older and more mature and so we never thought much about it and honestly I don't remember ever being in class where there was any confrontation. Of course the cadets always wore their uniforms every day and back then there weren't female cadets. That didn't come until maybe my senior year I think were the first female cadets. But no, it seemed like everybody tolerated everybody else and worked 22:00together and we didn't seem to have any problem.

Willis: I think on a country-wide basis some part of the country people looked down on the soldiers returning which was a tragedy. They were just sort of pawns in the whole experience. I think the Virginia Tech way that people weren't going to take it out against soldiers who were called to duty and forced to duty. It wasn't their fault what ended up happening.

Ren: Right. The reason I asked that question is because we've interviewed a lot of people recently that were here during when Korean War vets were coming back and they had the same answer, so I assume it was the same for people coming back from Vietnam. Do you mind if I ask you about your accident?

Mary: Sure. I was in a motorcycle accident. I was on the back and someone had illegally parked a car, and we came up over a hill and couldn't avoid the back fender of the car so I was thrown and the young man driving the motorcycle was caught and dragged with the motorcycle.


I split my head open, broke my arm, broke my leg, lots of injuries but recovered and other than having a knee replacement much later in life, just a few scars.

Ren: So this was your freshman year?

Mary: My freshman year.

Willis: And my side to the story, which surprisingly there is one, the accident happened right outside of Pritchard and it was spring of my sophomore year. We hear this big crash bang. And by the time we get out there's probably 1,000 people out around the street around the motorcycle accident. What happened was someone had actually diagonally parked where it was parallel parking and the butt of the car was sticking out and they ran into the back of it. The word was the guy and the girl -- the girl was fine, just scraped up. The guy was actually 24:00on my hall freshman year who had been riding the motorcycle and I got up through the crowd and unfortunately saw a compounded fracture of his thigh and it was pretty dramatic. But years later Mary and I were out on our first date, our blind date, and she was the girl on the motorcycle with the compound fracture of her shin and other busted body parts.

Ren: How did you two meet? That's probably a question I should ask.

Mary: A friend of mine was dating a friend of Willis's. We had known each other since freshman year and we were very good friends and we were both resident advisors in Ambler Johnston that year. I had been away for the summer and she 25:00had met her boyfriend and she kept saying there was someone she wanted me to meet. Finally we set a date. It was going to be to a costume Halloween party and her boyfriend came and picked us all up and I had not met him at that point, and by the way she described him he was fabulous, and when I met him I said, "Hmm, boy, I wonder what my date is going to look like." And it turned out to be Willis. We went to a costume party and he teases and says we had to go out a second time to see what we really look like. But we hit it off and we are still very good friends with that couple.

Willis: Well the fellow shows up at the dorm to pick the girls up. My buddy and I had had a few cocktails that day and would not go to the dorm. He actually shows up with leotards on and wings. He went as Hiram fly and Mary was wondering 26:00what she was getting. Well when they arrived at our apartment building my roommate who was a forestry major. He was about 6'3" and weighed about 150 pounds. He was wrapped as a tree and I went as a lumberjack. That was the beginning.

Ren: What year was that for you, your junior or sophomore?

Willis: That was my senior year.

Mary: His senior year and my junior year.

Ren: That's awesome. How long down the road did you realize that she was the one on the motorcycle? I know you mentioned that but how long down the road was that?

Willis: Well we realized it that night. Yeah, and then actually it was 27:00Halloween. That Thanksgiving she had to go back home and have a plate taken out of her shin so she was still dealing with it, has the rest of her life actually some of the scars.

Ren: While you are both here and I'm sure there's hours and hours of stories, but what are some of your favorite memories or experiences that you can remember, either separate, together, whatever it may be, and again just a couple of hits that you like to retell often?

Mary: Our life has been full of VT stories and events. The friends we met freshman year, we're still friends. We see each other. Our kids know each other. We've been to weddings and funerals unfortunately, just some wonderful wonderful relationships. That's one of course. For us, oh my goodness, so many crazy 28:00stories of ballgames and events since then it's hard to separate out everything. We have our large family and then we have what we call our Virginia Tech family. Our Virginia Tech group that go to Florida, have get togethers, we have a little Blacksburg family because we spend so much time here. And so it's lots and lots of memories and funny stories over the years.

Ren: Any you would like to share?

Willis: I was not in a fraternity but I had a bunch of buddies that most of them weren't in fraternities, a couple of them were and we have 10 or 12 of us that have stayed together for almost 50 years.


Mary: We still have our VT friends come and stay at our house, the couples and their wives and it amazes me because these are all guys that were friends freshman year or lived on a hall sophomore year, and very different personalities. You love each other in spite of your idiosyncrasies I will say.

Willis: But we had a lot of fun when we were here. You were talking about experiences, I'm a big college football and basketball fan and we did a lot of that, but also in the summer go to the Galax Fiddlers Convention, different road trips. Several of us did a six-week trip to the West Coast after our sophomore year driving. We took two cars and a motorcycle and actually that was 1970, stayed in Haight Ashbury at a friend from home's apartment in 1970 for two weeks and those were pretty wild times, a lot of good memories.

Ren: And on the flip side of that question and specifically I want to talk to you because you kind of mentioned when we were out talking with Jenny and Sally, 30:00during your time here there were some difficult times or memories or experiences, obviously the motorcycle accident and really a small minority of women on the campus at that time and doing some research I had read that you had talked about being some of the only female in your class at times. What was that kind of whole experience like?

Mary: You know I've tried to reflect back on that and I have never felt threatened, never felt like I was being discriminated against, and I have to say since then I have talked to some females, my daughter included, where teaching aides or assistants or whatever have actually said, "Well women don't belong in this class or in this field or whatever." There wasn't any of that. I don't know whether it was because they didn't know what to expect or how to deal with us, but the women that did come here we got a lot of support from each other. I can 31:00specifically remember our resident advisor the first couple of weeks saying, "This is what you need to expect. Guys are going to go over to Radford to date girls. They are not going to know how to ask you all out. They are going to be threatened. It's going to be new to them having you in their classes," and so on and so forth. But no one ever said, "No, you can't do this. You can't pursue that. You can't take this class." Most of our curriculum back then was pretty much developed. If you were in math you took these set of classes and you got two or three choices but not many. Nowadays it seems like everybody sort of writes their own curriculum, which I think is terrific. But they did give us 32:00some options where for instance in the Psych Department I was really into the math part, the statistics part of individual engineering sorts of issues. They really encouraged me, "Take some engineering classes," the ones that they would let you into.

So I did take a few of those and foreign language that's one where I was the only female in the class, and engineering there would possibly be one or two but not very many of us. It was a little intimidating, but we wouldn't have come here I guess if we hadn't had a little bit of strength of character to say we can do this.

Ren: And the comradery that you talked about between other female students. Do you know Prim Jones, do you know her, the name?

Mary: I know the name.

Willis: That's Bill Goodwin's friend, right?

Ren: Yeah, so she was an engineer in the mid-60s, one of the very first female engineers and she said the same thing, there's this comradery that these women developed. I was just curious because the psychology I just can't place it as if 33:00that was a male-dominated field at that time?

Mary: You know it didn't feel like that. Let me preface it by saying that, but years later when I ran into my advisor we were at a meeting and he said, "I looked back and Mary was one of six female graduating psych majors." Well that blew my mind. It never felt like that, but that I guess was the reality of it.

Ren: What about you Willis, any difficult or hard times?

Willis: No. I just went along to get along and didn't know...

Mary: Were there many women in business? I don't remember.

Willis: There were some but I don't remember a lot in the business because there weren't that many women here, but there was a significant transformation from my 34:00freshman year to my senior year too, the amount of women on campus. And it impacted as Mary was talking about the dating scene.

Mary: Housing.

Willis: Freshman year it was slim pickings on campus.

Mary: And sophomore year obviously there was another wave coming in and they needed more dormitory so they opened up Shanks as a female dorm. There was a lottery for rooms, if we wanted to stay together we were going to have to move as a block to Shanks. Nobody thought they wanted to be on the upper quad, and it was the most fun we have ever had. If you know the campus, that dormitory was completely surrounded by male dormitories.

Ren: Thomas and Monteith.

Mary: Right. We had cadets and we had two, that year also they moved civilian men up there, so Thomas and Monteith were civilian men and then the male other dorms were the cadets. It was a terrific place to live because we could be to 35:00any academic building in two minutes.

Ren: Was that in Wallace?

Mary: Wallace Hall, so way on the other side of the campus. But other than that you could just be in and out of class very easily, so we found it and we had our own cafeteria up there then. Schultz was up there and the food was good so we really enjoyed it. Of course the guys I think enjoyed having females up there.

Ren: We're in Shanks. We're in the Center for Rhetoric and Society so my office is in Shanks. That's where all the interns work, so hearing that Shanks was once a dorm is really interesting. It just speaks to the changing of campus. So after you graduated, you graduated in 1973, is that correct?

Mary: Correct.

Ren: And then 1972 for you, and then you later got a master's degree in Health 36:00Administration from VCU, is that correct?

Mary: Correct, although mine was from Medical College of Virginia, but it's now been all incorporated into VCU.

Ren: What year was that?

Mary: That was in 1979.

Ren: And then you an MBA from VCU?

Willis: Correct.

Ren: Around the same time?

Willis: Exactly.

Mary: The same year.

Ren: So when did you all get married?

Mary: In 1973 May, 46 years ago, so right before I graduated. Willis had gone into the service. He was in Pensacola and we decided we would get married and I finished two weeks later.


Ren: So once you got married did you move to the Richmond area or where did life take you after that?

Willis: Well after I graduated from college I went into the Navy for a while. It was a short stint and I was getting out of the Navy and trying to figure out what I was going to do with my life. We were living in my home town for a short period of time and a job opening for me came up in Richmond so I went to Richmond. Mary had taken a job up in northern Virginia and had a six-months commitment, so we were weekend husband and wife for six months and then she came to Richmond after that. But the job opportunity for me is what took us to Richmond and the job was in real estate with a national corporation.

Ren: One thing I wanted to ask you and I always found this interesting is you have two children who are also Virginia Tech graduates, Morgan and Nolen, is that correct?

Mary: Right.

Ren: When they were deciding about college how much did mom and dad say, "Why don't you look at Virginia Tech?"


Mary: You know we really didn't have to. They may say that we influenced them but specifically with our daughter I remember she was very interested in engineering, so she did look at different schools.

But she really on her own felt that the program, the industrial and systems engineering program here was one of the best in the country and she said, "Why would I want to go anywhere else? This has the program." And she did very well here and it was a great choice for her. Our son we were sort of surprised that he picked Virginia Tech. I thought he would want to get away, but he applied, he got in and I don't think he ever applied anywhere else.

Willis: They both grew up spending a lot of time here.

Mary: I think they were very comfortable.

Willis: We were at football games and coming up for basketball or different 39:00functions, so they were fairly well immersed with the campus before they came here as students.

Mary: And we have been very fortunate because many of my nieces and nephews have also gone here, so they're all friends besides being cousins, and they see each other in social settings. Several of them are in the same peripheral professions so they see each other that way and that's been a lot of fun for them.

Ren: I want to ask you this question and then I want to get on to ways that you're involved with Virginia Tech and all these wonderful things that you've been a part of and things that you've done. The question that we always like to ask people is when someone simply says the words Virginia Tech what's the first 40:00thing that you think of?

Mary: Family, home. It's just a part of our life.

Willis: Works for me.

Ren: Wonderful. So Mary you are here on campus for a very special recognition, the 2018 Alumni Distinguished Service Award. I don't want to simply read all these things, but you can just talk a little bit about your involvement with the university after you graduated and being on the committee for the campaign at Virginia Tech, the College of Science, boards and things? How have you kind of given back to Virginia Tech?

Mary: I think it was '86 I was still full-time employed at that time. I remember getting a call from the Development Office inviting me to be on an advisory 41:00group for the College of Arts and Sciences back then. I talked to Willis and we had two small children, both of us were working full-time, life was busy, but I really thought that I would like to do that.

He encouraged me. My boss at the time encouraged me and so I went on the Advisory Committee and it was such an eye-opener. It really brought me back to the university. Willis had been coming to ballgames, to sports events, but I was busier with the family so I wasn't really engaged, and the programs that were going on and the level of competence of the students just outstanding, so I stayed on that group and we really struggled with a lot of issues. We needed to get legislative support so we have a legislative committee and I was in Richmond and that's what I did in my job so I worked a lot with that group. We did 42:00development. We needed to find excellent students from outside Virginia and Virginia. We wanted top students and we weren't always the first choice, dealt with a lot of those issues and core curriculum and on and on. There were just any number of issues. I've stayed on that committee so it's been over 30 years that we've been working. Every dean has been just wonderful to work with, wonderful wonderful insight. They have direction. They have goals not just for the college but the university and now the College of Science, we went through that division. So having been on that committee and chaired it for a few years, I am convinced Science plays a very major role in the future success of the University.

Ren: The first female chair, is that correct?

Mary: Yes. We had one chair and then I took that position. From that work with that committee I think the dean was comfortable with me and asked me to chair 43:00the College of Science's campaign and that was great working with alumni. And by then I had met a number of alumni at different events and some very generous people, very successful people from the college of science, so that wasn't too hard really. People were so generous.

Ren: Doing some research again your decision to ask to be chaired this campaign you said you were really interested because the previous campaign there were no female chairs, is that correct?

Mary: Yes. I had sort of forgotten that, but I did have a problem when I... Let me back up and say the campaign before that I had gotten a call and asked to participate in some way and I just couldn't do it at that time. There was too much else going on in our lives and again with small children I just couldn't do it, so I respectfully declined. Then when I saw the pictures come out of who was 44:00on the committee there was hardly any if any female representation and I had a real problem with that. So I was rather vocal in saying the next campaign we must be aware of minority representation, a female representation. We need the campaign to look more like our student body looks and our alumni-based looks, and they must have heard that because we had a very representative group on the campaign.

Ren: Right, right. That's wonderful. Willis for you, real estate program, Pamplin, all these things. What ways and how have you kind of served Virginia Tech after graduation?

Willis: My interest was primarily sports-related early on. Mary and I would constantly have debates of supporting academics versus supporting athletics, and 45:00I think over time we have both come to realize they both are very symbiotic relationships and each needs the other. Obviously after 1999 National Championship Game applications went up. All of sudden you are a much better academic university if you have great athletics, while there's truly no correlation whatsoever but that's the perception. So as time went by we have stayed very involved with the athletics and supporting the athletic programs financially and any way I can, as well as the need for supporting the academic programs. Being in the real estate development business like I am, entrepreneurship is key to me. Actually the previous business dean Sorenson and I, he liked to talk about leadership programs, I liked to talk about entrepreneurship and there's room for both, but entrepreneurship has always been 46:00key on my mind. And a lot goes to Virginia Tech needs to step up its game. We obviously have had a lunch pail mentality for years and years and that continues to evolve and change. Maybe a lot of the alum operate with chips on their shoulder and want to make this the best university in the State of Virginia and the whole East Coast, so it's just trying to improve what we have here. It has come a long long way. Sure there's room for improvement, but what we have now is something we can be very proud of.

Ren: Really the antithesis of the idea for VT Stories came from the gallop survey that talked about people having an affinity for Virginia Tech. Now that doesn't necessarily translate into the fact that they give to Virginia Tech, but 47:00they do love this university. To the both of you what do you think it is maybe about this campus, about Blacksburg, Virginia Tech more specifically that makes alums have such an affinity for the college and for the university?

Willis: It's just the Hokie Nation is what it really comes down to. It doesn't get any better from a geographic position, the mountains, the campus. it's just absolutely gorgeous. The way of life here and the quality of life is fantastic so to visit it, people coming in is fine, but living here is fantastic. We own a place here and have for a number of years. What always concerns me is the people 48:00who have never experienced Virginia Tech and have never been here and may know nothing about it. They don't consider kids coming here as students and they don't know what they're missing but shame on them. We need to do a better story of educating the public of what really is going on here.

Mary: Well I think the location has over the years it has drawn student population whose parents may not have had college experiences, that they want their children to have that opportunity. And because of that you meet a lot of genuine folks, family people that have come with the feeling they want to make new friends. They want to experience of a family situation and there's a lot of warmth, a lot of welcoming people and support and that makes a difference. And 49:00part of that has to be the location. Maybe if we were in an urban setting it wouldn't be quite that way. People would be more spread out. Housing would be more spread out, but with everybody together it helps a lot.

Ren: Yeah. To that over the past 30 or 40-plus years what changes kind of have you seen the growth of this campus both structurally, the way the student body is, degrees, athletics, however it may be and kind of what do you think about some of those changes?

Mary: Physically my goodness, the physical plant.

Willis: Just fantastic. We've had out of state friends come and visit and they just can't believe what's here and there's plenty more planned with the Corporate Research Center and continues to expand and the university is positioned for additional land west of 460 Bypass. It's just a gorgeous campus 50:00and it keeps getting better. Maintaining the continuity of the Hokie Stone concept in the new buildings was really a very smart move on the university's part.

The academic programs certainly enhance the availability of the programs and the old "invent the future," which I love that phrase. There's a lot going on academically which should appeal to a lot of researchers and future students. The sports facilities just have made tremendous strides over the years and great facilities, it's very unique. They are very close to each other and they are not spread out over places. Sometimes I look at other campuses via area photographs 51:00and they may have a football stadium but they don't have a parking space to speak of within miles, and we are very blessed and fortunate to have parking facilities all together for that game day experience.

Ren: For now right?

Mary: Well I think the level of student is amazing. I don't think you run into very many alumni our age that wouldn't say I would have a difficult time getting in today.

Ren: I say that.

Mary: It's just incredible. I do sometimes sit on scholarship committees and will interview students and it just blows me away the level of talent and ability and creativeness that these kids have. I think that definitely you can see that just are taking leaps and bounds in every direction, every curriculum. I think another change that I see possibly I'm not close enough but I just don't 52:00see the infighting that there seemed to be in years past of the various colleges, because more and more of these programs are becoming integrated. I don't know whether it's forced them or there's just a different mindset that we need to all work together. When you get out very few people say, "Well I'm a graduate of the College of Science. I'm a graduate of the College of Business." They say, "I graduated from Virginia Tech," and that's all people are interested in. So I think that they see that there is a real need for them to work together to really build the programs, that's a big change.

Athletically obviously that has just blossomed and it's encouraging to see a lot of the young next generation for us, they all seem to be friends. They are all working toward a common goal and that's very positive. Very diverse student 53:00body. That's a big change and that's good.

Ren: Willis was talking about the continuity of buildings and I was going to say we don't need to talk about Derring Hall do we?

Mary: No, really.

Willis: A few exceptions.

Mary: But that's all right. There are a few.

Ren: We always used to joke about that when we were here because I was a biology major as an undergrad and we would talk about Derring. And then you were talking about the deans of the colleges. Bob Bates I interviewed and his story is on our website.

Mary: Oh good.

Ren: He was wonderful. He was in town and we were in there and he worked with one of our interns and just a great story, so it's on our website so you will have to check it out. He was really involved, not to Mickey's level but he was pretty involved. So in 2013 you were inducted in the College of Science Hall of Distinction. You are both members of the President's Society and the President's Circle, Legacy Society, the Pilon Society and you served on the Virginia Tech Foundation Board. John Dooley was another person that I've interviewed.


Mary: Willis did too.

Ren: Wonderful. When you found out about this award that brings you to campus this weekend what was your reaction?

Mary: I was shocked and humbled, very much so. There's so many people that give so much to this university. I wasn't quite sure how my name even showed up on the short list, and I must say that I give a lot of credit to my husband because he has given me an opportunity and the support to be able to give back and to encourage me to continue on the Dean's Advisory Council for instance, and was quite supportive when I was on the campaign. So without him I wouldn't be here 55:00for sure.

Ren: I want to ask you about the Virginia Tech program in real estate, donated and endowed the director's position. What was that story and how did that make you feel? What was the motivation?

Willis: Well I have a passion for real estate. That's been almost my entire career and it's been a good career. When we were starting the concept of the real estate program I wasn't at the very beginning but I got on board within a few months of what was going on, and it showed just what a great opportunity for a program like that here at Virginia Tech. I mean the goal is really to make it the best undergraduate real estate program in the United States, and you hear that lots of time and it's unrealistic. In this case it's truly realistic with the five colleges that support the program, the courses available crossing 56:00various colleges from engineering to architecture to business.

Mary: To agriculture.

Willis: Agricultural, and it's just a tremendous opportunity to create this program. It's new. It's only been in existence for 41/2 - I guess 5 years at the end of this spring. Actually my business partner's nephew was one of the first graduates from beginning to end and we've talked to some other people and educated some other people about the program. Students have come here thank goodness. So being new there have been challenges with funding and we wanted to make a statement with a significant gift and hopefully that can be leveraged into other gifts being given, or larger ones than that, naming rights for the entire program. From recent conversations with the director of the program I 57:00gather there's some conversations going on with other significant donors so hopefully that game plan is working out. Time will tell.

Ren: Do you have anything to add?

Mary: I support him. Real estate was his area and from the very beginning he had a vision and began to work with the provost. At that time Mark McNamee saw the same sort of vision, that it could be across college lines and that was a new concept and went to bat and supported it and they went off from there.

Ren: There's so much here. With the Virginia Tech athletic fund, bronze benefactors, Pamplin College of Business, provided bequest positions for 58:00Virginia Tech athletics, the College of Sciences and your estates, leadership gift and then this new golf indoor facility is named for the both of you. What advice or when you talk to other alums how do you frame it in giving back? What do you tell alums?

Willis: Well everybody has got to work within the parameters that they have financially. We've been lucky to be in a position to give what we have given. We would love to be in a position to give more and hopefully there is more on the way. We were just at Abbington at a Virginia Tech athletic-oriented outing for select givers and it was a fantastic time. One of the former football players who is very well known and has given significantly to Virginia Tech commented 59:00that night when he was speaking that we have an obligation to give back, so that's what we try and do.

You know some people as we know they are passionate about Virginia Tech but as we have seen statistically they don't get off their wallets, and it's really unfortunate. Virginia Tech need to do a better job of developing that giving and it's an obligation to give to the university and support it.

Mary: And I have always been very interested and supportive of assistance to the students. Someone helped me and I feel like it's only fair to pass it forward. It's so important to give these kids an opportunity and we've been involved with several different scholarships. Tech does a wonderful job of the students 60:00letting you know that they appreciate it and what they are doing and this and that. And you get some wonderful insight into how much it really can help an entire family and it sets an example. I just feel like it's so important for at whatever level we really encourage all of our alumni to give. I love the giving date concept. I thought that was wonderful, give at your own level whether it's $10 or it's $10-million, you need to give back and support the students coming along because we got that support.

Ren: Absolutely. And to the other side of that question as a student here and I know you probably feel the same way, which it is a little different now, but what advice would you give if any student sees the success that the both of you 61:00have had, that you've been able to give back to Virginia Tech, what advice do you give current students? Maybe you will be speaking to some at some point. I know you do some in the real estate program, what advice do you give current students?

Mary: Do something you are passionate about and you enjoy, your career. It may not be a huge moneymaker but if you love it you will be successful.

Willis: I tell people to stay involved with the university. Just don't lose touch, and the challenge really is for a young graduate to come back, how do they get involved and stay in touch. The ironic thing about Mary's invitation to the Advisory Board for the College of Science years ago was she had given some money. I mean she would give them $100 or $200 and she showed up on the radar screen so they invited her. It didn't take much. Hopefully those numbers are significantly larger now but they may not be as large as we all think. It's not 62:00just giving, it's hiring future Hokies. It's mentoring them. It's giving them assistance.

I just gave somebody a business card yesterday, a young graduate or fairly young graduate who is going out in the real estate and I said, "If you ever need any help just give me a call and I will give you advice."

Ren: Have you met a lot of Hokies in your professional life, in your careers, and what are those kids like? Have you worked with a lot?

Mary: Oh my goodness, everywhere. I did work with some. Some were older than I when I first started out, but I meet them everywhere. There's always a connection. It's amazing. I mentioned we happen to live in Florida in the winter time, there is always a Virginia Tech connection and I have brought some friends 63:00here, some of whom didn't have the college experience and some just brought them here to visit and to a ballgame or whatever. They all have fallen in love with Virginia Tech. Now they all follow all of our sports programs and anything in the news. Their grandchildren have come here and on and on. It's just amazing how we run into the Hokie Nation.

Willis: In my business career -- yes, I have run into a tremendous amount of Virginia Tech people because it transcends to the architects, the engineers, but it's also the bankers, it's fellow developers, it's people in planning departments. It could be people working for retail corporations that have some Tech backgrounds and that has truly happened. People in California, yep, we've got a real estate guy from the company who went to Virginia Tech and things like that. The development industry has a lot of Virginia Tech people in it that were 64:00in the same brotherhood. We don't necessarily compete with each other but it's a significant amount and I think that number will continue to grow as time goes by, especially when you start producing graduates of the real estate program and stay in the industry and become successful.

Ren: My brother lived in San Diego for 10 or 11 years and he would wear Virginia Tech stuff and he worked with people at LA Fitness which is where he worked who attended Virginia Tech. You can always find a Hokie somewhere. I mean we have interviewed people who have been in Paris or London or wherever, Tokyo and they run into another Hokie.

Mary: Oh we have.

Willis: In San Diego there's Bub's Bar and it's a Virginia Tech bar.

Ren: Yes, that's right.

Mary: We have definitely done that. We have been on an island in New Zealand and off a bus and ran into a Virginia Tech, remember with the girl that day? A Virginia Tech graduate. We have been in Innsbruck Austria on a mountain and ran 65:00into somebody wearing a Virginia Tech hat and it turned out later we became friends with them. It's amazing. We always are running into somebody.

Ren: Yes. We kind of talked a little bit about this, kind of the changing of the campus and what you are inspired by with the students and the development of the programs and athletics and things. Is there any part that concerns you at all?

Willis: Something, and I alluded to this previously is the outside world that doesn't know Virginia Tech needs to be educated on what Virginia Tech has to offer and I think they would look completely differently once they were aware of all the things that are going on here. And just again, the quality of life, the beauty, the students, the town, it's a special place.


Mary: I still don't think they get quite enough publicity in Richmond and probably Northern Virginia on everything that is going on here. The programs and some of the research is just amazing and nobody knows it's going on. I get concerned a little bit about the infill of the campus, so I looked at the 10-year plan and I think they need to preserve some of the green space. I think they need to preserve some of the campus as it feels now because I think that's very enriching for the students. I think one of the things that was most appealing was that everything was walkable, and now I know they have a bus system which helps, but we didn't have to have a car. I never had a car when I lived here and we could walk everywhere, and what was important.


Willis: Another challenge for the university is with a lot of things being created and invented here that need to be monetized and commercialized as the venture capital start-up money to fund that and that is a challenge. We have even been involved with a company that was not with the College of Science but it was a spinoff from some things from the College of Science and it was a challenge to bring capital in.

Ren: Just a couple more question and thank you both for being so generous with your time. This is kind of a big one and I alluded to this earlier to both of you but what does Virginia Tech mean to you?

Mary: Well it's an intricate part of our life. Obviously we wouldn't have met 68:00without it so our lives would have been very different. It's given us a lot of friendships, a lot of wonderful fulfilling experiences. Helped us certainly with our careers and our life. It's a big big part of our world.

Willis: We are fortunate enough that it's a big institution but our involvement can have some impact and you don't get that everywhere and it can be anywhere from donating money or helping students out. When I was on the Foundation Board I helped negotiate the Smith Landing Hilton Garden transaction with Bruce Smith and Armada Hoffler and using my real estate knowledge and it's great to be able to help. Our children both being grads and coming back and involved, our 69:00daughter is on the Alumni Board and just rolled off in that recently a year or so ago. Our son is involved with the Hokie Club so it's a family affair.

Ren: Kind of the last question, if there is anything I haven't asked you that you would like to add. If there is anything else you would like to add it's kind of an open floor, anything you would like to say.

Willis: I think we've covered a lot of territory.

Ren: I tried. Thank you both so much for sitting down with VT Stories. Congratulations again. Congratulations on everything that you both have accomplished individually and as a couple, and Happy Anniversary coming up pretty soon, right.

Mary: Thank you.

Ren: I really appreciate your service and giving to Virginia Tech and everything that you've done. Mary Nolen Blackwood, class of 1973, Willis Blackwood, class of 1972, thank you both so much. Wonderful to meet you all.


Mary: You too Ren. Thank you.

Ren: Thank you Willis.