Ren Harman: When you want to take a break feel free. It's a really laid-backconversation. You will forget all this is here hopefully in about 10 minutes. I'll just say good morning. This is Ren Harman, the Project Director for VT Stories. Today is February 9, 2018 at about 10:15 AM. We are in Virginia Beach, Virginia with two very special guests with us today. This is the only time that I will prompt you, but if you can just state in a complete sentence my name is, when you were born, and where you were born.
Matt Winston Sr.: My name is Matthew Maurice Winston. I was born in Norfolk,Virginia in 1938.
Ren: Okay. Thank you very much. What years did you attend Virginia Tech?
Matt Sr.: I attended Virginia Tech from 1955 to 1959.
Ren: What was your major?
Matt Sr.: Mechanical engineering.
Ren: Thank you very much. The same question to you.
Matt Winston Jr: My name is Matthew Maurice Winston, Jr. I was also born in1:00Norfolk, Virginia in 1968.
Ren: What years did you attend Virginia Tech?
Matt Jr.: I attended Virginia Tech as a student from 1986 to 1990.
Ren: And your major?
Matt Jr.: I was a marketing management major.
Ren: Back to you. Can you tell me a little bit about your early life and growing up?
Matt Sr.: My early life growing up was very interesting. I grew up during theSecond World War. Life was much different from what it is now; partly because of the War and much more because society was very different from what it is now in a lot of ways, and yet the same in a lot of ways. I lived in a neighborhood 2:00where everybody looked out for each other. There was no crime to speak of at all. No fear and no worry about your kids' safety. Somebody was looking out for them. All of the adults assumed responsibility for all of the kids. I think about it a lot. As a matter of fact I picked out one of my favorite spots in my old neighborhood and told my kids where I'd like to have my ashes scattered when I'm deceased.
Ren: Wow. Were you an only child?
Matt Sr.: No, I have two older sisters.3:00
Ren: So you were the baby.
Matt Sr.: I was the baby, which they never let me forget. They claimed that mymother preferred me and pampered me, did everything better for me than she did for them. It wasn't true, but they claimed it anyway..
Ren: I'm the youngest of five and I'm the baby boy too. I have an older brotherand three older sisters, so I know a little bit about that. Can you talk a little bit about your mom and dad, what did they do? What were they like? Their names.
Matt Sr.: Well, first of all, my mom and dad were separated when I was veryyoung. My father moved to New York, and so my mother raised the three of us. They had high school educations. That's the highest education most people had at that time; and where we lived, that was more than most of the other people had. 4:00For that reason, my mom was the unofficial scribe on our street. Whenever the older folks needed something read or written, she was called upon.
Matt Sr.: But I never heard either of my parents say anything negative, not evenclose to negative about the other one, so I don't know why they weren't together. I have never known. They were both great people. They made me feel loved my whole life and I appreciated that. Although they couldn't give us many material things, it didn't bother me because most people around me had meager material assets. We just had less; and those who had more willingly shared. But, 5:00I had lots of friends who, very poor or not so poor, learned to cope and love each other from an early age.
It is important to understand that during those years, everyone suffered somelevel of deprivation because of the war and its demand for resources. Black citizens suffered considerably more because of rigidly enforced racial segregation. Those circumstances had a profound impact on my lifelong views of American society.
Our neighborhood was one of two neighborhoods (Berkley and Campostella) on thesouth side of Norfolk. I lived in Berkley. The population there was made up of three ethnic groups: White gentiles, Jews, and Blacks. The Jewish citizens lived 6:00in the most compact and homogeneous community. The Gentiles and blacks were scattered in groups of various sizes throughout the remainder of the landscape with no distinct boundaries between them. The result was that some of each ethnic group had close neighbors of one or both of the other groups. I can't recall ever knowing or hearing of any friction between them. Of course there were occasional disagreements between individuals but no ethnic or racial friction. They were good neighbors; even good friends in some cases; and during the war especially, they all looked out for each other. I was surprised as I grew older to find that this kind of cross-cultural coexistence was not the norm all over the country.
Ren: Did you play with a lot of the neighborhood kids?
Matt Sr.: I did. There were lots of kids but only four basketball courts in ourneighborhood----two at the white elementary school and two at the black school; so basketball was not a popular sport among those who did not live close to the schools. There were, however, many vacant lots; and most of us played baseball in spring and summer and football in fall and winter. Not always but many times, these play groups included (totally unsupervised) kids of different races.
Believe it or not, when I was a young kid (up until my early teens), my verybest friend was a white boy whose parents owned the "mom-and-pop" grocery store next door to us. They lived above the store. Another older white boy (late 7:00teens-early twenties) who lived across the street assumed the role of play organizer and coach for all of the younger kids. He spent many afternoons and weekends teaching us the skills and rules of baseball and football together with concepts of sportsmanship. At some point, he was drafted into the army, and we never saw him again.
Ren: Growing up as a child during the war was there ever times where you werescared or fearful of what was kind of happening?
Matt Sr.: No. I was a toddler when the U.S. entered the war and I had noappreciation for the severity of the situation. The adults didn't talk about it much in the presence of the kids. As kids, we did things to support the war effort, but we really didn't understand how it worked; nor did we care. The war 8:00was far, far away. It was not something that kids gave much thought to. It was an inconvenience at times (for kids) if an "air raid" drill interrupted any outdoor play on summer nights Those drills ,which were always after dark, required everybody to go indoors, all indoor and outdoor lights turned off and maximum quiet maintained. I regarded all this as normal. I thought that there always was war and there always would be war and all it entailed. But there was never any immediate fear related to the war..
Ren: What did your mother and father do for work at that time?
Matt Sr.: My mom was a domestic. My father was a musician, a lifelong musicianand he was good at it. I'm certain that he, like the rest of his family, moved up north because he couldn't make a living here doing what he loved and what allowed him to use his most marketable skill--
Ren: What was his instrument?
Matt Sr.: Piano.
Ren: That's wonderful. Do you think that growing up in that type of community9:00with different races, religions, different points of view even at a time when segregation was obviously still legal and rampant in this country, do you think it kind of shaped the way you saw the world a little bit?
Matt Sr.: Oh certainly it did. I told you about this kid who lived next door,whose parents owned a grocery store.. We were just two kids who were good friends. Many times we questioned things. Why don't we go to the same school or 10:00why can't we go to the movies together? Whenever we asked these questions of our respective parents, we got the same answer---"Well, that's just the way it is." My friend and I were left to ponder who made the rules and why. Certainly not anybody in our neighborhood..
Matt Sr.: I was fairly into my teens before I really knew what segregation wasreally like where it was more rigidly practiced. But I did know with certainty that all white people did not embrace it. I also knew that, for all the 11:00privilege that it offered to them, it sometimes worked against their own desires to do what they believed was right. My mom taught us that the best and simplest way for all of us to live would be to ignore the group identities and to judge each person individually. I tried to do just that always.
Ren: That's a good life lesson to have. How important was education in yourhome? How were you as a student growing up?
Matt Sr.: I don't want to brag, but I was an excellent student. [Laughs] Wellactually all three of us were. My mom was very tough on us about education. And although we didn't have a lot of things we always had stuff to read and we were 12:00encouraged to read.
My older sister was kind of a math whiz. I don't know where she got that. All ofus were good students There was a time when the three of us were in elementary school and were among the students selected to initiate a student newspaper. There were many other students available to fill the required jobs. When the dust cleared, however, my older sister was the editor-in-chief, my other sister was the associate editor, and I was the circulation manager. I never really thought that I was much better as a student than many of my classmates until the time came to graduate from high school and I was named valedictorian.
Ren: Where did you attend high school?
Matt Sr.: Booker T. Washington High School in Norfolk.13:00
Ren: And you were the valedictorian?
Matt Sr.: In 1955.
Ren: What were some of your favorite subjects?
Matt Sr.: Oh wow. I liked them all as a matter of fact, but I think my favoriteswere probably foreign languages and physics.
Ren: How did Virginia Tech come into the picture?
Matt Sr.: We had a physics teacher at my high school who was not satisfied with14:00the way the guidance program was operating, so he started his own independent guidance effort. This man was extraordinary. Not only did he carry a full teaching load; but he always prepared several students for participation in the local and state Science Fairs. He owned and operated a radio repair business. He 15:00set up equipment and provided all of the announcing at varsity athletic events. He directed all of the lighting and stage management functions for the school drama productions and other public displays. Along with all of that, he spent the summers teaching technical courses at one of the colleges in the Washington, D.C. area. With only limited exposure to a student, this gentleman, Mr. Perry, had a knack for identifying the most likely path to his or her future success; not only in technical pursuits, but in other fields as well. He recommended colleges and offered possible solutions to satisfy financial needs. A little more about that later.
Mr. Perry kept himself well informed about all things educational. Not manypeople knew, but he knew that Irving Peddrew was admitted to Tech in 1953, the year before public school segregation was ruled unconstitutional. In that decision, he saw the potential to steer future students into engineering at a state institution. The financial impact was huge at lowering the barrier into that profession for low income applicants who typified the majority of students at our school.
So, in 1954, Mr. Perry identified three of his students who he believed weregood candidates to enroll in the Tech engineering school. They all applied and 16:00were accepted at Virginia Tech that year. The following year, he sent me down the same path.
As I just mentioned, the availability of an in-state engineering schoolsignificantly lowered the financial barrier for minority students. For me and the three guys who preceded me, that was not enough. This same teacher found a source of additional help.. Not very many people knew about it, but he found out about a Foundation that used its resources to provide needed financial support to graduates of Norfolk high schools. That's about all that I can really say about the Foundation because it's all I know. They operated with a very low profile. I can't recall ever reading or hearing anything about it in the media. They did not require written applications or tests. There was a face-to-face interview with the administrators who were white middle-aged establishment attorneys. I often found it thought provoking when I learned that the Foundation was not a civil rights advocacy group nor were there any ties to the minority community.
As long ago as that was, I vividly remember that part of the interview where Iwas quizzed about my understanding of Communism. During that era, the greatest concern in America was the belief that Russia was striving to export its form of government globally. A mere hint of sympathy toward any aspect of anything Russian could place you under investigation. Long before the interview, I had become curious about how this all came about; and I had taken it upon myself to learn all that I could relative to it. So, my response to the interviewers obviously pleased them. They looked at each other, smiled, and ended the interview. A few days later, I received a letter which said, in effect, "let us know how much you need".
Ren: Can you describe or remember your first memory of Virginia Tech?17:00
Matt Sr.: The whole experience was something of a shock. I had been throughmountainous places before, but only with brief stops, if any. I was impressed. Blacksburg wasn't nearly as developed as it is now, nor was the Tech campus. Tech's student body numbered only about 5,000. About half of them were GIs back from the Korean War. So roughly speaking, the student body contained mature males (civilians), about an equal number of late teenage and young adult males (cadets), and about a hundred females.
Ren: We've talked to a lot of alumni kind of about that relationship between18:00returning vets and current students. What do you remember kind of about that relationship between the two student bodies?
Matt Sr.: Honestly, there is very little that I could know about that since hadno opportunity to observe much of anything outside of the classroom What stood out to me was that, in general, the advanced maturity of the civilian freshman 19:00seemed to provide them with a leg up academically compared to cadets. For those cadets who survived the "rat year", that apparent dis- advantage was significantly diminished. Living off campus, as I was required to, spared me much of the distraction that on-campus corps life entailed.
Ren: Do you remember when you first saw the campus when you came to start?
Matt Sr.: That was the first time.
Ren: That was the first time. Do you remember what buildings or any images inyour mind that you can remember from that time?
Matt Sr.: Well, I was assigned to, what was then Air Force ROTC Squadron B whichwas in Eggleston Hall, so I knew about Eggleston Hall, the recently-finished Newman library, and Squires Hall. Soon, I got to know other places because I had 20:00to go to other places. One was the tailor shop, because that's one of the first places you went if you were in the Corps. You had to go get fitted for that uniform on day one .
Ren: When you started at Virginia Tech I guess that was in 1955?
Matt Sr.: Yes.
Ren: Did you come in as an aerospace engineering major, or was that somethingyou kind of declared later on?
Matt Sr.: , I wasn't an aerospace engineering major. I went in as an electricalengineering major and I thought that was what I wanted. I found out real soon that the electrical engineering department was really really a tough place to be, because they had what seemed like arbitrary limits to how many people were 21:00going to get through the department.
It wasn't a secret. It was very well-known. The professor said at the firstclass meeting, "Half of you are going to fail." Failing wasn't an option for me, because my financial support depended on me keeping a certain grade. I said, okay, I'm in the wrong place. [Laughs] So I switched to mechanical.
Ren: To mechanical, okay. As you mentioned, that first year of college is alittle difficult for a lot of people as it was for me, and I'm sure thousands and millions of others. What was that first year of college like for you, just getting adjusted to the classes and the scheduling?
Matt Sr.: It was just hard because it took so much time. There wasn't much time22:00to do anything except school stuff, and the Corps obligations took up time also. It was about a 20-minute walk each way from where I lived to the campus, and a typical day involved four of those walks. All I had time to focus on was getting decent grades. I didn't really have time to think about anything else to be honest with you.
Ren: So the first year in the Corps, the rat year as it has kind of beencommonly referred to as, I'm sure there's lots of stories from that year in terms of maybe some pranks. What other kind of things were happening?
Matt Sr.: Well believe it or not, I really didn't experience as much of that as23:00the guys who lived on campus, because most of it happened after class or outside of the class. But there was enough of it that I learned something that served me well throughout my life, and that was how to take a lot of crap.
Matt Sr.: Without losing it, you know?
Ren: Right. [Laughs] Oh man. So you said it was a 20-minute walk to campus?
Matt Sr.: Yeah.
Ren: Where did you live? Where was that exactly?
Matt Sr.: I lived up on East Clay Street, which is one of the streets that runsinto Main Street. The walk to campus was about 20 minutes if you walked fast enough. That took a bit of getting used to, but it was the only option. Later, I 24:00got a bicycle. That helped a lot.
Ren: Do you remember any notable professors or advisors that were influentialwho advised you or mentored you during your time at Virginia Tech?
Matt Sr.: As far as being mentored I can't really put my finger on any one ortwo people. But, there were faculty who were very helpful in making sure that I got the work done, I hesitate to try to pick one or two of them out, but I never was mistreated by anybody the way that Charlie Yates was . There were faculty 25:00and staff who were aware of those among them who were not in favor of our presence. I had one instructor who was replaced after one or two class meetings. We (students) assumed that he was perhaps sick or had a schedule change. Later, 26:00I was told by another faculty member that he went to his department head and made it known that he didn't want to teach a class with me in it. That was really a surprise, because during the short time that he taught the class, he was very nice to me.
Although I never received nor did I want any special treatment, I will be27:00forever grateful for the efforts of those who did whatever they could to shield me from the biases that could have been detrimental to my success.
Ren: What was your relationship with the other students? How did they feel?
Matt Sr.: I can honestly say I never had one negative experience with anybody inthe student body. Maybe those who may have had negative feelings towards me just chose not to interact with me at all, but most of my relationships with students were unremarkably normal.
Ren: I don't know if this is correct based on what else I've read, but were youthe fifth African American student who was enrolled?
Matt Sr.: Yeah.
Ren: Fifth, okay. I want to ask you some favorite memories or experiences. I28:00know we've talked a little bit about some mistreatment that didn't necessarily occur that often. Do you have some favorite memories or experiences that really stand out in your mind?
Matt Sr.: [Laughs]
Matt Jr.: None that you're willing to say on tape, right? [Chuckles]
Matt Sr.: Most of my favorite memories of Blacksburg and of southwest Virginia,involved off- campus activities not associated with the University.
Ren: I want to ask you a little bit about the community of Blacksburg andChristiansburg, because when I talked to your son a couple of weeks ago we kind 29:00of talked about this. What was your relationship and your experiences in the community during this time?
Matt Sr.: Well, I will say this much. Blacksburg, Christiansburg, and all of thenearby counties and towns had very small populations of minority people. We got invited to all the social and civic activities that were part of those communities long before any of us kids from eastern Virginia showed up. During 30:00my time among these folks, I made lots of friends, many of whom I remember well. I'm not certain but I suspect that a few of them remain in the area --not just in Blacksburg and Christiansburg, but in Radford, Pulaski, Elliston, and New River as well.
Do you happen to know a fellow named Charles Johnson who owns and operates abarbershop and beauty salon in one of the shopping centers in Blacksburg?
Matt Sr.: When I first came to Blacksburg, he was in the Army; and after hisdischarge, he became a barber in the college barber shop. He would come by our living quarters on Clay St. and cut our hair since there was no other place nearby to provide that service. We became good friends, and he showed me many 31:00places that only a native would know. He was well known and knew many people throughout the area. He introduced me to a great number of them; and after a time, I began to feel at home. Once or twice, he came to Norfolk with me to spend the weekend with my family.
Matt Sr.: There was another fellow who lived in the house right behind where welived. He and his wife often invited me to dinner. She was a great cook. Several times, he invited me to accompany him on weekend football trips to West 32:00Virginia. On one occasion, he and Charles (the barber) invited me to join them on a trip to Washington, D.C. to visit another Blacksburg native who was enjoying a notable career in that city. 33:00
Ren: Can you talk a little bit about your circle of friends and other studentsyou were in class with and things, some relationships that you developed with them?
Matt Sr.: At Tech?
Matt Sr.: I had no real circle of friends or relationships with other students.There were people who befriended me, but it never went beyond the classroom or chance encounters on campus or in town. After I had graduated and went to work, 35:00I ran into a lot of Hokies that I knew because they also worked at NASA. That was always a helpful situation to me. I will expand on that if you want me to.
Ren: Yeah, we're going to get there. So during your time at Virginia Tech in thelate 1950s do you remember anything that was happening kind of in national news or politics and kind of how that played out in Blacksburg? Was there any historical event that you remember?
Matt Sr.: If you are referring to things related to civil rights and schoolintegration, there was nothing newsworthy that I recall hearing about during my years in Blacksburg. As far as I remember, I never saw anything in the national 36:00or local media related to Tech and its admission of black students. You must remember that the so- called "civil rights revolution" was still in its infancy in the early 1960's; and that I had graduated by then.
Ren: [Chuckles] Right.
Matt Sr.: But I was awakened to what was going on in the deep south as early as1957. There was another guy from Blacksburg who had graduated from Tuskegee 37:00Institute in Alabama where he was an outstanding athlete . He then served a few years in the Air Force and returned to Blacksburg. As a Tuskegee alum, he had a burning desire to attend their traditional Thanks-giving Day football game with Alabama State College. He didn't want to go by himself, so he talked Charles (the barber) and me into going down there with him. I was skeptical at first because I had heard some scary stories about the deep south, but the promise of warmer weather for a few days convinced my 19-year-old brain that it was worth risking my life.
So we went down there; and we hadn't considered that the Rosa Parks- MartinLuther King bus boycott was in full swing in that part of Alabama, and it was a very tense situation at the time. That was my real awakening. Fortunately, my 38:00friend was well remembered at Tuskegee and they provided us with food, lodging and advice on dealing with the situation. For example, each night bands of hooded klansmen would ride on horseback through the campus. I witnessed it on our first night there. We were told that no real damage had been done nor had anyone been harmed. The nightly forays were mainly to intimidate the University community. Since they always came about the same time and their approach could be heard from quite a distance, the response was to stay inside and not confront them. Their time on campus was normally brief. Yes, the deep south was a scary place. All of this was in 1957. The more well publicized events such as sit-ins, fire hoses, police dogs, etc. occurred later. By then I was back at home in the early stages of my career.
Ren: Right. I want to ask you about a story that I've read a couple of placesand I know Matt talked a little bit about it when we did his VT story was about the ring dance. Can you recall that story?
Matt Sr.: It wasn't a big deal. First of all, I expected what happened to mebecause it had happened to others before me. But even so, when it happened it was galling to get a call from the University president and have him try to convince me that my presence at Ring Dance could do great harm. Yes, I got the call and I had the conversation with Dr. Newman. We agreed not to agree at the outset because he had his point of view and I had my mine. It wasn't contentious, it was just an honest conversation . For some time prior to Dr. 39:00Newman's call, the class leaders had been encouraging me to attend; and they had been working to make certain that nothing negative was going to happen. But the truth was that I couldn't afford it even if I had wanted to go. So, ring Dance was never a big deal to me. I eventually told the President that I never intended to go. I never told him why. I'm sure he thought that he persuaded me to do it his way.
Ren: So you graduated in 1959. Did you graduate in the spring semester?40:00
Matt Sr.: I completed all of my engineering classes by the spring of '59. But41:00there was a requirement to take nine hours of non-technical courses; and I had kind of pushed them aside to make sure that I got the main stuff done. Before I realized it, the time had come to tackle those electives. So I spent an extra six weeks in 1959, and finished in July. Fortunately for me, the job offer from NASA was kept open until I was available.
Ren: How did that job opportunity become available?
Matt Sr.: I don't know how it's done now; but back then employers would sendrecruiters to campuses across the country to interview prospective employees. 42:00Visits by these recruiters were advertised, and students could sign up for interviews with those whose firms offered employment in areas of interest to them. Typically, if the interviewer looked favorably upon the student, he would invite the student to visit the employers facility for additional interview. That could (but not always would) lead to a job offer. That was a good time to be an engineer. They were in great demand by both the public and private sectors.
Just about everyone I knew received several job offers during that period. Themilitary vets had the best opportunities for eventual hiring because employers did not face the risk of losing them to the military draft. In my own case, I failed to accept a job on several occasions because the employer could not protect me from the draft or I was not offered a job because the employer's investment in me could be lost at any time. So for me and those like me, the need was to choose from among prospective employers those who were involved with military support or some other phase of national security. Lucky me----I had offers from NASA and the Newport News Shipyard. I chose NASA. 43:00
Ren: Can you talk a little bit about the coursework that you were doing? This isthe late 1950s in engineering. What kind of courses were you taking? Which ones did you like, not like and so on?
Matt Sr.: Back then mechanical engineering consisted of a lot of courses inthermodynamics, mechanics and materials. There were only two options where you could choose to specialize during your junior and senior years, One of them was design. The other one was power plants. In that era, most of the power plants in the country were coal-fired steam power plants; so the course work addressed the design and operation of those facilities. That wasn't very appealing to me. I 44:00chose the design option. I liked courses in kinematics, dynamics, material properties, and design of systems and system elements.
Matt Sr.: So I chose design. But going to NASA to start my job when the otherrecruits were already there for six weeks before me, I was told, "Okay, the job we had for you was filled, but you still have a job. However, for the time being, we have to put you somewhere else until we get you better situated--" So 46:00I went to work for this outfit doing helicopters research. There I met my mentor, my real mentor. I didn't know anything about helicopters or airplanes, but he knew lots of stuff, and he taught me. He had undergrad and graduate degrees from the University of Kansas, and he was and Air Force veteran. We worked together on my first three or four research projects. Whenever I needed it, he would always find time to sit me down and teach me the academics supporting whatever we were doing.
Ren: Right. What was his name?
Matt Sr.: His name is Robert Houston. I haven't been able to contact him in along time. I lost track of him. 47:00
Ren: This was NASA at Langley, right?
Matt Sr.: Yes.
Ren: When you arrived there were there a lot of other Virginia Tech graduatesthat you were working alongside?
Matt Sr.: Not really alongside; but there were many Tech alums working innumerous disciplines throughout the Research Center. A fair number of them were new hires like me, and an even greater number had been there for years. The Tech Engineering School used to have a NASA Langley day each year day. Do they still have that?
Matt Jr.: I'm not sure.
Matt Sr.: You remember that because I used to come up and participate.
Matt Jr.: Yes.
Matt Sr.: At that time, the dean of Engineering and the director of the Langley48:00Research Center were friends (maybe ex-classmates). The Chief Scientist at Langley was also a Hokie who was a year ahead of me. He was also from Norfolk and we had gotten to know each other while students.
Each year, the Langley director would give the Chief Scientist the job ofselecting from the many Tech alumni at Langley those who would participate in 49:00this whole day of interacting with the Tech engineering students and faculty. The airplane that we had only held about eight passengers, but I was always one of the eight people while I was there. It was always a fun day It gave me an 50:00opportunity to see my son while he was a student. I also was there one time while Charlie Yates was on the faculty, so I felt really good about all that. But I also knew some of Matt's friends who were at Tech at the time, so I enjoyed being able to see all of these familiar people. I always enjoyed that.
Ren: You were able to see yourself a little bit in some of those students. Youkind of remember what it was like to be in their shoes a little bit and trying to get a job and get through that whole process.
Matt Sr.: Not really--- As I mentioned earlier, engineering grads were in greatdemand nationwide when I was a student. The NASA offer was pretty much guaranteed and I still had some other options. Getting a job was the easiest 51:00part of the whole experience.
Ren: Oh man. So did you spend your entire career at NASA?
Matt Sr.: Yes. I finished up at Tech on a Saturday, and I went to work at NASALangley on the following Monday morning. I stayed there for 36 years. That's the only real job I ever had.
Ren: That's awesome. How did you meet your wife?
Matt Sr.: We grew up in the same neighborhood.
Ren: Margaret, right?
Matt Sr.: Yeah.
Ren: Margaret Winston. I want to talk a little bit about, and you mentioned it52:00earlier, obviously when Matt Winston, Jr., was considering college and I listened back to your interview like I said, did you want to influence him to go to Virginia Tech or how did you approach not telling him to go to Virginia Tech, but encouraging him at the same time?
Matt Sr.: I didn't really pressure him one way or the other. I just tried tomake him understand that it was important that he go to college. I wasn't going to steer him toward any particular school. I thought that it should be, within reason, his own choice. Within reason meant any school in the country as long as it was a state-supported institution in Virginia. [Laughs] He didn't seem really 53:00interested in that subject at all for a while, but I knew he should have been. Eventually, he was persuaded that further education was a pretty good idea.
My recollection of it is that in the summer between his junior and senior yearsin high school, he got a job working for a home builder; and he spent all of day one working in the blazing hot sun.
Matt Jr.: Ooh.
Matt Sr.: He came home at the end of the day and collapsed in the kitchen floor.He says that was a defining moment. "Yeah, I'm going to college." I don't think he showed up for day two.
Matt Jr.: That's a true story right there.
Ren: What do you remember about that?
Matt Jr.: I remember exactly what he just said. I worked construction for thesummer of my junior year in high school. And it wasn't that I wasn't serious about going to college, I just didn't see the urgency in making that decision. But yeah, after that summer I pretty much understood the difference between working and using your mind and working and using your hands, and I made a decision. 54:00
And so then we started narrowing down, I really started to narrow down collegeoptions for me, and my dad did say that, "You can go to any school in the country you want to as long as it's in Virginia, because I want to pay an in-state tuition." And then it really just all came together.
Ren: When he found out that he was accepted and coming to Virginia Tech how didthat make you feel?
Matt Sr.: Well, I felt good, but it was very easy because I still had friends atTech who could do things for us. When he finally decided, I made a phone call and the one question that my friend asked was, "How are his SATs?" I said, "They're good." She said, "Okay, tell him to start packing." In later years, he paid that forward for me. I asked him numerous times to do whatever he could for 55:00people who approached me with interest in possibly enrolling their child at Tech. He always promptly provided the information they sought; and they continue to thank me and give me some measure of credit for their child's success.
Ren: Can the both of you take me to the day when he was moving in his freshmanyear? Can either one of you remember much about that day?
Matt Sr.: What I remember is all the hard labor that I and his roommate's father56:00went through getting their room together building [lofts] and that sort of thing. One thing I remember for some reason or other, that was even more strenuous than that was, was freshman orientation day. It rained all day long all the way from Virginia Beach to Blacksburg and back, and we went up there and came back the same day.
Ren: Oh wow.
Matt Sr.: They couldn't drive. I took the two of them up there that day, butthat was the longest trip I ever took in my life. You remember that day?
Matt Jr.: I do remember that day. The first move-in day, my roommate and I stilltalk about this, one of the things I remember about that day is we were like 57:00everyone else trying to get our room together, build a loft. We had two lofts and trying to get all that together.
Well, we went in thinking that my engineering father could just whip it up,build it in about six minutes. But he was either not going to do that or didn't want to do that. I don't know if he was trying to teach us the value of doing our own hard work, but we were like how come the smart engineering guys are putting our loft together for us without reading the instructions? That was a part of that moving day, but it was as hectic a moving day as it is I think for any student.
Ren: For anyone, yeah.
Matt Sr.: It wasn't fun. First of all, you know going in we didn't know that wewere going to need tools.
Matt Jr.: We didn't know we were going to have a loft. We saw them selling themon the streets and we were like, "We want one of those too."
Ren: Right. Were these wooden?58:00
Matt Jr.: The wooded lofts, yeah.
Ren: I think I told you the story when I interviewed maybe it was you, when Imoved into Pritchard my freshman year the guy that lived next to me, I had a metal one at the time, which is a little bit easier to put together. So I see his dad pushing a cart and it's just wood stacked on top of each other, and my dad looks at me and he goes, "I'm glad we're not doing that." Because they were over there drilling and sawing and all kinds of stuff, which is you had to experience. You lived in Vaughter, right?
Matt Jr.: Vaughter Hall.
Ren: If someone simply says the words Virginia Tech what's the first thing thatyou kind of think of?
Matt Sr.: Actually now it's pride. It has not always been that. There were times59:00in the past when I have been asked, "Would you do it again?"; and I have said, "Absolutely not." Not that anything really bad happened to me, but the isolation then and the realization now that something bad could have happened at any time caused me to say no I wouldn't have done it had I known I was going to go through that. But, when I consider how Virginia Tech evolved through the years since I left and the example that it has set for defining a true University not only in Virginia but across the South, I am indeed proud to be a Hokie.
Ren: Through your time as a student and then coming back to talk to these60:00prospective employees of NASA and then obviously when Matt attended, what kind of changes did you see over time with Virginia Tech?
Matt Sr.: Aside from the physical changes?
Matt Sr.: That's basically all I really saw was the physical changes. It wasstill the place with all these people who thought they were the brightest and best people on earth, and one of the friendliest places I've ever been. That's about it. But the striking thing is if you stay away for more than a couple of weeks you are struck by the physical changes and it's really a much different place physically than what it was when I was there. 61:00
Ren: Were there any long gaps when you kind of weren't coming back to campus orkind of seeing the campus, many years or was it almost every few years?
Matt Sr.: Yes, there was a long gap----almost ten years after graduation. I wentback and I visited a couple that I mentioned earlier mainly to show off Matt. They had added three more kids to their family that I never even knew about because I had been out of touch for so long. He also had a new job that gave him reason to frequently visit the Tidewater area. The whole family would visit us 62:00every summer, and whenever he was in town on business, we would hang out. 63:00
Ren: A few years after Matt had graduated, I guess in 1993 you funded the Legacymural for the Black Cultural Center. Can you talk a little bit about that? And I want to show you a picture.
Matt Sr.: Yeah, I've got that picture. But I'll tell you, to me it's justsimple. He wrote me and told me what was going on and what it was about, and he said, "You know it would be nice if we could do that," I don't think I had an option to say no. Did you threaten me or what? [Laughs] So we just did it. But the interesting thing about that was, on the day of the ceremony I walked in and I saw a fellow sitting there who worked at Langley. He was an aircraft 64:00technician who, for a time, I saw every day. He was there because his brother was the guy who painted the mural. So there was a person there that I was very familiar with, but never knew that we had a connection of any kind until then.
Ren: Right. What do you remember about that day?
Matt Jr.: I was glad that it came together and because of what it was andbecause I had been amongst that group of students that was really pushing for even the creation of the Black Cultural Center, to have an opportunity to sort 65:00of leave a mark behind on it I was personally really interested in. But then because it was titled and about the legacy of not only black students at Virginia Tech, but black history. I was glad that we, my father and I got the opportunity to be the sponsors of that. It just seemed like synergy to me. It seemed like it was meant to be. It was just sort of a happy moment.
Ren: I love the picture. It's a good one. So VT Stories, a big portion of whatwe try to do is interview an alumni about advice or mentorship that they got as a student. If you could speak to any of the engineering majors who are 66:00interested in a career at NASA what kind of advice would you give them as you have when you came back to campus and talked to some of these prospective future NASA engineers or scientists or whatever? What kind of advice would you give them? What would you say to them?
Matt Sr.: Perhaps, I would say to them that no matter where you choose to go towork, what you got at Virginia Tech will serve you well. The Tech reputation is 67:00out there everywhere you go. The quality of the education is top notch. So, if you do what you're supposed to do, you will have a rewarding future.
Ren: Yeah. A couple of years ago I guess was a pretty important event in yourfamily when Matt came back to Virginia Tech as the associate VP for Alumni Relations. I think I asked Matt in his interview, what was that phone call like or the conversation when he told you he was coming back to Virginia Tech? How did that make you feel?
Matt Sr.: Well I was glad. I was overwhelmed with joy for him because he was68:00delirious. He was very very happy about that, and I was too, because he is probably the most die-hard Hokie I've ever known, this guy right here. He was destined to be there. That's where he should be.
Ren: Do you remember what that was like in telling him?
Matt Jr.: Not really. I mean I sensed that he was happy for me. I don't recallit being a long conversation. It might even been a text or an email because it was such a blur or whirlwind for me during those couple of days and hours around 69:00getting the opportunity to do this.
But what I do really reflect on now and I've been doing it a lot was kind ofwhat happened after that. And I may have said this in the earlier interview, but in the process or in the throes of doing all of these events that I get to do and traveling around the country and meeting Hokies of all ages all over the place, particularly when we have our Old Guard reunions, which is such an important group at Virginia Tech, the number of alums who graduated or attended in the 50s who once I say my name and tell my story, you know they come up to me and they ask me about my dad. They say that they remember him being here, remember having interactions with him. That's always interesting to me, and not only people who may have been in class or been in the Corps with him, but as he 70:00mentioned many of them ended up working at NASA. And so there have been people who I vaguely remember, but know that they were working there or I met them through like when they came to campus for NASA day. And then even at the last one there was a guy, and I won't remember his name, I'm sure my dad will, there was a guy who was a part of a carpool. There were about four people who carpooled from Virginia Beach to Langley every day or most days, and this guy was in it.
Matt Sr.: That was Bill Johnson.
Matt Jr.: Bill Johnson, that's right, and I would not have had any reason tothink about Bill Johnson since 1981 or something, '85 or whatever it is. And then Bill Johnson walks up and he says, "You may not remember me, but..." and tells that story. And then as soon as he said it I remembered it, and I remembered him and remembered his face and all that kind of stuff. But getting to hear those stories from some of his fellow colleagues and students has 71:00actually been pretty interesting to me. And after each one of them I always make sure I take a selfie with them or something, and then I call or email my dad pretty much immediately and say, "Okay, do you remember this person? Because they just walked up to me and told me this story about you." So just to know that those connections small world kind of stuff still exists. That's really been common, at least with the connection between where he started and where I am now that it all kind of comes together.
Ren: How proud are you of Matt?
Matt Sr.: I'm extremely proud. I brag about him all the time. I try not to beobnoxious, but I do.
It took me a while for it to sink in really. I carry around, there was a72:00newspaper article I guess in the Roanoke paper shortly after this happened and somebody sent it to me. It may have been you, may or may not. I keep a copy of that in my car, so whenever somebody starts bragging about their kids I can whip it out and, "Take a look at this." I do.
There's this one guy that I have known for a few years (a real rough around theedges kind of guy) who had a son to go to Tech. Before his son went to Tech, this guy asked me a lot about it before opening his wallet.
The son has graduated by now. I ran into the father recently. I asked him, "How73:00is your boy doing?" "He's doing all right. How's yours?" I said, "He's doing well. They just made him a vice president." He looked over at me and he could barely say anything. He slammed his beer down on the bar and exclaimed, "Vice president! Good Lord, How did he pull that off?" [Laughs]
Ren: Did you show him the newspaper article?
Matt Sr.: That particular day I didn't have it, but I think that's what promptedme to start carrying it around.
Ren: That's awesome.
Matt Sr.: But he's not somebody that I see often. It just happened that weshowed up at the same place at the same time.
Ren: I think you have a lot to be proud of. He's pretty awesome. A few lastquestions. Thank you for being so generous with your time on your birthday. This 74:00is kind of a broad question that we always like to ask people we interview, but what does Virginia Tech mean to you?
Matt Sr.: Ooh. I'm trying to think of an answer to that. That is a toughquestion, I'll try to answer it by saying what my experience at Tech gave to me. 75:00It taught me the importance of being a gentleman. It taught me the value of humility. It taught me how to deal with adversity. Finally, after Matt's early nonchalance regarding college, I am so very pleased that he chose to be a Hokie. 76:00
Ren: Was he having a little too much fun at Kempsville High School?
Matt Sr.: Yeah. See, he probably didn't tell you this. He was like the leader ofthe pack in high school, and he brought some of that with him to Blacksburg. You should know that. He had a bunch of rogues that he called best friends, but he was always the leader of the pack. How many of them were president of the student body?
Matt Jr.: Two of my roommates were student body presidents.
Matt Sr.: At least two. I thought there was...
Matt Jr.: Two were student body presidents and then a whole host of otherfriends who were student body presidents.
Matt Sr.: So yeah, he was having a good time in high school and I think thatpart came too easy to him or something.
Ren: I just had to get that in there and give him a hard time.77:00
Matt Sr.: His musicianship, did he ever talk about that?
Ren: No. What? No.
Matt Sr.: When he was in high school he was a big-time band participant --marching band, concert band, jazz band. You name band, he was involved. The reason I guess it sticks with me is because I was always being volunteered to get involved in projects in support of the band. Sell this, sell that, work the concession stand at football games, and on and on.
Ren: What was your instrument?
Matt Jr.: I got to play a lot of them. I started on the piano, which I never gotto know my grandfather, but knowing that he was a piano musician I thought that was kind of special. But then I played all the instruments, so started with the trumpet and kind of moved my way through a whole bunch of them, but yeah, I was in the band.
Ren: I was in the marching band. I was in the band as well. I played snare drum.78:00I didn't know that. That's pretty neat.
Matt Sr.: He caused his parents to buy a piano, and several other instrumentswhich they couldn't afford.
Matt Sr.: Musically, he showed promise; but like numerous other things where heshowed interest, his enthusiasam soon faded. I think he can still probably knock out a few notes on the piano, but I doubt if he can do anything at all with any of the other instruments. Right?
Matt Jr.: That is probably true, yes sir.
Ren: I was playing the piano in Holtzman the other day for Sandy and Sharon, andthen when I interviewed Bill, because Bill is a piano player and then he started playing. He is much better than I. That's pretty neat. 79:00
Matt Sr.: If you ever get an opportunity before he loses it totally ask him toplay that -- what's that Charlie Brown song that you always like to play? What's the name of that song?
Matt Jr.: Linus and Lucy, the theme.
Ren: The theme, right. The next time we're in Holtzman together I may put you onthe spot.
Matt Sr.: Do that. He talked me into doing this so I'll put him on the spot.
Ren: There you go. [Laughs]
Matt Sr.: Everybody you know Matt Winston is an accomplished player.
Ren: Is there anything you would like people to know about you that maybe you don't?
Matt Sr.: No. If they don't know it already they don't need to know it.
Ren: I could stay here all day and talk to both of you. I really appreciate you80:00again being so generous with your time. The last question is is there anything that I didn't ask you that you want to add or for either one of you that you would like to say? It's just an open-ended question. 82:0081:00
Matt Jr.: All of this, just hearing all this from my father it just kind ofreminds me that the whole thing is just a cosmic blessing. I have a grandmother who is proud of her son for coming to Virginia Tech and then that same son is proud of his son for coming to Virginia Tech. And the fact that I get to serve 83:00in this role where I feel like I help people reconnect and stay connected to their alma mater, you know I'm excited about it and I do it because of what I know he went through. And if everything that he and his classmates can go through they walk out of here and they say they still love Virginia Tech, then I'm like why shouldn't everybody love Virginia Tech? That's just how I feel in my heart. And so I think that's what my calling and my job is, and so it may sound like a movie script or something, but I couldn't be doing what I'm doing if my dad hadn't done what he did.
So I'm grateful for that. I'm grateful that it's kind of unrolled this way. I'malways saying go Hokies.
Ren: I want to thank the both of you again. Happy Birthday sir, again.
Matt Sr.: Thank you.
Ren: I would say Mr. Winston, Sr., Happy Birthday and class of 1959, thank you84:00so much for sitting down with VT Stories. I really appreciate it. Nice meeting you.
Matt Sr.: Thank you.