Former Virginia Tech President Hahn was an education giant

Published 10:49 am Friday, June 10, 2016

Former Virginia Tech President T. Marshall Hahn’s death in Blacksburg on May 29 went relatively unnoticed in Eastern Virginia. This is sad because Dr. Hahn’s leadership touched the lives of so many people not only in Virginia, but across the United States and the world.

Dr. Hahn’s presidency at Virginia Tech was a period of enormous growth and development. He was appointed president in 1962 at the age of 35 and served 12 years in that capacity. During his tenure student enrollment increased from 6,000 to well over 17,000 students. A total of 25 buildings were added, as well as Cassell Coliseum and Lane Stadium. Thirty new undergraduate programs and 20 new graduate programs were approved during his tenure. Dr. Hahn laid the groundwork for the Veterinary School which would come after his departure.

In my mind there were two significant events that helped to define his legacy. The first occurred in 1970 when several students took control of Williams Hall, a math and language arts building. Dr. Hahn promptly called in the Virginia State Police, had the students removed and most were expelled.

The second, and in my opinion most significant, occurred in 1964 when he convinced the university governing body to drop the requirement for entering freshmen to serve in the Corps of Cadets for their first two years. In Hahn’s first year the 6,000 students were mostly male except for approximately 400 females, and the remaining students were split almost equally between cadets and civilians. On the Tech campus, civilians were often affectionally referred to as “grubs” and cadets were “gadgets.” This was a gutsy call on Hahn’s part, and he later admitted it was the deciding factor for Tech’s phenomenal growth and development. Today the Corps of Cadets thrives and continues to be a nationally recognized source of outstanding officers for the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines.

Hahn resigned from his presidency in 1974 to join Georgia Pacific and served as its Chief Operating Officer from 1983-93. During his tenure GP’s sales doubled and was named forestry and paper making industry CEO of the Year six times.

After his retirement he returned to Blacksburg and continued to work on behalf of Virginia Tech. His personal financial contributions were significant and four campus buildings have the Hahn name.

Speaking in 1991 as chairman of the Tech governing board, Franklin native Cliff Cutchins stated that “during his tenure and under his leadership, massive changes took place that set the stage for the national and international recognition that now accrues to this university.” Current Tech President Timothy Sands stated that “I can think of no single person who has done as much for this university.”

On a personal note, I had the pleasure of working directly with President Hahn on several projects during the 1971-74 period. He was demanding, yet fair. He wanted your best effort, and he always got it because his staff had so much love and respect for him. His memory was legendary, and he never forgot a face or a name. One of my most treasured possessions is a letter I received from him several years ago signed simply “Go Hokies! … Marshall.”

ROBERT N. “BOB” HOLT a Franklin native, is a retired professor of business management and real estate at Southwestern Community College in Sylva, N.C. He holds bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral studies degrees from Virginia Tech, and was a member of the university’s Corps of Cadets. His e-mail address is