Sweeney: Today, I am speaking with Mr. A. Lee Smith who
was one of the first faculty members at the Norfolk Division of the College
of William and Mary. Mr. Smith, could you describe your background, that
is, your career before joining the faculty of the Norfolk Division of
the College of William and Mary?
Smith: I guess you would assume
that I will start with my graduating in Civil Engineering from the Virginia
Polytechnic Institute in Blacksburg. That was in 1929. Then I accepted
a position as a trainee for the Bethlehem Steel Company in Sparrow's
Point, uh Bethlehem, Pennsylvania where I went through a looper's course of
thirteen weeks before being assigned to one of the plants. I accepted
my position in there with the Sheet and Tin Division at Sparrow's Point,
Maryland. I remained there until the latter part of '30 at which time
I came back to Norfolk and accepted a job as surveyor with the U.S.
Army Engineers, which I held until the time that Dean Norris of VPI,
who was Dean of Engineering at that time, advised me about the opening
up at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute association with the William
and Mary College of Norfolk, and he offered me a position at that time.
Sweeney: I was wondering what courses you came to teach at the College?
Smith: In 1931, I entered the College
of William and Mary and VPI and along with Mr. Forest Harrington who
came in from Blacksburg at that time, and we were associated together
for that first year. I was teaching courses in mathematics and drafting
at that time, due to the fact we only had about 65 to 67 students
in engineering, and that was ample number
of students at that time.
Sweeney: I am interested in your recollections of the students and
faculty with whom you worked in the early days. Do any specific individuals
stand out in your mind?
Smith: Well, that's going back right
far. Now when you say the earlier days, do you mean the earlier days
from the beginning to the end?
Smith: Well, I was very closely
associated with Mr. Timmerman who was Director at that time. Of course,
Forest and I were associated with the various members of the faculty
and the specific students. At the present time, I cannot recall. The
first director we had there at the College was Mr. Timmerman who later
left and was replaced by Dr. Gwaltney. Dr. Gwaltney was, as well as I
can recall, head of the English Department at the College of William
and Mary who later went to ... to be the President of Converse
College in South Carolina. The next director was Dr. William Hodges
who came in from William and Mary and as I can recall, I think he was
one of the best directors we had. As a matter of fact, I think he did
more for the College than anyone else as to bring it up to the state
before it was, well let's say as long as he was there.
Sweeney: The next question, in December, 1932, you joined with the
YMCA effort to collect food for needy families. Did you collect this food
from the college community? And I was wondering, how successful you were
Smith: Well, the students out there--well,
let's put it this way, at that time I was vice-president of the Junior
Board at YMCA and there was emphasis placed upon the feeding of new
families. This was however not my idea of community work. It was brought
about by a group of students whom I was very happy to know about who
decided that what can we do, as it was stated, to help this community.
The students themselves, and of course I sponsored the program being
a part of the Junior Board, of allowing them to gather what foods they
wished to bring. All of this was brought together, placed into a car
then, and sent down to the YMCA where they distributed the food. I do
not recollect at this present time just how much it amounted to, but
I would estimate somewhere in the vicinity of roughly speaking about
40 baskets for the needy. It was however distributed by the YMCA of
Sweeney: You served for a time as advisor to the student
newspaper, The High Hat. I wonder to what extent did you supervise
the operation of the paper?
Smith: I think, if I am not mistaken
it was Dean Hodges who asked me would I serve as advisor to the student
paper and to as much as possible bring it out of debt. My supervision
was primarily with the financing of the newspaper, and the editorials
were sometimes supervised by, at my request, by Ernest Gray who was professor
of English and head of the English Department.
Sweeney: In 1936, you served as chairman of the Americanism Committee
of the Junior Chamber of Commerce and spoke over radio station WTAR to
promote good citizenship. Two questions about this, could you give me
any more information on this activity and did Norfolk Division students
become involved with the Chamber's program?
Smith: At that time, as vice-president
of the Junior Chamber of Commerce and Chairman of the Americanism Committee,
the Junior Chamber was offering at that time a certain tokens and rewards
for people who would be willing to contribute to the Americanism Committee.
Of course, knowing quite a number of students in the Norfolk Division,
I contacted these students and they prepared such papers. And my recollection
is that about 12 programs were given over WTAR Norfolk by members of
the student body of the Division which was in my opinion a very successful
Sweeney: I have read that you attended a mathematics society meeting
in 1939 and that you read a paper at a meeting of the Virginia Academy
of Science. Could you tell me about this experience and what other means
you used to keep abreast of the latest developments in your discipline?
Smith: As a member of the Virginia
Academy of Science and the American Mathematical Association, I presented
three papers before the Virginia Academy of Science on Operation Calculus.
Sweeney: In the Annals of the College, compiled by Dr. Robert
C. McClelland, it was reported that your salary for 1937-1938 would be
$1500. Even in the 1930's this seems to have been a very low salary. Did
you engage in any other employment to supplement your teaching salary?
Smith: Yes, in those days it was
a pretty low salary. As a matter of fact, after I accepted the job for
I think it was $125 a month from the start, it was a 15% cut the first
year and I think it was a 10% cut the second year. To augment my meager
salary, it was necessary for me to teach night classes. I was attached
to a certain real estate office in town where I helped and sold
real estate and designed certain houses
that are here at the present time in Norfolk. Now that's up to 1900
to somewhere around '39 I guess we were talking about. Is that enough
Sweeney: I am very much interested in your work in the defense training
courses at the college. In 1940 you became civil pilot training coordinator.
Was there a flying club at the college prior to this time?
Smith: For certain students who
were interested in aviation asked me at that time would I instruct them
in navigations and meteorology. They wanted to start an aeronautics
club at that time. I sponsored this flying group and some of them were
part-time, took part-time training, flight training, out at the airport.
However, it was organized and through this organization it was developed
the Civilian Pilot Training Program which I directed. We had somewhere
around about 20 to 30 students about each term. Most of them in the
basic training which was done at the airport under two pilots, one of
them by the name of Jones and I can't recollect the other name at the
present time. This was a extra-curricular activity as far as I was concerned
and of course, I set up training program as far as the navigation, meteorology
and various other courses that they needed. After due course of time
the secondary training was established and there were quite a number
of students in that activity also. Many of the boys were brought into
the Air Force or the Navy Air Force during the time that this training
was going on and of course after their completion.
Sweeney: Did you ever do any flying yourself?
Smith: Yes, I did. As a matter of
fact, the representative from the Air Force requested that I or suggested
that if I wish to go ahead and take the training myself. Which I did
and came out as a private pilot afterwards. I might add also that there
were two women in our courses which the director advised and I would
say that they turn out to be wonderful students, likewise.
Sweeney: Now then, could you--are there any other recollections that
you might have of Dean Hodges as the college chief administrative officer?
Of course, he got into some difficulties in the early 1940's about the
Smith: I don't exactly know what
you mean in difficulties cause I'm not familiar with things of that
nature but by the same token I think Dr. Hodges without a doubt was
one of the finest directors we've had. The students loved him and I
had the good fortune of working with him through all this time with
Foreman Field, with the High Hat, with
many other... organizations, of course the Civilian Pilot Training and
then with the ESMDT program which was the Engineering Science Defense
Training program, I worked with him on that. As a matter of fact, David
Prosser who was head of the Economics Division and I organized and ran
that organization for quite a while. Of course, when I went into the
service, I didn't have contact with him much later after that and until
I saw him later on which I will take up later.
Sweeney: As the first ten years at the College came to a close were
you satisfied with your work at the College? Did you feel that the College
was progressing and growing satisfactorily?
Smith: Yes, I did. As a matter of
fact the students over at the Norfolk Division as far as I was concerned
did exceptionally well through their associations and continuance of
their education. Quite a number of our students took special courses
in mathematics out there and I know that we averaged approximately one
and a half students per year to go into the Webb Institute of Naval
Architecture, the United States Army, West Point, as well as the US
Naval Academy, at Annapolis and several other of the outstanding colleges.
Sweeney: Then you went into the military service, I wonder if you
could give me some information on your activities in the military service.
Smith: Well, of course, after I
finished my undergraduate work at VPI. I accepted a position, as a matter
of fact, it was 2nd lieutenant in the United States Army Reserve which
I continued through a number of years. And at one time later on during
a operation the Navy put in a course in cryptography at the Norfolk
Division. Now, I worked on this very hard all the way through to it's
completion. As a matter of fact, while doing my work--graduate work,
at Duke University in the three summers '36, '37, and '38 obtaining
a masters degree in mathematics. I was still working on that program,
I say the program of cryptography. When I returned to the college at
that time or shortly thereafter several of the professors, I being one
of them, were offered a position or commission in the United States
Navy. I did not care to start off with it but later on I decided I would
go into the Navy, transferring from the Army to the Navy. I was accepted
into the Navy as a Senior Lieutenant in 1943. I was assigned to the
anti-warfare college in Boston. Primarily, in connection with the search
for submarines and destruction thereof. After my completion in Boston,
I was returned--I was sent to Key West where I took a six weeks surface
training course in antisubmarine warfare.
On returning to Boston I was assigned to the Con-cab Sea Frontier on
a staff in charge of antisubmarine warfare which I retained until the
war was practically over and reassigned to antisubmarine warfare unit
at Little Creek. Upon the signing of the armistice I was sent to the
Educational Training Division at Camp Shelton, this was at Little Creek
and before leaving there I was co-author of the...co-author of the set-up
we had at Little Creek during the period which the Navy separation center
was involved. At that time I was a Lieutenant Commander and continued
into the service in the Reserve and obtaining finally a full Commander
I think about around 1950.
Sweeney: Why did you not return to teaching at the Norfolk Division
after your military service and did you ever regret leaving teaching.
Smith: As a matter of fact, I formally
stated that the low salary at that time and upon my completion of the
US Service I was undecided just about what I wanted to do. And there
was a job offered to me by the Veteran's Administration as Senior Professional
and Institutional Training Officer for the State of Virginia which paid
almost twice as much as I was getting at the Old Dominion. This job
I kept for about --a little over a year. At which time, I visited all
the colleges and universities in the state of Virginia, and one of my
first jobs was to obtain as much space in the schools as possible. For
the incoming students who were getting out called the EGI's let me say.
So, my boss and I, Mr. Roger E. Morrison, head of the Veteran's Administration
in Roanoke, he and I setup a program whereby we would have all of the
dean's or president's of the colleges in the state of Virginia meet
in the Senate Hall at Richmond and discuss what was going on about how
we were going to place these students. Anyhow, before the conference
was over we obtained ample room for 15% additional including housing,
instructors and everything for the incoming GI's. I would say that the
GI's during the training at that time were at least one grade ahead
of any of the former students that attend these colleges according to
the university president's and so forth.
Sweeney: Did you ever miss the classrooms? Miss teaching and meeting
with the students?
Smith: Yes, I did. I missed it a
great deal and one of the ideas of taking this job at the--with the
Veteran's Administration as Senior training officer in charge of the
professional and institutional training was because I wanted to meet
other deans and other people, presidents
and deans and so forth of these other colleges. At which time I was
about ready to go into another school but when this other job came up
that I started back in 1960...1946 with the Norfolk Dredging Company.
It gave me an idea that I would much prefer going back into engineering
from the applied standpoint than teaching.
Sweeney: Then did you spent the rest of your career working for the
Norfolk Dredging Company?
Smith: Yea, I started with the Norfolk
Dredging Company in 1946 as chief engineer. I was later promoted to
second vice president and also second vice president at that same time
of the Atlantic Contracting Corperation, two different allied organizations.
And I was later promoted to vice president and complete charge of engineering
which I held in both companies until my heart failure back in 1967.
I tried to pull through with it but I just couldn't do it.
Sweeney: Well, thank you very much.