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Mr. A. Lee Smith was one of the first faculty members, teaching mathematics, drafting and engineering courses at ODU from 1931-1941. His interview discusses various courses he taught, his views of the administrators, his salary, his community involvement and his military service, which ended his tenure at ODU.


ORAL HISTORY INTERVIEW
WITH
MR. A. LEE SMITH

Interviewed by
Dr. James R. Sweeney
Old Dominion University
February 6, 1975

Listen to RealAudio Interview Listen to Interview

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

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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?

Sweeney: Yes.

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 in this?

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 Norfolk.

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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 program.

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

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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 on that?

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 students.

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 the

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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

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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 these

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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.

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