President Robert R. Lindgren and George B. Oliver '49
The Randolph-Macon College community is mourning the loss of a beloved member of its family, History Professor Emeritus George Brown Oliver ’49, who died February 13, 2014.
“George Brown Oliver was a Randolph-Macon giant, affecting, as one of his former students told me upon hearing this sad news, ‘countless lives for the better,’” says R-MC President Robert R. Lindgren. “He had a healthy skepticism of R-MC presidents—he knew five of us well—but was always extraordinarily positive in his advice for and devotion to the college.”
R-MC Provost William T. Franz echoed Lindgren’s sentiments. “George Oliver was a faculty member who stood for excellence throughout his long career in the Department of History. His dynamic lectures made history come alive for generations of students, and his expectations of them were legendary. No lesser were his expectations of deans and presidents, whom he has needled, prodded, cajoled, and otherwise poked for over 50 years.”
Music Professor Chris Ryder and Oliver sang in a choir at Trinity Episcopal Church in Fredericksburg, Virginia for many years. “After I started at R-MC, he was very supportive, especially of the choir," says Ryder. "In 2010, he was Master of Ceremonies for our Choir/Glee Club Reunion. This was especially fitting because he was the Glee Club accompanist while he was a student at R-MC. After I started teaching at R-MC, he greeted me with ‘Hello, Professor’ every time I saw him. His support of the arts at R-MC was extraordinary, and he will be sorely missed.”
“After his wife and daughters, the love of George Oliver’s life was Randolph-Macon,” says History Professor Emeritus Thomas Porter. “George was more than just an employee; the college was part of his life and his vocation was teacher. He tried to do more as a historian than profess a discipline; he was a mentor both to his students and colleagues, and a positive voice of criticism and encouragement to the administration. George encouraged everyone to give their best for the good of the college, as he himself did.”
History Professor Emeritus James Scanlon says, “George Oliver was a man of unparalleled devotion to his alma mater, a man dedicated to bringing out the best in his students, and a kind and wise colleague. His election to many, many important committees (which he usually chaired) signals the high regard in which we held him. Although he spent many long days and evenings at the college, no one who knew him could doubt his intense love of his family as well. Recognition in the forms of teaching awards and an honorary doctorate barely do justice to his life’s work.”
George Brown OliverOliver came to Randolph-Macon as a student in 1943. Like so many of his generation, his studies were interrupted by World War II, but he returned to Randolph-Macon to earn a degree in history in 1949. He earned his master’s degree at Duke University in 1950—the same year he began his distinguished career at R-MC. He also earned his Ph.D. from Duke University.
Oliver both held the Isaac N. Vaughan Professorship of History at R-MC and chaired the History Department from 1961 until his 1992 retirement. In addition, Oliver chaired the Curriculum Committee, the Committee on Faculty, the Scholarship Committee, the ACASS Committee, and the Chapel Committee, as well as the R-MC Sesquicentennial Committee, which planned and coordinated the college’s celebration of its 150th anniversary in 1980. After retiring, Oliver continued to serve the college for two years as the coordinator of retirement benefits.
Oliver received many awards from R-MC: the Society of Alumni Distinguished Service Award (1984), the Society of Alumni Distinguished Service Faculty Award (1992), an honorary degree Doctor of Humane Letters (1994), the Noë-Kilgore Award (2004), the Thomas Branch Award for Excellence in Teaching, and the Samuel Nelson Gray Distinguished Professor Award. In addition, he served for many years as secretary of the Zeta chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, was a member of Omicron Delta Kappa and served as president of The Boydton Society (2001-2002). In 2002 the George B. Oliver ’49 - Lambda Chi Alpha Scholarship was established to honor Oliver’s many years of devotion to the fraternity.
Oliver was involved in many civic and academic organizations throughout his career including Ashland Lions Club, Friends of Rappahannock Library, Fredericksburg Host Lions Club, Virginia Humanities Conference, American Historical Association, Southern Historical Association, American Studies Association, Society for the History of the Early Republic, Virginia Society of History Teachers, Organization of American Historians and the American Association of University Professors. Oliver also served on various committees in the Diocese of Virginia, including the Executive Committee, the Commission on Ministry and the Commission on Christian Education in the Episcopal Church.
The Oliver Room in the Werner Pavilion at McGraw-Page Library is named in his honor. With Oliver in attendance at the 2012 dedication of the Werner Pavilion, Lindgren told guests, “The classroom in this building is named, appropriately, after one of Randolph-Macon’s most beloved faculty members.” The naming was made possible through an estate gift of the late Robert T. Hawkes Jr. ’64, who specifically requested that the space be named for his devoted mentor.
Oliver is survived by his daughters, Mary Fromyer and Byrd Wood. A funeral service will be held at 2:00 p.m. on Wednesday, February 19 at Trinity Episcopal Church, 825 College Avenue, Fredericksburg, Virginia 22401 (540-373-2996). In lieu of flowers, the family has suggested that memorial gifts may be made to “Randolph-Macon College” in care of the Advancement Office, P.O. Box 5005, Ashland, Virginia 23005.