In memoriam: Virginia Tech President Emeritus Paul Torgersen
April 1, 2015
Editor's Note: This story was updated to include details of a memorial service planned for Paul Torgersen on April 7.
BLACKSBURG, Va., March 30, 2015 – Paul Torgersen, Virginia Tech’s president from 1994-2000 and a member of its faculty since 1967, died Sunday, March 29, at age 83.
"As a professor, a dean, and a president, Paul Torgersen has made a tremendous impact upon our institution," Virginia Tech President Timothy D. Sands said. "We are deeply saddened to lose him, but will always remain inspired by his legacy."
The Virginia flag outside the university’s main administrative building, Burruss Hall, was lowered to half-mast in memory of Torgersen. The university’s governing Board of Visitors observed a moment of silence in his honor during its March 30 meeting.
A memorial service for Torgersen will be held at noon on Tuesday, April 7, at Saint Mary's Catholic Church, 1205 Old Mill Road (off Prices Fork Road), in Blacksburg. The Rev. Scott West and the Rev. Samantha Torgersen McElwee will officiate. A reception will follow.
Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe said Torgersen was “a dedicated educator and public servant who helped make Virginia Tech the world-class institution it is today. He will be dearly missed, particularly by the Virginians whose lives are better because of his outstanding service.”
Virginia Tech made major headway in its national profile in academics and in athletics during Torgersen’s presidency. During that time, the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine received full accreditation and U.S. News & World Report ranked the engineering and business colleges among the nation’s top 50. During Torgersen's time as dean of the College of Engineering, it emerged from the bottom 10 percent in rankings for research to join the top 10 percent.
Torgersen’s tenure as president saw a dramatic increase in the effectiveness of fundraising for the university, including $337 million raised in The Campaign for Virginia Tech: Making a World of Difference. In addition, the university’s endowment nearly doubled.
Charles W. Steger served as vice president for development and university relations under Torgersen, later succeeding him as president.
"I have worked closely with Paul Torgersen since 1980, when we were both deans," said Steger, who before becoming a vice president was dean of the College of Architecture and Urban Studies. "During this period I came to appreciate his deep love for Virginia Tech and his tireless dedication to advancing the university. He was a hard-driving, charismatic leader who came to be admired by everyone who knew him. I was fortunate to have him as a friend. We all feel a sense of great loss."
Torgersen's presidency saw milestones in the representation of women and minorities in senior leadership posts at Virginia Tech. For the first time, the university hired a woman as senior vice president and provost and another woman as dean of the College of Architecture and Urban Studies. A woman also was tapped to head the newly merged College of Human Resources and Education. Torgersen created a position of vice president for multicultural affairs, for which he hired the university’s first black vice president.
Through athletic excellence, including multiple post-season bowl victories in football—and a loss in the 2000 national football championship game—Virginia Tech’s name also became more widely known nationwide.
"He was a tremendous leader," Head Football Coach Frank Beamer said. "He was also a great friend and supporter of our athletics department."
Virginia Tech's football team annually awards the Paul E. Torgersen Award to the individual who best exemplifies commitment, hard work and great effort every day.
Torgersen also is the namesake of two prominent structures on campus, Torgersen Hall and the Torgersen Bridge that spans the Alumni Mall.
In remarks from December 1993, shortly before Torgersen became president, he referred to himself as "a professor who is also serving as president."
Despite serving in senior leadership posts for the bulk of his professional career, Torgersen remained a dedicated teacher. For 58 years, starting before he arrived at Virginia Tech and continuing until spring 2014, he taught at least one course each year.
Torgersen’s deep rapport with students was illustrated by their successful effort to raise enough money to establish a scholarship in his name while he was dean of the engineering college.
Along with his wife, Dorothea, who died in September 2014, Torgersen was an extremely generous donor to the university himself. The couple were members of the university’s Ut Prosim Society of donors.
A native of New Jersey, Torgersen earned his bachelor’s in industrial engineering from Lehigh University in 1953, followed by a master’s in 1956 and a Ph.D. in 1959, both from Ohio State University. He was an assistant professor and later an associate professor at Oklahoma State University from 1959 until 1966.
Torgersen joined Virginia Tech’s faculty as a professor and head of the Department of Industrial Engineering and Operations Research in January 1967. From 1970-1990, he served as dean of the College of Engineering
Among Torgersen’s numerous professional accomplishments were appointment to the National Academy of Engineering and the National Research Council. He authored several books and served on the editorial boards of the Journal of Engineering Education, the Journal of Industrial Engineering, and AIIE Transactions. He also served on the Virginia Governor’s Task Force on Science and Technology. Torgersen received the 1992 Virginia Engineering Educator of the Year Award and was a Fellow in the Institute of Industrial Engineers and the American Society for Engineering Education.
During his long career in senior leadership at Virginia Tech, Torgersen held multiple posts, sometimes at the same time. These include serving as president of the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center and as interim vice president for development and university relations. He also served as interim president of Virginia Tech after William Lavery stepped down in 1987 and prior to James McComas' arrival in 1988.
W.S. "Pete" White Jr. was rector of the Board of Visitors while Torgersen served as interim president and remained close to him long afterward.
"Paul was a great asset to Virginia Tech the whole period he was there, and he will be missed for a long time," White said. "He was a fine person, and a wonderful person to have as a friend."
McCoy Funeral Home in Blacksburg is handling arrangements.
Dedicated to its motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), Virginia Tech takes a hands-on, engaging approach to education, preparing scholars to be leaders in their fields and communities. As the commonwealth’s most comprehensive university and its leading research institution, Virginia Tech offers 240 undergraduate and graduate degree programs to more than 31,000 students and manages a research portfolio of $513 million. The university fulfills its land-grant mission of transforming knowledge to practice through technological leadership and by fueling economic growth and job creation locally, regionally, and across Virginia.