As a Virginia Tech alumnus, parent, employee, and loyal sports fan, James “Tom” Brown, the university's dean of students, truly exemplifies what it means to be a Hokie.
“Tom doesn’t just sit at the top of the organization chart and delegate tasks,” said Patty Perillo, vice president of student affairs. “He is hands-on and engaged with the work related to student advocacy and campus emergency response programs for students. He is perpetually on-call and a first-responder in every sense of the word.”
In recognition of his outstanding service, Brown is one of 21 Virginia Tech employees nominated to represent the university in the statewide Governor’s Award program. He was nominated in the agency star category. The winners were announced in May.
A member of the Virginia Tech Class of 1975, Brown earned his undergraduate degree in horticulture before securing a master’s in education from the University of Virginia. He returned to serve Virginia Tech as an employee for most of his career.
Brown began as an Extension agent, working with the 4-H program in Albemarle County before returning to Blacksburg in 1985 to serve in Extension administration. Brown then transferred to the Virginia Tech Alumni Association, providing leadership to student programs, alumni chapter support, and class reunion events. He joined the Division of Student Affairs and the Dean of Students Office in 1994. As he became assistant dean and associate dean, Brown oversaw the orientation programs, parent programming, sexual assault education, multicultural programs, advising student organizations, and has represented the division on countless university committees.
A Hokie for more than 40 years, Brown fully understands and embraces Virginia Tech’s motto Ut Prosim (That I May Serve) and demonstrates it daily.
As dean of students, Brown is responsible for providing leadership to the areas on campus that provide most of Virginia Tech’s advocacy work, including the Dean of Students Office, the Intercultural Engagement Center, and the Cranwell International Center. He also serves on the Academic Dean’s Roundtable, as a liaison to campus ministries, as the chair for the Division of Student Affairs Care Team, and as a member of the university’s Threat Assessment Team.
In addition to his many formal responsibilities, Brown also faces difficult and heartbreaking tasks in the face of disaster. His compassionate spirit, tenacity, and resilience have shone through during the many public and private tragedies that the Virginia Tech community and its students have faced in the past 20 years.
On April 16, 2007, even though he was not yet the dean of students, Brown was a safe and dependable outlet for struggling students and families.
In the days following April 16, Brown led the Dean of Students Office team as staff members established a command center. He also formed relationships with the victims’ families and helped plan funeral logistics, returned on-campus possessions of the victims, and helped family members cope with their loss.
“After witnessing the heartache, pain, and grief that he has, he always powers on,” Perillo said. “Injury, loss, and death are his daily work. Whether it’s nationally covered news, the enduring heartbreak of one family, or a rough patch for a student on any given day, Tom is in it, and his resiliency is beyond admirable.”
Brown has reached out in compassion and sensitivity to families that have suffered the loss of their child from accidents. He has assisted students who need support after family heartbreak and loss. He even organized a graduation ceremony for a student who was battling cancer and would not live to see graduation day.
“Tom Brown is frank and unapologetic in his care for students and their families,” said Perillo. “He does not separate his work from his life, offering total availability and selflessness. He has a sense of humor that can help you get through the worst of times, yet he displays discretion and sensitivity in every necessary situation.”
Written by Mackenzie Nicely