Longtime Virginia Tech Foundation workhorse Raymond Smoot Jr. will be honored on June 5 with the dedication of Smoot Drive in the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center.
Smoot Drive was renamed after the reconfiguration of the Southgate entrance to campus, which was reworked from a stoplight intersection with U.S. 460 into a full exit and entrance, with access both to the Corporate Research Center and to the main campus.
The dedication of Smoot Drive will take place at 1:45 p.m. on June 5 at the road’s intersection with Research Center Drive in the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center.
Over the course of Smoot’s 35 years with the Virginia Tech Foundation, the university grew significantly in size, scope, and influence. When Smoot was first hired as a part-time employee by the Virginia Tech Foundation in 1977, the endowment stood at about $4 million and total assets were about $11 million. When he retired in 2012, the foundation was a solid and expansive enterprise, with an endowment of nearly $600 million and assets valued at more than $1.21 billion.
No single person is solely responsible for the university’s major capital projects, but Smoot was the driving force behind an amazing number of them during his more-than-four-decade career at the foundation. Smoot built a reputation as the fix-it executive at Virginia Tech.
“He’s a master operator who knows how not only to cut a deal but to implement a deal,” said Virginia Tech Foundation CEO John Dooley. “Ray has been one of the primary architects and contributors to allow us to be in the station we’re in.”
More recently, Smoot’s dual roles at the Virginia Tech Foundation and as a board member at Carilion Clinic put him in position to play a key role in the partnership that led to the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine and Research Institute.
“Ray has been a part of the very fabric of Virginia Tech for more than 50 years, and his leadership to Carilion and many other organizations puts a fine point on his broad and deep commitment to our region,” said Carilion President and CEO Nancy Agee. “He asks the hardest questions and clearly does his homework, but there’s no one who’s more supportive. He’s humble and just wants what’s best. My colleagues and I at Carilion Clinic have benefited tremendously from his wisdom and experience. Naming a street after him is a perfect tribute.”
Smoot joins Frank Beamer as the second member of the Class of 1969 to have a street on campus named for him.
Smoot majored in English and obtained his master’s degree in education. He went on to earn a Ph.D. from Ohio State University, which marked the only time he left Virginia Tech for any length of time.
Smoot was one of the key players in the creation of the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center (VTCRC). He remembered regularly visiting the property’s previous owner, who used it to run cattle, and talking about its potential for a research park.
“From his presence at the conception of the VTCRC to his leadership as the chairman of the board, Dr. Smoot has provided vision and guidance to the success of the research park,” said Joe Meredith, president and CEO of the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center. “In the early years, he created a funding model that enabled the VTCRC to be positioned for long term success. The expansion of the research park into Phase II was possible because of his commitment to our growth and his ability to work with the leadership of Virginia Tech.”
The CRC was founded in 1985, but it took a much different path than Smoot had anticipated. Originally, the foundation had envisioned the park as a place where major corporations with research at Virginia Tech would locate.
“That has not happened to a significant extent,” Smoot said. “What we failed to anticipate was what has really accounted for most of the success of the Corporate Research Center, which is the creation of small companies utilizing technology spinning out of research. We now have more than 3,000 people working at the CRC, which has a major financial impact on the region, and we obtained another 80 acres from the university so we’d have some growth potential.”
Always attentive to the larger picture, Smoot and others realized that merely providing office space would not be enough to ensure the success of the innovative, early-stage firms that the center attracted, so the Virginia Tech Foundation created regional venture funds. The comprehensive approach to economic development demonstrated by the Corporate Research Center is a powerful, 21st-century example of how the land-grant university’s mission has evolved. Teaching and research may push the boundaries of knowledge, but it takes investments, facilities, and talented people to make it possible for a university to attract private sector jobs, bring discoveries to market, and truly address the problems of modern society.
“Ray Smoot has been center of the Corporate Research Center since its inception and has been the one person who has been most central to the interface between the university, the Virginia Tech Foundation, and the Virginia Tech Corporate Research,” said Minnis Ridenour, former executive vice president and chief operating officer of Virginia Tech, who worked closely with Smoot. “The Corporate Research Center would not be the entity it is today without the leadership Ray gave on behalf of the university and the Virginia Tech Foundation to ensure the success for the Corporate Research Center. I can think of no other person more deserving than Ray to be recognized for the success of the CRC.”
In the early 1980s, Smoot played a key role in the transfer of public radio station WVTF from Virginia Western Community College to Virginia Tech. The transfer marked Tech’s first substantive engagement in Roanoke. If WVTF was a foot in the door, then Smoot pushed that door open wide by guiding Virginia Tech through an extensive process to partner with the city of Roanoke to restore the Hotel Roanoke and build a new, adjoining conference center. Virginia Tech’s intervention saved an icon of downtown Roanoke at a pivotal moment in the city’s history, paving the way for the downtown reinvention that has transformed the Star City over the past decade.
Smoot again played dealmaker in guiding the vision developed by the late Virginia Tech President Emeritus Charles Steger and the late Ed Murphy, former CEO of Carilion Clinic, to establish a medical school and affiliated research center in Roanoke. As an administrator with the Virginia Tech Foundation and board member at Carilion, Smoot bridged the gap between the two entities and therefore played a crucial role in implementing that vision into the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine and Research Institute, which has literally changed the Roanoke skyline.
“There’s now a recognition that Virginia Tech can gather and garner resources by acting regionally and statewide that it could never get it if it was just viewed as a university up in Blacksburg,” Smoot said. “Having a statewide presence helps to build resources you’d never be able to build if it were just viewed as a local or regional institution.”
Smoot’s legacy extends well beyond the Star City. After controversy struck the athletic department in the mid-1980s, Smoot became interim athletic director and made key hires that charged the course for athletics’ future success.
Though much of his legacy involved projects at satellite facilities, Smoot planned for the future and pushed for the acquisition of hundreds of acres adjoining the university. Small purchases were followed by larger ones, culminating in the combined gift and purchase of the Heth farm west of the U.S. 460 bypass in July 2001. With so many acres on which to expand, the university’s orderly growth will be possible for generations.
Smoot was also important in bolstering Virginia Tech’s presence in Northern Virginia. Working with now retired Virginia Tech National Capital Region Operations Vice President Jim Bohland, Smoot negotiated a complex deal with a local developer. They not only completed the Virginia Tech Research Center – Arlington, but did it for $13.4 million less than budgeted. Today, the center is a powerful symbol of the important role Virginia Tech plays throughout the commonwealth.
Before he passed away on May 6, 2018, President Emeritus Charles W. Steger was asked to comment on this story. Like Smoot, Steger was part of Virginia Tech’s illustrious class of 1969.
“Ray Smoot is an extraordinary individual whose dedication and commitment to the university are unsurpassed" Steger said. "He has been a key player in virtually every innovative activity at the university in the past several decades. He is a skilled administrator, a person of integrity, and a loyal alum.”
Some of Smoot’s other accomplishments include
- The complicated acquisition of a centuries-old property in Switzerland to support Virginia Tech’s education-abroad programs.
- Development of University Mall with alumni Bill Ellenbogen and Bill Sterrett.
- Oversight of the Smith’s Landing project on foundation property in conjunction with alumnus Bruce Smith.
- The gift/purchase of the golf course now known as the Pete Dye River Course of Virginia Tech.
- Creation of the SEED and BASIS funds that enable students to engage in real-life stock or bond trading.
- The Turner Street mixed-use project houses important university administrative offices and the parking garage to support the Moss Center for the Arts.
— Written by Mason Adams