Two alumni of the Virginia Tech Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Richard T. Crowder of the Class of 1960 and Maj. Gen. Thomas "Tommy" Thompson of the Class of 1956, received the 2019  Corps of Cadets’ Distinguished Alumni Award.

Created in 2018, the Distinguished Alumni Award formalizes the corps’ long tradition of honoring the men and women who graduated from its ranks and are inspiration and mentors to current cadets.

“It’s an incredible honor to have two alumni from the department be recognized for this award,” said Matt Holt, professor and department head. “We deeply appreciate the life and leadership skills the Corps of Cadets provides its members — we have observed the practical implications of this training repeatedly in our alumni who were members of the corps, with Ambassador Crowder and Major General Thompson being among the most visible examples.”

Crowder, who now holds the Virginia Tech Thornhill Professor of Agricultural Trade, has a five-decade career working as a public servant, a corporate decision-maker, and a mentor to Virginia Tech students.

He held executive roles within the food industry, and he served in government as undersecretary for international affairs and commodity programs for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, as U.S. chief agricultural negotiator, and as a senior advisor to the U.S. trade representative.

“I’m honored to receive this award,” said Crowder. “It’s a significant recognition by an organization that I have a great attachment to, which started when I first arrived at Virginia Tech as an undisciplined young man and has continued throughout my career.”

After over 40 years of service to agriculture in the private sector and government, Crowder joined Virginia Tech’s faculty in 2008 and has become a highly respected professor among students and faculty alike, teaching negotiations and agricultural trade to undergraduates and helping to create and facilitate the annual Virginia Governor’s Conference on Agricultural Trade. His unique career, fearless leadership, humble demeanor, and honorable service earned him the nomination as a distinguished alumnus of the corps.

Thompson has lived a lifetime of service to his country and community. He served in the U.S. Army for more than 36 years in active duty positions in the United States and in South Korea, followed by leadership positions in the Army National Guard.

“The corps taught me leadership and the importance of looking out for the people that you work with,” said Thompson. “I was able to look after my people in the Army, the Guard, and in my business now.”

As a Realtor, he became chief executive officer of his company, Harrison & Lear Inc. Realtors, and built it into one of the bulwarks of the Tidewater, Virginia, area. 

Thompson was the regimental commander, the highest rank a cadet can achieve, during his senior year. He has remained active with the corps since then. Among his contributions to the university, he led the Class of 1956 to provide the Addison Caldwell statue as its 50th reunion gift.

His sense of duty and honor and his reflection of the corps’ Ut Prosim spirit led to his nomination as a distinguished alumnus of the corps.

Nominations for Corps Distinguished Alumni can be made by corps alumni to honor living alumni who were enrolled in the corps for a minimum of two years (four semesters or six quarters). Nominations are due each year in early spring.

Written by Jillian Broadwell