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President's Corner: November 2018

Our recent Founders' Day reception fittingly commemorated Lewis W. Webb Jr., Old Dominion University's first president. The event appropriately was held in the student center that bears his name.

President Webb has often been called the father of this institution. He continues to be an inspiration to me, and I think his values and successes foreshadowed the objectives and accomplishments of Old Dominion University today.

Lewis Webb joined what was then the Norfolk Division of the College of William & Mary and Virginia Polytechnic Institute in 1932 as a physics instructor. In 1940, he became director of the division's Defense and War Training Program, setting the stage for the school's strong connections with the military. In 1946, he was appointed director of the division.

Over the next two decades, he worked doggedly to build and strengthen this institution, always in concert with the surrounding community. No task was too small. If the furnace stopped working in the original building, he'd go over there to fix it.

President Webb's persistence produced results. The Division began granting four-year degrees in 1956. In 1962, his dream came true: Our school was granted independence from William & Mary and became Old Dominion College. His new title was president. Two years later, Old Dominion won approval to offer its first master's degrees. And shortly before his retirement in 1969, the institution was renamed Old Dominion University.

In his fine remembrance of President Webb at our Founders' Day event, Jim Sweeney - an associate professor emeritus of history - recalled the president's determination and loyalty to this institution even in his final months of life.

In retirement, President Webb continued to teach physics here. In 1984, he was leading a course to help prepare elementary school teachers to instruct students in the physical sciences. When he learned he had cancer, he said, "My God, I can't die now. I've got to finish this class."

Though he wasn't able to finish out the course, President Webb witnessed our remarkable growth over more than a half-century. I'm sure he would be proud of our substantial progress since then.

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