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Virginia Tech President Emeritus T. Marshall Hahn Jr. dies at 89

BLACKSBURG (WSLS 10)  - T. Marshall Hahn Jr. of Montgomery County, who transformed what was primarily a white, male military college into the comprehensive university now known as Virginia Tech, died May 29. He was 89.

A brilliant scientist with a legendarily photographic memory, Hahn had been a prodigy in all aspects of life. He earned a bachelor's in physics from the University of Kentucky at 18 and, after serving a two-year stint in the Navy, received his Ph.D. in physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology at age 23. At 35, he was hired as the 11th president of what was then Virginia Polytechnic Institute, becoming the youngest president of any land-grant institution in the country.

After his academic career, which culminated with the presidency of Virginia Tech, Hahn distinguished himself in industry, retiring in 1993 from Georgia Pacific Corporation as chief executive officer. But it was his tenure as chief executive of Virginia Tech for which he is likely to be best remembered.

Hahn began his presidency on July 2, 1962, 100 years to the day after Abraham Lincoln signed into law the Morrill Land-Grant Act, which changed American higher education. It was a fitting date to begin, because Hahn proceeded to forever change the face of the institution then widely known as VPI. He diversified and broadened academic offerings, expanded admissions opportunities, particularly for women, and remade the physical plant.

Over the course of his almost 13 year presidency, Hahn added 30 undergraduate degree programs, such as art, German, history, marketing, management, philosophy, sociology, and psychology. No less than 20 graduate programs were added. He also created colleges of architecture, arts and sciences, and education.

In addition to eliminating the military requirement, Hahn opened the doors fully to women. VPI had partnered with what then was Radford College – now Radford University – jointly managing both schools. Women could enroll at VPI in degree programs not offered at Radford, but functionally VPI was an all-male school. When Hahn severed the Radford College connection in 1964, female enrollment increased significantly at VPI.

Upon Hahn leaving Virginia Tech in 1974, the Richmond Times Dispatch wrote: "Constructive change has been the hallmark of the Hahn administration. His willingness to implement changes, even at the risk of severe criticism and ridicule to himself, is the primary reason VPI had grown and prospered."

"His presidential legacy would inspire all of us even if he never set foot on our campus again after stepping down," current Virginia Tech President Tim Sands said of Hahn. "But of course that was not the case. His philanthropic legacy is truly extraordinary as well. I can think of no single person who has done as much for this university."

When Hahn came to VPI in 1954 to head the department of physics, the entire college enrolled about 4,000 students. When he became VPI's president, it had slightly more than 6,000. By the time he left in 1974, there were 17,400 students at Virginia Tech.

Hahn's death is a significant loss that should be mourned far beyond the university community, said Debbie Petrine, rector of the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors.

"The Virginia Tech family, the commonwealth, and beyond and have lost a giant," she said. "Dr. Hahn was truly a visionary and transformational leader, as well as an incredibly warm and generous gentleman. He will be missed."

Hahn is survived by two daughters, Anne Hahn Hurst and Betty Hahn; a son-in-law, Doug Chancey; and three grandchildren, Erin McKelvy, Shane McKelvy, and Marshall Hurst. He was predeceased by a wife, Margaret Louise "Peggy" Hahn, and son, William Hahn.

A viewing will be held from 3-6 p.m. Friday, June 10, at McCoy Funeral Home, 150 Country Club Drive, Blacksburg. A memorial service is expected to take place the following day, June 11, with location and time soon to be announced.