It was announced Monday that Paul Torgersen, who was president of Virginia Tech from 1993-2000, passed away.
Former Virginia Tech President Paul Torgersen Dies – The Roanoke Times
The cause of his death was not immediately released (per the article linked above), but he had battled cancer in 2008. That battle took its toll, but he overcame it, and in my infrequent encounters with him, he appeared to me to have recovered well from it. The last time I talked to him I person, at a tailgate during the 2013 season, his speech was compromised from surgery that was required to remove the cancer, but he still spoke with confidence and conviction, and he was easy to understand.
Paul Torgersen’s signature is on my Virginia Tech diploma (BSEE, 1987), but I don’t recall the man from my days as a student. I never had one of his classes, and as a clueless, self-absorbed undergrad, I probably barely knew that he was the Dean of Engineering at the time.
Many of you recall him from your days at Virginia Tech, but I first met him back in the early 2000s, back when TechSideline.com was still HokieCentral.com. My interaction with him then and afterwards is where my respect for the man originated and grew.
I’ll cut right to the chase. In September of 2000, I wrote a scathing article raking Jim Weaver over the coals for his handling of a couple of major events of the time: the reinstatement of Derrius Monroe to the football team and the aftermath of the “Lightning Bowl” non-game against Georgia Tech to open the 2000 football season.
Dream Weaver? Not Lately. — Will Stewart, Sep. 6, 2000
In the interest of full disclosure, at that time the battle lines between myself (or more accurately, HokieCentral.com) and Jim Weaver had already been sharply drawn. I started Hokie Central in March of 1996, and in the summer of 1999, was fortunate enough to be able to quit my job and turn Hokie Central into a full-time endeavor.
As part of that, I submitted a formal request in August of 1999 for media access to Virginia Tech athletics. At the direction of Jim Weaver, I was turned down, as we would be for the next 12 years, until we were finally granted access in the summer of 2012 for the football season that fall.
There were other things that went on that I won’t get into. Suffice to say I wasn’t a Jim Weaver fan. So when he took what I considered a few wrong steps, I was quick to voice my disapproval.
Though it was scathing, my article was not gratuitous. I think I presented my case well, and I backed it up by quoting passages from Tech’s Comprehensive Action Plan, newspaper articles, and Jim Weaver’s own public statements.
Before a week had passed, I received an email from Paul Torgersen, a man whom I had never met and with whom I had never interacted. Dr. Torgersen had written a rebuttal of sorts to my article. He didn’t address any of the issues I had addressed directly, but he did provide support for Mr. Weaver and a recounting of Weaver’s positive contributions to Virginia Tech athletics.
I asked Dr. Torgersen if I could run it on Hokie Central, and he said absolutely. It ran under the headline “On Balance,” and I honestly don’t remember if that was my choice for the headline, or his.
On Balance – Paul Torgersen, Sep. 12, 2000
Readers appreciated having both articles to consider. Both sides had said their piece, and fledgling HokieCentral.com had a feather in its cap, having printed an article from the recently-retired president of the university, a man universally respected by Virginia Tech sports fans.
Sometime after that, probably soon after, I asked Dr. Torgersen if I could meet him in his office to talk about media access for HokieCentral.com. I knew that he had no direct influence over Jim Weaver, of course, because he was no longer president of the university, but it couldn’t hurt to pick his brain and possibly enlist him as an ally.
I went to his office, and we talked things over. I wish I could remember more about the meeting, but I do remember that he started off by telling me how well written he thought my article was. He stopped short of agreeing with it, mind you, but he made it a point to let me know how well constructed he thought it was. In short, he respected the effort. I thanked him for his follow-up, and the chance to provide a balanced viewpoint to Hokie Central’s readers.
We discussed media access for HokieCentral.com, and he offered to do the only thing he could do: talk to Jim Weaver about it.
I don’t remember where I saw Dr. Torgersen next, or how long it was between that meeting and our next encounter. But when I saw him again, I broached the subject and asked him if he had had a chance to talk to Weaver about it.
“I did,” he said, then got an odd, wry look on his face. “You know, he feels real strongly about it.”
I laughed. “I know. So … ?”
“Oh, there’s no changing his mind on that topic,” Dr. Torgersen said.
I laughed again, and thanked him for at least making the effort.
From that point on, any time anyone offered to “talk to Jim Weaver” about the issue of media access for TechSideline.com (we changed the name in November of 2000), I would echo Dr. Torgersen’s statement and say, “You can talk to him if you’d like, but there’s no changing his mind on that topic.”
Over the next 14 years or so, I ran into Dr. Torgersen a handful of times, and was introduced to his daughter Karen (and her husband Mike). Dr. Torgersen always remembered me and was always willing to strike up a conversation about Virginia Tech athletics, and I enjoyed our brief talks.
Dr. Torgersen is legendary among Virginia Tech sports fans for his love of Tech athletics. He was due to retire on Jan. 1, 2000, but when Virginia Tech made the BCS Championship in football, scheduled for Jan. 4, 2000, Torgersen’s retirement was delayed a week so he could attend the game as president of the university. Torgersen engaged in a field goal kicking contest with assistant AD Sharon McCloskey during one of Virginia Tech’s practices down in New Orleans. (He won, of course.)
Dr. Torgersen may or may not have played a pivotal role in Frank Beamer’s decision to stay at Virginia Tech in November of 2000, after he nearly left for UNC. Accounts differ as to Torgersen’s involvement in the 11th hour negotiations that resulted in Beamer staying. Some accounts credit Torgersen with being the one responsible for keeping Beamer here, but the one time I asked Torgersen about it, he chuckled and deflected, saying, “Oh, I didn’t have anything to do with that.” For the record, I don’t fully believe him. I think he had something to do with it, thought I don’t know exactly what. But that was his nature, to deflect and not take credit.
When my mother passed away from cancer in December of 2008, a friend of mine, F4EHokie on the message boards, passed along to me a quote that I used in her eulogy: “People may not remember what you did, and they may not remember what you said, but they will always remember how you made them feel.”
That quote fully applies to my experiences with Dr. Paul Torgersen. I know very little about his deeds and accomplishments at Virginia Tech. I can only remember a handful of the things he said to me in our few meetings, and I’m probably not even remembering most of those accurately.
But I remember the way he made me feel. Back in late 2000, at a time when no one in the Virginia Tech administration was treating me with any respect or giving me any credit for anything — and in fact, often took action against me and what I was trying to accomplish — Paul Torgersen treated me with dignity, listened to what I had to say, and tried to help me. I’ll never forget that.
So rest in peace, Dr. Torgersen. It was a life well-lived, with much accomplished. I and many others will always speak well of you.
— Will Stewart, HokieCentral.com