That Old House

Cover of the Spring 2020 issue of Virginia Magazine

While I very much enjoyed reading Richard Gard’s article “That Old House” about the renovation of Carr’s Hill in the Spring 2020 edition of Virginia Magazine, what really brought back memories was his opening account of the murder of Stanford White at the hands of Harry K. Thaw. When Wilson Hall opened in 1969, mostly devoted to the English Department where I was a major, some (I assume undergraduate) wags had gone to the trouble of having little orange, hard-to-remove stickers printed up, and had cleverly gotten inside the new building to put them all over the place before it opened. They read: “This building is an architectural disgrace to Mr. Jefferson’s University” and were signed “The Harry K. Thaw Society.” Many in my circle were aware of the scandal of Stanford White’s demise, as well as the general feeling that his renovation of the Rotunda was a violation of the original, and that the construction of Cabell, Cocke and Rouss halls had, in Gard’s phrase, “closed off the Lawn.” The stickers were greeted mostly with the laughter intended, as we were inclined to think of the vandals of Wilson Hall as having made a heroic gesture in Mr. Jefferson’s memory. With the “statute of limitations” having passed, I would like to invite any of the perpetrators to, in future, step forward in these pages.

Peter Tenney (Col ’71)
Brunswick, Maine

 

In “That Old House,” Richard Gard cites “a book commissioned for Carr’s Hill’s 2009 centennial.” This book was written by my wife, Margaret Gutman Klosko, who had been an assistant to President John Casteen. Carr’s Hill: The President’s House at the University of Virginia, 1909–2009, is a beautiful book.

George Klosko (Faculty)
Charlottesville


Doctor of Spin

I read your article “Doctor of Spin” about Dr. Jesse Beams in the Spring 2020 issue with great interest. It showed some who’s who of past UVA research faculty. I wanted to add a little substance to it.

My father, Robert R. Humphris (Engr ’52, ’58, ’65), was one of a very few people who had a high enough security clearance to repair those centrifuges when they broke. Many years after the program was disbanded and all equipment removed, he would tell about going to work in the building in the “saddle” of Mount Jefferson at night, what is now the Aerospace Research Facility. Fewer people would know what he was doing if he did not leave his normal daytime research. At that time the building had 24-hour armed guards patrolling inside and a security fence around the building. There were also two short, tentlike structures that were built to relieve pressure if one of the centrifuges exploded.

If you want another good article on engineering research in the past, explore the P-51 Mustang that the University owned and kept at Milton Field.

Robert Humphris Jr. (Col ’84)
Charlottesville

 

I read with great interest the article about Jesse Beams, “Doctor of Spin,” by George Spencer. One reason is that the company that I own is the primary supplier of market information and analyses on the world uranium and enrichment markets, and I have written extensively on these subjects. Another is that when I was an economics student at UVA in the 1970s, the Economics Department was housed in Rouss Hall, where Dr. Beams did his work. I also know colleagues who studied under Dr. Beams.

It is noteworthy that all uranium enrichment performed in the world today, including that in the United States, uses centrifuge technology, which is extremely energy efficient and economizes on the use of uranium resources in creating low-enriched uranium for nuclear reactor use. Continual advances in centrifuge technology have brought down the cost of nuclear fuel and extended the life of uranium resources consumed by the commercial nuclear power industry. 

On a technical note, centrifuge technology concentrates U-235, the fissile isotope of uranium, to desired levels by separating it from the fertile U-238 isotope. The U-235 isotope, which occurs at a level of 0.7 percent in nature, must be enriched to 4 to 5 percent for use in light water reactors, while much higher enrichments are needed for submarine fuel and nuclear weapons. 

Centrifuge technology was also instrumental in the Megatons to Megawatts program, where the highly enriched uranium (HEU) from 20,000 dismantled Russian nuclear warheads was blended down for fuel for U.S. nuclear reactors to generate electricity. Russian centrifuge technology made it feasible to create the low-enriched uranium with the proper isotopic concentrations necessary to blend down the HEU so the resulting fuel could meet reactor specifications.

While centrifuge technology may not have been perfected soon enough for the U.S. nuclear weapons program, it has been instrumental in “unmaking” a large quantity of erstwhile Soviet nuclear weapons material and currently plays an important role on the energy scene some 80 years after Dr. Beams commenced his work. Who knows when the spin will stop?

George F. “Jeff” Combs Jr. (Col ’73)
Roswell, Georgia

 

I arrived at UVA at a very difficult but exciting time: 1954. I left with a master’s degree in physical chemistry in 1956. My adviser was Professor Allan T. Gwathmey, one of the major players in the introduction of world-class scientific research at the University.

As I recall, some of the serious difficulties of the time were due to the fact that the University was undergoing the adaptation pangs of an old private school suddenly becoming a state university. It was very evident to us students that the older faculty did not universally welcome the change, inasmuch as this had not been an institution that was heavy on research, and that was the new direction UVA was heading for. Witness, for example, the addition in physics of Professor Nicholas Cabrera (sponsored by professors Beams and Gwathmey, and possibly others). Professor Cabrera was already world-famous for the theory of how crystals grow (it is universally known as the Burton–Cabrera–Frank theory, which for years was a very strong candidate for a Nobel Prize).

My observation, which may add to the very fine article by George W. Spencer, is that there were areas in which Professor Beams made major contributions other than isotopic separation, which may not have been so accessible to the public’s information and glamorous recounting. For example, Professor Gwathmey was one of the world’s experts on crystal growth, and of the surface properties of crystals. Studying with the encouragement of professors Beams and Cabrera, he made discoveries that became invaluable to the metallurgical industry, as well as the jewelry industry.

I am sure there were other major, and beautiful, examples of the inspiration and aid that Professor Beams provided for his colleagues. I know a little only because one of his students (David Einsel) was my friend, and I had the privilege of knowing Nicholas Cabrera, who became the rector of the University of Madrid.

Ivan Bernal (Grad ’56)
Houston, Texas


Growing Green

I loved reading about UVA’s commitments to sustainability in this edition of Virginia Magazine. My time at UVA’s Urban and Environmental Planning Department was filled with inspiration from wonderful professors like Rich Collins, Tim Beatley and many others.

Today, I am the executive director of the Southeast Sustainability Directors Network, and work with over 50 city and county governments across the region to deepen their commitments to sustainability. I strongly believe that commitments like those of UVA are important for our region’s ability to emerge as a major player in the efforts to create an equitable and sustainable future for our children. Kudos.

I notice, however, that the Carr’s Hill renovation article that followed boasted nine functioning gas fireplaces. It is time to electrify, my friends! The carbon-reduction goals that we set for our cities, counties, states and universities will never be reached unless we disconnect fully from natural gas and fossil fuels. Energy efficiency, renewables, and other water and waste reduction efforts are important. In addition, I urge the University to consider electrification of its buildings as a key step forward, especially along with historic preservation efforts. This means that heating and cooling systems should be fueled by electricity, not natural gas. There is a huge opportunity with the many new buildings coming down the road to set the bar high. The days for “bridge fuels” are past us. The future is here. Bring on the electricity, and power it with the sun.

Meg Williams Jamison (Arch ’06)
Asheville, North Carolina


How Are You Doing? [April Email Edition]

Editor’s note: In Virginia Magazine’s early-April email, we asked readers to tell us their stories of the global pandemic so far. Here are some of your responses. For more COVID-19 coverage, see the Summer 2020 issue contents.

For the past several years, I have been the director of innovation for Sentara Healthcare. Normally that means creating new business ventures, commercialization of technologies and products, and things of that nature. In the past month, my role has shifted into sourcing needed COVID-related supplies from creative and innovative sources. That often includes the larger community within the state just wanting to help: sewing circles making masks, 3D printing enthusiasts and companies making everything from face shields to ventilator parts, high school robotics and engineering classes wanting to be of help. It has been humbling, energizing and at times exhausting. However, seeing so much good in people who truly want to pivot from their day jobs (both individuals and businesses) to rally behind health care is why I am in this industry to begin with.

Crissie Hall (Darden ’17)
Chesapeake, Virginia

 

A month ago, my friends and I talked about the coronavirus lightly. We made jokes about washing our hands and taking wipes as we got on airplanes to leave for spring break. Only days later, it became all too real. I remember driving home the morning of March 4, contemplating whether or not UVA would go to online classes. I thought it was unlikely but had high hopes for extra time with friends in Charlottesville if we did. 

Then the first email came. We were going online. While this was unexpected, my spirits were still high. We could spend some extra time at home to rest before rushing back into schoolwork. The next day, things changed. Then they changed again the next. And they didn’t stop changing. All the plans I had made were suddenly gone. I could no longer complain about having too much to do or not being able to fit in one more thing. My schedule was empty. 

While I now have FaceTimes and Zoom meetings planned here and there, a clear calendar has continued to be an overall theme of this season. I wake up in the morning with the knowledge that no one is expecting me to be somewhere in the next hour. I can take my time getting out of bed, making breakfast and writing in my journal before the day begins. There’s a new slowness to life that I’ve never known before. With this slowness, there’s been a lot of time to think. I know this season has brought loss and challenges for many. My family has been processing what it means for my younger brother to miss his high school graduation, our summer travels and study abroad to be canceled, and my uncle’s cancer treatments to be put on pause. I’m learning what it means to sit in disappointment and uncertainty, but I’m also learning to not stop there. This time at home has made me learn to appreciate many things. The sun coming through the window each morning is a promise of a new day. Walks through the neighborhood let me move more than a few feet and say hello to neighbors from afar. Friendships have endured through quick texts and handwritten letters. My whole family eats dinner together again for the first time in over a year. Friends encouraged me to run my first half-marathon, even when the race was canceled. My faith in God grows deeper each day as I cling to his promises to restore us.

I’ve found hope in the midst of the stillness. While I so wish I could be in Charlottesville—walking the Lawn, studying in Ruffner, and hugging my friends—I know this time won’t last. Watching the season change from winter to spring reminds me that this is a season. We will return to our full calendars and lighthearted jokes soon. I only hope some of the things I’m learning in this season go with me, too.

Rachel Delaney (Educ ’21)
Roanoke, Virginia


The Jefferson Progression [Winter 2019]

A letter in the Winter issue of Virginia Magazine criticized the allegedly unscholarly tone of the Fall issue and, in the process, took a cheap shot at UVA. While I was still considering writing a letter in response, I read “The Jefferson Progression” by Richard Gard in the Winter issue, which stands on its own as counterevidence against the arguments of the letter in the Fall issue. The article carefully and incisively examines four new books about Thomas Jefferson in the context of four stages or versions of Jeffersonian biography/history. The article is thorough, intellectually honest and thought-provoking, leaving the reader to ponder which version of Mr. Jefferson most accurately describes the man as he truly was. The magazine’s outstanding article demonstrates that UVA still stands at the top of the ziggurat and makes my contemplated letter superfluous.

John W. Ours (Law ’72)
Lakewood, Ohio

 

I am pleased now that a more balanced view (Stage 5) of Jefferson is coming into prominence. I accept his ownership of slaves as a black mark on his legacy, but he was born into a society where it was accepted as common practice, and later in his life he was in great financial distress, having inherited the debts of his father-in-law and a huge debt that fell to him as a co-signer of a loan made by a friend, who died two months after the loan was made. He has also been vilified because of his liaison with Sally Hemings, which I am confident did occur. If modern criteria are applied, Jefferson would be considered the offender in a position of power with Sally, his slave. Nevertheless, I hope that it was a mutually affectionate arrangement and that Sally was not forced into it. We will never know, of course. The upshot is that I have not lost any of my admiration for Jefferson and will continue to revere him as one of the greatest of the founders of America.

David Y. Miller (Col ’57)
Yucaipa, California


Spring 2020 Corrections

The New Orleans house at 5603 St. Charles Ave., believed to have influenced the design of Carr’s Hill, is located in the Uptown/Carrollton part of the city, not the Garden District as we had reported in “That Old House.” 

The 2019–20 tuition and fees total for University of California, Berkeley was $17,539 for in-state students and $47,689 for out-of-state students. A graphic in the University Digest, “How UVA tuition and fees have compared with other schools,” contained incorrect information.