Died Laughing

Cover of the Spring 2021 issue of Virginia Magazine

I can’t tell you how much the cover of the Spring Virginia Magazine, with the orange Pep Band vest, caught my eye having been a band member starting in 1974. The Virginia Tech and Maryland games mentioned (in 1974 and 1977) were indeed memorable and controversial with Tech still calling themselves the Fighting Gobblers. Thus, to Pep Band script writers, references to turkeys seemed too attractive to pass up. The notable 1974 halftime show is actually available on YouTube (begin at 2:30), and with the show’s start began the multiple references to turkeys. It wasn’t long until two Tech band members, having had enough, rushed onto the field in an attempt to grab the drum major’s drumstick baton, and what then followed was nothing short of a rumble.

As if that wasn’t enough, the controversial away game at Maryland in 1977 was surprisingly well-documented by a Washington Post article (which despite its age is available through a Google search).  The inclusion of former Maryland Gov. Marvin Mandel (attired in a striped convict suit) was not the only part of the show that angered Marylanders both on campus and in Annapolis.

Joe Guarini (Engr ’78)
Arlington, Virginia


I was delighted to read the article by Ed Miller, “Died Laughing.” I was a member of the Pep Band in the early ’70s, when attendance was strong at the basketball games (thanks to Barry Parkhill), and seats were tough to obtain. Joining the band ensured seats for my wife and me. While we played the same tunes ad nauseam, there was great comradeship and wonderful fun. I remember playing in the stands for football games, but my memory fades regarding ever being on the field at halftime. However, it was a great article and brought back many wonderful memories. I still have my UVA Pep Band tie (wide as it is).

Michael A. Hughes (Col ’74)
Warrenton, Virginia


Thank you so much for the recent issue of Virginia Magazine. It was so refreshing not to see political hot topics involved but real focus on the University and its history. I particularly enjoyed the Pep Band and journalism school articles. It was a refreshing break.

Sarah Walls (Engr ’04)
North Charleston, South Carolina


The brouhaha over the Pep Band’s Marvin Mandel routine at Maryland’s Byrd Stadium was the highlight of the Cavaliers’ 1-9-1 season in 1977. The outrage of Maryland politicians was predictable. Four years before, Mandel’s predecessor had pleaded no contest to tax evasion and been forced from the vice presidency. The Pep Band’s parody of him was deserved, and the embarrassment any University officials expressed marked the difference between the integrity they promoted and actions they were willing to call out.

After UVA, I became a reporter covering Virginia Tech’s basketball team; among my duties was penning an offbeat column. My first target was Tech. I followed the Pep Band formula, listing some contrasting traditions of the schools, like the Hokies’ (alleged) affinity for “cow-tipping” at midnight. A few weeks later I covered a Tech boosters dinner. An hour into a convivial meal with Tech alumni four decades my senior, one of my tablemates suddenly put me together with my column. After upbraiding me, he demanded a printed retraction. I had been taught to follow the truth, just like the Pep Band. Jefferson said something like that, I’m sure.

Bennett Minton (Col ’81)
Portland, Oregon


I loved the Pep Band. And in the vein of John Ackerly’s suggested response to President Casteen: the highest rank the Virginia football team ever achieved with the Pep Band: 1 (1990); the highest since its dissolution: 6 (2004).

Jen Winters (Col ’92) 
Norfolk, Virginia


A big shout-out to Ed Miller for the article on the Pep Band. It was one of the major reasons to go to the football games (we lost a lot of games back then, so they made the games a lot more fun).

I do not get back to the Grounds very often and was surprised when I attended a football game a few years ago and saw a “typical” marching band. I have been wondering ever since what changed and why. 

The Pep Band was funny and irreverent. I remember the Maryland incident when they had someone posing as the former governor walk onto the field in prison garb and a ball/chain on his leg. We loved it of course—and loved the controversy it caused!

Thanks for writing this story—it was fun reliving some of the laughs. I’m glad to know how we got from the Pep Band to today’s marching band!

Anne Zacharias (Col ’77)
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania


I used to look forward to halftime. I howled with laughter at the 1985 West Virginia game as Pep Band members in overalls and straw hats danced a jig to strains of bluegrass music and incest jokes over the PA system. 

In 1991 I sat with five Tennessee friends at the UVA vs. UT Sugar Bowl, and again laughed raucously as a “Volunteer” band member in a coonskin cap dragged dead Elvis off the field. But nobody else was laughing. The majority-Tennessee crowd sat silent with their jaws agape. I took one heck of a tongue-lashing that day from my friends, and was reminded it may be fun to dish it out, but not to take it. Ultimately, I couldn’t defend the notion that a university claiming a bedrock principle of honor could dish it out so dishonorably. 

Even with its warts, I miss the Pep Band. 1991 was the last time I ever saw the Pep Band perform, and the last time I looked forward to halftime.

Bryce Diamant (Engr ’88)
Madison, Alabama


Thank you for the excellent article about the Pep Band!

My undergrad degree is from Georgia Tech as I grew up in Atlanta. The only thing I remember about my first GT vs. UVA game, when I was a high school freshman, is how awesome the UVA Pep Band was. At halftime they made fun of the University of Georgia, GT’s rival, by forming an “1100” and announcing this as GT’s average freshman SAT and that UGA bragged that theirs is only 1 away from that. “Go ahead band, show them which one.” The band removed the one to reveal “100.” From that moment on I never missed a UVA game when they came to town, always looking forward to the Pep Band’s halftime show.

Thank you for sharing the history of the band, one of UVA’s great traditions. Keep up the great work!

Anthony Priest (Educ ’12)
Alexandria, Virginia


Thank you, Ed Miller. I was there at the beginning when football games were a social event and the Pep Band was a real highlight and crowd favorite. Likewise, your most recent story is a favorite and highlight of my decades reading the alumni magazine.

Michael Shewchuk (Col ’78)
Charlotte, North Carolina


The band played on during the ’50s—some 45 to 50 of us! We wore light blue jackets and ties, dark blue pants. We played at halftime for both home and away games. UVA’s mascot, Seal, always accompanied us dressed in his UVA blanket. After both bands played at the UVA vs. Pennsylvania game in 1951, Seal sauntered across the field, lifted his leg and wet a Pennsylvania cheerleader’s megaphone. 

The band and glee club recorded the first UVA songs record, which was a sellout. Yes, the band played on! 

Jack G. Hardy (Col ’52)
Miami, Florida


I attended the game in College Park with the Marvin Mandel halftime show. It was probably the best one the Pep Band ever did. I don’t know what made the Maryland administration more upset, the Mandel part or the fact that the Maryland students gave the Pep Band a standing ovation when it left the field and booed when the Maryland band came onto the field. The following time in College Park, the Pep Band wasn’t allowed onto the field and had a sign “UVA Pep Banned” in front of their seats.

At the end, the Pep Band was a pathetic sight. They didn’t do formations like in the past and you were guaranteed to hear the Budweiser song during the show. The situation reminded me of the ending of One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest. The present band represents the triumph of the “State U-ism” we dreaded so much in the late ’60s-early ’70s. I’d hate to think we are now more comfortable watching a band like VPI’s than one like the Ivies have, Stanford’s “Leland Stanford Junior University Marching Band,” or Rice’s “Marching Owl Band” (aka The MOB).

Howard Tripp III (Col ’73)
Rehoboth Beach, Delaware


That was a great “scramble” down memory lane regarding the late, great AWUVAFCI/OP?MPB&CSRUnltd!

During first-year orientation in 1975 I joined the Pep Band after witnessing a gaggle of ragtag merrymakers marching through the dorms on a recruiting run. For the next nine years, even on through medical school, this rural Southside Virginia boy obtained a wonderful supplement to my educational experience, which included the infamous Marvin Mandel skit amongst many others. Honored as a co-drum major in 1979, we learned the “bait and switch” technique when presenting our halftime shows to AD Gene Corrigan for preapproval. We threw in zingers and formations we knew he would veto, so that we could sneak in others—and it worked! We were the toast of Scott Stadium during those lean football years and especially popular with the students whose liquor we could hide in our instruments and cases to be retrieved later!

It is a shame that a unique school like UVA must feel compelled to have a “State U.” type of band and that as a society we have become so milquetoast and “PC” that satirical humor is too controversial to be enjoyed.

Lawrence Leake (Col ’79, Med ’84)
Ocean Springs, Mississippi

Peace Out

I read with interest the article “Peace Out: The rise and fall of a J-school at UVA.” I did not know the school of journalism had existed. I found the article balanced and well-written—an interesting re-examination of events and attitudes from UVA’s history that should inform how we respond to diverse voices in today’s conversations. I was, however, dismayed there was no mention of the department of rhetoric and communications studies in the recap of journalism’s role at UVA. Studying journalism and mass communications was integral to the major.

I believe rhetoric and communications studies is, by far, the best liberal arts major one can pursue. Understanding how to communicate effectively and think critically about what is being communicated to you are foundational to success and in life in general. I was greatly dismayed when the department was disbanded. 

Given the rise of disinformation and partisan communications and their pernicious effects, perhaps it is time to consider reforming a department that trains students to think critically about the role of communications in American life.

Alecia Cooper Moroz (Col ’84)
Leesburg, Virginia


What a fascinating history lesson! It also enlightened the conscious to reflect on how war, or even allegiance to country, can overshadow and discourage one’s right to free speech, even if unpopular. Unfortunately, the author skipped the generation of the 1990s, when rhetoric and communications studies (RCS) was offered. 

Thanks to RCS, students like me found our footing to hone our written, spoken, and even acting talents and abilities. It’s where I learned to write persuasively, speak confidently, and appreciate the Classical rhetorical theorists.

RCS should not be forgotten. Despite its relatively short stint, it produced journalists, TV anchors, sports newscasters, writers, PR specialists, lawyers, and yes, even actors!

Felicia Tucker Couts (Col ’94)
Washington, D.C.

Game Show ’Hoos

My uncle, Eduardo Sevilla (Engr ’85) was also a contestant on Jeopardy!, in their teachers tournament in 2017. He ended up winning second place! 

Amanda Bradley (Col ’14, Educ ’14)
Washington, D.C.


I suspect I am one of a tiny group of people who were offered an appearance on Jeopardy! and turned it down. Blame the Virginia Honor Code. The producers invited me for a week that unfortunately coincided with dress rehearsal week for a production of The Lion In Winter in which I was cast. After all the hard work of rehearsal, I felt honor-bound to stand with my castmates.

Not deterred, I made it the following season and won twice. My second win was due to my Virginia education. When we reached Final Jeopardy, I was behind; when Alex announced the category was “Shakespeare,” relief poured over me. I had taken two semesters of Shakespeare, and sure enough, I knew the question (and my opponent did not). To this day, I bless the memory of Professor Irby Cauthen Jr.

Don Richardson (Col ’79)
Haymarket, Virginia


In 1987, Wheel of Fortune recruited in Newcomb Hall for College Week contestants. I was not selected, but the producers offered me an opportunity to come to Los Angeles for a regular weekday show. I vividly remember the famous wheel (so much smaller than it appeared on TV), the oft-referenced “used letter board” (a string with cardboard letters hanging from it), and the frustration of an ill-timed “bankrupt” wedge. The puzzle I won bought me a Magnavox VCR—a luxury for a college student at the time. I also received a $100 gift certificate to Gucci; that barely covered the asking price for a key ring! 

P.S. I also appreciated the reference to Time magazine senior editor Champ Clark (“Peace Out”). I use the lessons I learned in his class to this day. 

Mike Barry (Col ’89)
Houston, Texas

Racial Equity

I have recently received alumni magazines from two of my alma maters, including UVA, which have included dispiriting letters from multiple male graduates from the 1960s, upset by both institutions’ attempts to address their racial wrongs of the past and to better educate their students about these issues. I loudly applaud UVA’s efforts to better understand and document its racial history, and to increase awareness among its students about these issues. While I understand that it may be difficult for graduates of a different era to see their institutions change so radically and come to new understandings of events from the past, I do not want their antiquated and, to my mind, destructive viewpoints to get in the way of making these schools the welcoming, inquisitive, and evolving institutions they are striving to be. My daughters have followed behind me at these schools, and I’m glad their experiences have included updated understandings of each school’s complicated and often painful pasts. But I worry that powerful and wealthy alumni’s opinions can squelch institutions’ efforts to do the right thing. Keep at it, UVA, Jim Ryan, the BOV, and the Equity Center! I am betting the majority of the alumni are behind you. 

Suzanne Michels (Educ ’88, ’92)


I was saddened—but not surprised—to read three letters in the Spring issue questioning the University’s Racial Equity Plan. While I object to all three, one quote in particular deserves opprobrium.

In the third of these letters, the writer wonders whether renaming buildings and moving statues is worth the effort: “Does anyone give a damn about this particular bit of history? Does canceling this bit of obscure history move the University forward?” 

Yes, and yes. I am Caucasian, and I assume by the writer’s 1961 graduation year that he is too. Because most white Americans have never experienced it, it is difficult for many of us to imagine what it is like to live in a place that honors individuals who perpetrated heinous crimes against our ancestors. To white alumni, this history may be obscure; to others these artifacts are daily reminders that the people who built UVA considered their ancestors to be less than human. These changes demonstrate to our non-white students, alumni, staff and faculty that today the University rightly sees them as human beings.

I wholeheartedly support the Equity Plan, and I hope that funding will soon be provided to enact it.

Michael Winters (Com ’11)
San Leandro, California

Welcome, Class of 2024 [Winter 2020]

It was encouraging to read the University’s plan to embrace racial equity in the latest magazine. I appreciate and look forward to the continued work of the Task Force. 

And yet, I turn to the Student Life page for data on the incoming class and see students who are not U.S. citizens classified as “nonresident alien.” Alien is an antiquated and, frankly, demeaning term for human beings. I understand this is an IRS classification but encourage the magazine’s editors to reevaluate this language when publishing the data, and use something more appropriate for our beloved students. 

Jasmine Hall Ratliff (Col ’99)
St. Louis, Missouri