In Memoriam: Albert H. Small
Former BOV member built buildings and historic collections
As real estate developer Albert H. Small (Engr ’46 CM) constructed thousands of homes and more than 1 million square feet of office space across the Washington, D.C., area, he also was building a treasure trove of early American history—from a vast collection of material related to the Declaration of Independence to key documents tracing D.C.’s history.
Small, a former Board of Visitors member who donated his Declaration of Independence collection to UVA as well as the funding to build the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library to house it, died Oct. 3, two weeks before his 96th birthday.
Small’s love of collecting started when he was a child but grew into a passion as a young adult. He was drawn to the connection between books and history. “I guess I’m old-fashioned in that way,” he told the National Endowment for the Humanities before receiving the 2009 National Humanities Medal from President Barack Obama.
Son James H. Small (Grad ’94, Grad ’07, Darden ’18 CM) remembers his father systematically flipping through catalogs, always on the hunt for new finds. “He was truly a student of history,” with a deep admiration for UVA and Thomas Jefferson, James Small said.
The fruits of those searches lined the walls of his office at Southern Engineering Corp., which he co-founded in 1950. “His office was always fascinating because it was full of these things,” said former University President John Casteen (Col ’65, Grad ’66, ’70 CM).
Eventually, he parceled out portions of his collection. George Washington University, where he attended law school, got his D.C. history collection. Miniature metal cars went to the Smithsonian Institution. The White House received a painting he purchased in a bidding war—with the White House.
Small often visited Grounds and, into his 90s, frequently went to UVA football games, though he didn’t care much for the sport. “He came because he could see people, he could tell them what he was working on,” said Leonard Sandridge (Grad ’74 CM), UVA’s former executive vice president and COO.
Decades ago, he donated money for renovations to what became the Engineering School’s Albert H. Small Building. But it was the opening of the special collections library that was among his proudest days, son James said. Small pushed for its central location next to Alderman Library, along with an underground design that drew skepticism but allowed for more space without overtaking other buildings around it. It opened, with two underground floors, in 2004.
Retired University Librarian Karin Wittenborg said: “He’d get an idea and just have to get it done.”
In addition to his son James, Small is survived by his wife, Shirley; two other children, Albert Small Jr. and Susan Savitsky; and six grandchildren, including Albert Small (Col ’13 CM), Isabella Sophia Small (Col ’19 CM) and Gabriella Rebecca Small (Batten ’19 CM).
—Sarah Lindenfeld Hall