In Memoriam: Robert B. Pamplin, Virginia Tech alumnus, college namesake, former Georgia-Pacific CEO
“In addition to my education, I received three things from Virginia Tech that have meant more to me in my life and in the business world than anything else,” Robert B. Pamplin once said. “They are honesty, discipline, and humility. My charge to all of you is that we continue to stress these values.”
The former chairman and CEO of Georgia-Pacific Corp., who received a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Virginia Tech in 1933, died Wednesday at age 97 after a long illness. The Pamplin family intends to conduct memorial services in Virginia and Georgia.
Pamplin was widely respected for his business acumen and leadership and his philanthropic support of higher education, including for Virginia Tech’s Pamplin College of Business, which was named for him and his only son, Robert B. Pamplin Jr. The Pamplins have given more than $35 million in personal, corporate, and family foundation funds to Virginia Tech, including more than $25 million to the Pamplin College. The college was named in their honor in 1986 in recognition of a $10 million gift it received from them. (The building housing the college was named in honor of Pamplin Sr. in 1969.)
“Mr. Pamplin and his family have played a singular role in helping us grow and develop into a nationally ranked business school,” says Pamplin College dean Richard E. Sorensen. “Their extraordinary support has helped us recruit and retain outstanding students and faculty members, expand and develop our academic programs, and undertake new construction and renovation.”
The Pamplins also contributed in non-monetary ways, Sorensen says. Father and son, he recalls, gave lectures and workshops on business leadership to the college’s students and faculty members and provided information on their business operations for a senior-level case study. “Their taped lecture continues to be used until today, and it is quite popular with our students,” says Sorensen, who uses it in his class.
In addition, Pamplin and his son co-chaired the university’s Campaign for Excellence, which was launched in 1983 and raised $118 million, more than twice its $50 million goal. They have generously supported other areas of the university, including the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets, Student Affairs, and university administration.
The university-wide Pamplin Scholars Program, established with a $3.5 million gift from the Pamplins and matched by Virginia Tech, provides scholarships for outstanding students from throughout Virginia. “More than ever, the American promise of opportunity rests upon access to higher education,” Pamplin had said. “Virginia Tech made it possible for me to realize that promise. My son and I want exceptional students throughout the commonwealth to have the same advantage.”
Pamplin’s long list of honors and awards includes Virginia Tech’s Alumni Distinguished Service Award in 1973 and the William H. Ruffner Medal in 1981, in recognition of his distinguished service to the university, which included service on the board of visitors from 1971 to 1979. He was a member of the President’s Circle of the Ut Prosim Society, a select group of the university’s most generous supporters.
A native of Dinwiddie County, Va., Pamplin was a longtime resident of Oregon. After graduating from Virginia Tech, he joined a small lumber company that later became Georgia-Pacific. After a 43-year career with Georgia-Pacific, which he helped shape into a leading manufacturer of paper, building products, and related chemicals, Pamplin retired and went on to build his own multi-million dollar business in textiles and concrete and asphalt manufacturing. The R.B. Pamplin Corp., a Portland holding and investment company that he formed with his son, today includes farms, radio stations and newspapers among its subsidiaries.
His father was “a true giant among business leaders,” Pamplin Jr. wrote in a 1986 biography, Another Virginian: A Study of the Life and Beliefs of Robert Boisseau Pamplin. “Many times he would be criticized for bucking the trend, going against current thinking, but more often than not, his simple, straightforward, nonconventional approach to a problem would be correct.”
Summing up the philanthropic philosophy that has guided him and his father during an interview for a Pamplin College publication, Pamplin Jr., a business administration student in the Class of 1964, said, “One of the greatest successes is when you bring a lot of happiness, love, and hope to people who haven’t had that, and give them the opportunity to improve themselves.”
Virginia Tech’s nationally ranked Pamplin College of Business offers undergraduate and graduate programs in accounting and information systems, business information technology, economics, finance, hospitality and tourism management, management, and marketing. The college emphasizes the development of ethical values and leadership, technology, and international business skills. Its centers focus on business leadership, business diversity, electronic commerce, forest industries, organizational performance, and services innovation. The college is committed to serving business and society through the expertise of its faculty, alumni, and students. It is named in honor of alumnus Robert B. Pamplin, the former CEO of Georgia-Pacific, and businessman, philanthropist, and alumnus Robert B. Pamplin Jr.