In memoriam: Bill Latham '55, former member of the Board of Visitors
Bill Latham came to Virginia Tech because his mother wanted to ensure he was equipped for the best future possible.
He left having helped make the university an even more desirable location for Hokies to prepare for their best paths forward.
A 1955 graduate, Latham died Nov. 7, leaving behind countless loved ones and a legacy of love, service, and philanthropy to his alma mater.
"Bill Latham was a larger-than-life figure at Virginia Tech. I was honored to know him, and the university is a better place because of his service,” said President Tim Sands. "He leaves a legacy of leadership, philanthropy, and passion for serving others that will continue helping Hokies succeed well into Virginia Tech’s future.”
Latham twice served on Virginia Tech’s Board of Visitors and sat on numerous university boards and committees, often alongside his wife, Betty. The Lathams’ generosity spans a wide breadth of the university and is evident in scholarships, research, and physical spaces, such as the agriculture research building and The Inn at Virginia Tech’s Latham Ballroom.
In 2007, Latham received the William H. Ruffner Medal, Virginia Tech’s most prestigious honor awarded annually to recognize individuals who have performed notable service to the university. He was also presented the Alumni Distinguished Service Award in 1996.
“He just had an enthusiasm and love for Virginia Tech and was truly involved in every major fundraising campaign,” said Thim Corvin, former senior associate vice president for development and principal gifts at Virginia Tech. “What probably is not as known is besides physical spaces, which recognize his legacy, there are many scholarships across the university that he and Betty created throughout his life.”
Born in 1933, Latham spent the duration of his life living at his family’s Waterloo Farm in Haymarket, Virginia. When it came time for college, Latham’s mother helped steer him toward Blacksburg.
“I’ve been asked a number of times, ‘Why did you choose Virginia Tech?’ and my answer has always been, ‘I didn’t choose Virginia Tech. My mother chose Virginia Tech,’” Latham sid during a 2015 interview with VT Stories. “She said, ‘You can go anywhere you want to, but if I’m going to pay for it, you’re going to Virginia Tech.’”
While a student, Latham served as the president of the student body and Canterbury Club. He was also a member of the national leadership honor society Omicron Delta Kapp, the Brock and Bridle Club, and the Student Government Association.
In 1955, he earned a bachelor’s degree in general agriculture with a minor in business administration and returned home to the 700-acre farm where he and Betty raised their four children. His entrepreneurial spirit led him to found Budget Motels Inc. in 1973 and to own and operate 10 motels.
Shortly after graduating from Virginia Tech, Latham sought to get more involved with his alma mater, and fellow graduate, Buddy Russell ’52, helped him find a way.
“We met at an alumni chapter meeting, I think in Manassas or Prince William County, and we became good friends after that,” Russell said. “He was very generous in his support of Virginia Tech and wanted to become more involved, so I invited him to become a member on the alumni association’s board of directors.”
Having gone on to serve on countless other boards and committees, Russell said Latham helped guide the university through times, both good and bad.
“I can only praise his involvement with Virginia Tech,” Russell said. “And I also found he was very much a family man. He loved his family.”
Corvin said Latham never said no and often didn’t even need to be asked when it came to supporting Virginia Tech.
“He almost volunteered his philanthropy, especially if he thought it was going to improve the lives of others and make an impact on the students or the university,” Corvin said.
Some of the Lathams’ financial contributions supported enhancements at the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the livestock teaching arena, and the Northern Virginia 4-H Center. The couple also provided funds for the William C. and Elizabeth H. Latham Histopathology Laboratory in the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine's Veterinary Teaching Hospital and established the William C. and Elizabeth H. Latham Scholar-in-Residence Endowment for the Virginia Center for Civil War Studies.
For Corvin, however, it was Latham’s willingness also to give of his time that was so impressive.
“We often talk about financial component of our donors, but I think if we look at the amount of time he invested, it would have been a full-time job for many people,” Corvin said. “You only do that if you really buy into the mission and love the university.”
Russell said he believes his friend will be remembered for having a big heart and letting it guide him to make things better for others.
“I think that’s his legacy,” Russell said. “He had a lot of positive influence on the people he loved.”
And, as Latham’s obituary states, the Virginia Tech community was surely among that group.
“He loved those Hokies,” it reads.