LC in History: Honorable Hunston

Dr Clifton. W Potter ~ LC History Professor

During spring break, we lost one of the pivotal figures in the development of Lynchburg College.

In the fall of 1972, Dr. James A. Huston became the dean of LC with the rank of professor of history and international relations, positions that he would hold for the next 12 years. During that period, he would have a significant effect on the academic culture of our college.

I was on sabbatical in England in 1972-73, so I did not meet him until he had completed his first year as the leader of the faculty. I quickly discovered that he was receptive to new ideas.

When I submitted to him a detailed plan for an annual banquet to honor academic achievement, Huston gave me and a group of like-minded faculty members complete freedom to make it a reality.

Next month, the campus community will gather to participate in the 44th Academic Awards Banquet.

At the same time, Huston endorsed our proposal to expand the Senior Honor Society to include qualified juniors, and he suggested that it be renamed the Gold Key Society. A few years later, it would become affiliated with Phi Kappa Phi, a national honor society.

Huston also supported our plan for establishing an award to recognize alumni who, because of their academic achievements, have brought honor to their alma mater. It was named in honor of its first recipient, Dr. Richard H. Thornton, a member of the Class of 1907.

Thornton was the editor at Knopf Publishing who “discovered” and befriended the American poet, Robert Frost. Alumni become eligible for the Thornton Award for Excellence 20 years after their graduation.

The early Academic Awards Banquets were black-tie affairs with everyone in formal dress, and the speakers were distinguished alumni. Each student eligible to attend this important event in the academic year received an engraved invitation in a hand addressed envelope.

Over the years, email has replaced formal invitations with reply cards, but the Academic Awards Banquet remains one of the high points of the year.

Another change suggested by Huston was that the Sommerville Scholar be asked to deliver the address that is a high point on that evening that celebrates academic achievement, and thus another LC tradition was born.

In 1977, Huston authorized the same faculty members who had introduced the Academic Awards Banquet to plan the initial First-year Convocation to be held at the end of First-year Week.

It has become the first formal event of the academic year just as graduation is the final one. With the faculty in full regalia, the new class is welcomed into the LC family.

Although Huston was responsible for expanding the number of programs available to our students, he was willing also to let faculty members and students explore new ways to enhance the college experience outside the classroom.

For a dozen years, he encouraged his colleagues and students to imagine what LC could become if they were willing to “think outside the box.”