Strother, Warren Houston

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Warren Houston Strother, 80, who worked 12 years as a reporter and then 26 years at Virginia Tech, died in Blacksburg on January 22, 2006. The son of Lonnie D. and Ethel Allen Strother, he was born November 23, 1925, in Winnsboro, South Carolina, but grew up in Virginia, graduating from Henry Clay High School in Ashland in 1943.

Related to his ambition to become a journalist was an old typewriter an aunt gave him while in high school. He worked on the farm, enlisted in the Army, served in Occupied Japan, and then, assisted by the GI Bill, earned a combined B.S. and M.S. from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in 1952. He worked two years with the Peninsula Newspapers, mostly in Newport News, before joining the United Press International, a wire service for which he covered state government in Illinois out of Springfield for four years.

In 1958 he returned permanently to Virginia. Until 1964 he reported for the Richmond Times-Dispatch, where he covered state government and public affairs. He wrote the story when T. Marshall Hahn, Jr. was named president of Virginia Polytechnic Institute in December 1961, effective July 1962. In September 1964 he joined President Hahn in Blacksburg as director of public relations. Later positions at Virginia Tech included director of information services and associate director of institutional research. His responsibilities during his 10 years working with President Hahn included advisor and speechwriter, and he served, says retired department head J.B. Jones, as Hahn’s “right hand man,” with a “tremendous work capacity.”

Hahn himself sums it up: “He was a good man.” An avid reader all his life, he was also for many years, he said, a “compulsive jogger.” His many interests included international travel and white water canoeing. His professional affiliations over the years included the American Newspaper Guild, the Virginia Press Association, and the American College Public Relations Association, subsequently named the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education (CASE). Strother and his counterparts, public relations professionals in higher education elsewhere, helped form the Council of Presidents of public institutions in Virginia.

He had a knack which he exercised in Blacksburg for more than thirty years of pulling a wide variety of people into discussion groups, both from the university and from the community. In his various roles during the Hahn administration, Strother had tremendous influence, and on top of his own contributions, he had an intimate knowledge of how a wide range of policies unfolded.

While employed in institutional research, he began work on a book on the history of Virginia Tech during the Marshall Hahn years. This dream drove him for many years. Not only while at Tech but also in retirement beginning in 1991, he pushed on with the big project, for which he interviewed more than 100 people, did extensive archival research, and drafted hundreds of pages. When he was unable to complete the project, he teamed with Virginia Tech history professor Peter Wallenstein. They published the co-authored book From VPI to State University: President T. Marshall Hahn, Jr. and the Transformation of Virginia Tech, 1962-1974 in 2004, shortly before his health began seriously to fail.

Predeceasing him were his parents; two brothers, Clifton and O’Neil Strother; and his first wife, Vivian Whisnant Strother, whom he married in 1946. Warren Strother leaves a great many people to celebrate his life, including three children, Keith Strother, his wife, Sue, and son, Logan, who live in Riverside, California, Sue Seckora of Hillsboro, Oregon, and her husband, Michael, and David Strother, who lives in Richmond with his wife, Sharon, and their son, Bryan.

He has a second devoted family, too, for he married Shirley C. Farrier in 1995. His stepchildren are Helen Farrier Renqvist, who with her husband, Ake-Eric, lives in Newport, Virginia, and Robert H. Farrier, who lives with his wife, Ursula, in Edinburgh, Scotland. He also leaves a brother, Michael Strother, and his wife, Evelyn, of Richmond, Virginia; a sister-in-law, Jane Whisnant Hilgenhold, and her husband, Charles, also of Richmond; a brother-in-law, Robert Whisnant, and his wife, Jane, of Huddleston, Virginia; as well as a number of nieces, nephews, and stepgrandchildren.

Visitation will be Wednesday, January 25, 6 to 8 p.m., at McCoy Funeral Home, 150 Country Club Drive, SW, Blacksburg. A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Thursday, January 26, at the Blacksburg United Methodist Church, 111 Church Street SE. In lieu of flowers, memorial gifts may be made to the Virginia Tech Libraries, c/o University Development, Virginia Tech, or to the Kroontje Health Care Center, 1000 Litton Lane, Blacksburg. Arrangements by McCoy Funeral Home, Blacksburg.