Donna Pitt of Newport, Va., who served as executive assistant to each of the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine's four deans over three decades, has announced her retirement.

"Donna has certainly played a historic role in the creation and development of our college," noted current college dean Gerhardt Schurig. "She has done a very good job with many difficult tasks over the years, and she has played an enormous role in creating the strong, healthy and growing college of veterinary medicine that we are today. We are all truly grateful to her for her contributions."

During a college ceremony celebrating her contributions, Pitt described the veterinary college as her "passion" and told the assembled guests that "Yes, Virginia really did need a veterinary college, and thanks to you folks, we've got a pretty good one."

The question she addressed during her remarks was one that resonated loudly among Virginia's conservative political leaders who hotly debated the controversial creation of the college during the 1970's.

Pitt, who was hired by the late founding Dean Richard B. Talbot in 1975, spent three years working with Talbot to develop legislative and fiscal support for the fledgling professional school before it was finally created by an act of the Virginia General Assembly in 1978.

The storied founding of the college is a lesson in populist, grassroots politics and Pitt played a central role in the effort. While the notion to create a veterinary college in Virginia had risen and fallen several times during the 20th century, it was former Virginia Tech President T. Marshall Hahn who finally got the movement going.

Hahn hired Talbot in 1974 to plan and build the veterinary college. Talbot and Pitt then created the "Citizens Committee for the Veterinary College," a grassroots organization comprised of agricultural commodity and companion animal interest groups that was formed to cultivate political support for the college.

As a condition of its creation, the college was obliged by the State Council for Higher Education in Virginia (SCHEV) to identify a state to partner with Virginia in the joint operation of a school. Pitt played an important role in negotiating the partnership with the State of Maryland that eventually led to the college's joint operating relationship with the University of Maryland at College Park.

When the college accepted its first class of students in Fall, 1980, and began full operations in a provisional Veterinary Teaching Hospital facility, it faced the difficult task of completing its building program with an at that time unidentified combination of state, federal and private resources. The 225,000 square feet of new physical plant space constructed for the veterinary college on the campus of Virginia Tech was ultimately built in four separate building programs that spanned almost 15 years.

Throughout most of those years, Pitt was in charge of the college's budget, financial operations, personnel and capital planning and construction activities. Serving four administrations, she played an important role in organizing the college's accreditation program with the American Veterinary Medical Association; through her work as staff officer with the Cost Review and Program Committee, a regional college operating group comprised of the chief academic and financial officers at Virginia Tech and the University of Maryland; and as chief resource officer for the VMRCVM's College Council and Executive Board.

Recalling periods of fiscal uncertainty in the college's founding years that were so grave that even pencils were rationed, Pitt said she is proud to see that the college is now widely recognized during its 25th anniversary year as a strong and nationally respected institution.

Pitt is a noted breeder of Irish Wolfhounds, and plans to spend time on her farm in Giles County with her family, dogs and horses. She will also remain active with the college as a consultant during 2005.

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