Marching Virginians alumni maintain friendship, architecture partnership, family balance with music
“The band thing is like a family. Ed [Gillikin] and several other guys, we’ve been friends ever since,” said alumnus Don Guthrie.
Nearly 40 years after Ed Gillikin and Don Guthrie first took the field with the Marching Virginians, the two alumni will again march in Lane Stadium on Oct. 14 with other alumni to perform during the homecoming game. Four decades after they first pounded out the beat to “The Spirit of Tech,” their shared connection with music and their alma matter not only calls them to Lane Stadium on game day, but into the office as well.
Gillikin and Guthrie are principal architects at the Richmond office of Marshall Craft Associates. In their more than 30 years of experience working on projects in higher education, health care, and state government, these Virginia Tech School of Architecture alums have worked in the same firm since 2015. Guthrie’s firm at the time was looking for someone to replace a retiring partner — fellow Hokie Hal Downing — and he knew his college friend Gillikin would bring the right balance to the team.
“Ed is a lot of things counter my own personality,” Guthrie said. “There’s almost nobody in town that he doesn’t know. Ed’s the kind of guy who has never met a stranger, and it just seemed like the right thing to do, so I asked him and he very smartly thought very hard about it.”
Gillikin’s wife, Kathy, thought this was a great opportunity. However, she did ask her husband if he thought he could successfully go into business with a close friend.
“It’s worked out. We’ve had to do some soul searching and have hard conversations at certain times when we’re getting on each other’s nerves, but we’ve made it,” said Guthrie.
“Working in an architecture firm requires teamwork, just like being in a band,” said Gillikin.
Both partners wanted to pursue architecture from an early age. Guthrie said he always wanted to be an architect, a job he thought “looked cool,” and Gillikin was introduced to the field in sixth grade by Sister Elizabeth at his Catholic school.
“She gave me a Smithsonian magazine, which featured the Pompidou Center to spark my curiosity. She thought my affinity for art and science could come together and that I might make a decent architect. As it turned out, I probably made a better drummer,” Gillikin said, though his portfolio would challenge the insinuation.
In high school, Gillikin was a drummer, section leader, and drum major in a military-style marching band at Benedictine College Prep in Richmond. After four years of shining shoes and brass, not to mention having to keep his hair short, Gillikin wasn’t interested in joining the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets and didn’t think he could cut it in a show band like the Marching Virginians. That didn’t stop him from attending an interest meeting after his first-year orientation.
“They mentioned band at one of the general sessions and said to go to Lane Hall if you’re interested in joining. It was the end of the day and Dad was late picking me up. I was sitting in front of Squires Hall and I just happened to see that in my notes, and I looked at the map and I was looking right at it [Lane Hall],” said Gillikin.
He attended the meeting and signed up to live in the band's residence hall. His father did not share his excitement on the ride home, seeing music as a distraction from architecture studies.
Guthrie, on the other hand, knew he wanted to be part of the band.
“I was in band all through high school and junior high. When I was a little kid, I used chopsticks to beat on pots and pans and coffee cans in the house,” said Guthrie.
Guthrie signed up when he registered for classes, and the band sent him audition materials. As the captain of the drum line in his high school band, he felt confident he could play snare drum for the Marching Virginians. His audition, however, didn’t go as planned.
“They asked me if I would be interested in playing any other instrument if I wasn’t able to play snare and I’m like, “Yeah, I’ll play whatever. I just want to be part of the band,’” said Guthrie.
On Sept. 10, 1984, Gillikin and Guthrie joined the Marching Virginians drum line as cymbal players. Gillikin eventually joined the bass drummers in the line.
“Before the first day of class, I already had 30 friends,” said Guthrie. “The band thing is like a family. Ed and several other guys, we’ve been friends ever since.”
Gillikin and Guthrie also had architecture courses together. Dedicating more time to design coursework may have improved their grades, but music recharged their creativity.
“In architecture, almost every day is looking at stuff you’ve created and everybody is poking holes in it, which is good and is the nature of learning, but it can wear on you after a while,” said Guthrie. “The drumline was a positive feedback loop, a positive group building each other up.”
“It probably, in the long run, improved our thought process and creativity and the way we approach architecture as musicians playing as much as we did at Tech,” said Gillikin. “We came back to the design studio charged and ready to work.”
Music remains a source of renewal for them. Balancing work, home, and music has its challenges, but eliminating music has never been an option. Guthrie plays in the cover band Run Forrest Run and Gillikin has played with The Remnants Rock-n-Soul band for 23 years.
“I could never imagine not having music in my life,” Guthrie said. “You give up a little family time so that you can be recharged, and you can come back fresh. It was like that at Tech.”
Guthrie and Gillikin are still connected to many of their fellow Marching Virginians. The musical family they built long ago includes Gutherie’s wife and fellow Marching Virginian, Betsy, and has grown to include new generations, like their daughter Kelly.
“We return each football season for Alumni Band, and many times march with alumni who are children of MV’s who graduated a few years after us, multiple generations with common experiences and traditions of being a Marching Virginian,” said Gillikin.
The Marching Virginians will celebrate the band’s 50th year in 2024.