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Dr. Edward Alvey, Jr.: The Dean Who Lived and Chronicled a Century

When Dr. Edward Alvey, Jr., died at the age of 97 on July 11, 1999, generations of Mary Washington College students remembered him as their beloved Dean.

They -- and generations of Fredericksburgers -- also remembered him as a writer and historian who illuminated the life and times of our area.

First came a definitive History of Mary Washington College (1976). Others followed: History of the Presbyterian Church of Fredericksburg, Virginia (1976), The Streets of Fredericksburg (1978): The Fredericksburg Fire of 1807 (1981); History of the Literary Club of Fredericksburg, 1892-1982 (1984); The Fredericksburg Savings & Loan Association, A Record of Progress, 1922-1986 (1986); and 90 Years of Caring: Mary Washington Hospital (1989).

Today, each is an invaluable resource source with a wealth of carefully researched information which he presented in his extremely readable style.

However, it is in his biographical volumes that Ed Alvey's personality and warmth shine through. In Along Life's Way: Reminiscences of a Journey (1996), the gentleman with sunshine in his smile expressed his philosophy:

"It's not what happens to us but how we take what happens that matters. Above all, let us endeavor always to be kind, faithful and caring. We shall not pass this way again."

Begin a journey back in time with Dr. Alvey in his Days of My Youth (1987). "Underlying them all," he wrote, "a zest for living that made each day a new adventure to be savored and enjoyed."

The story begins in his native Richmond of the early 20th century. Little Ed walked a few doors down from the Alvey home at 813 West Grace Street to Miss Carrie Colquitt's School, rated as one of the best in Richmond and where "thoroughness and 100 percent mastery were the goals."

Here, gaslight illuminating his slate in the single large classroom, Ed spent five years. Here he began the memorization and recitation of classic poetry which would give him pleasure throughout his life. He would always admire Miss Carrie: "a lady, a gentlewoman who enobled the profession of teaching by what she was."

When summer came it was the custom in Richmond for mothers and children to go away to escape the heat of the city. Fathers would join them on weekends. The Alveys' destinations included Ashland, Culpeper, Alexandria, Louisa, Mineral, Shadwell, Crozet, and Cismont.

Travel was usually by the C&O's Fast Flying Virginian train. At Gordonsville, passengers dined on fried chicken and lemon meringue pie which were passed through the open train windows. He also remembered enjoying root beer ice cream sodas at the Culpeper Drug Store, blowing the C&O train whistle at Crozet, devouring James Fenimore Cooper's Leatherstocking Tales, and riding a horse named Bolivar in Alexandria.

A highlight of winter in Richmond was the Sunday School Entertainment at Park Place Methodist Church, South. Ed Alvey both portrayed Santa Claus and enthusiastically sang Christmas carols. Winter and summer, he and the other children loved to hitch rides on the massive ice wagon.

He eagerly sought part-time jobs. One of the first was night delivery boy for a drug store, riding a bike equipped with a small oil lamp. Later, he would man the soda fountain, candy and cigar counters at his brother-in-law's drug store

At age fifteen, Ed Alvey became an author. His article, "South American History as Revealed on Its Postage Stamps," was published in Scientific Research Magazine, which paid with free advertising. For a couple of years he was a philatelist, selling stamps on approval.

He became a member of the famous Cadet Corps at the old John Marshall High School and was at the Richmond Armistice Day parade in 1918.

Music was an important part of his life; he played the piano and banjo-mandolin and would later play the accordion. During his high school years, he was a member of Hofmann's Saxophone Orchestra.

After receiving his BA degree from the University of Virginia, Ed Alvey became principal of Warm Springs High School in Bath County. Here he would meet and marry Frances McClintic.

Along Life's Way opens as Ed and Frances begin their honeymoon, traveling to New York over the rough roads of 1927 in a Ford Model T. He became an instructor in the University of Virginia's School of Education, and completed the requirements for his Ph.D. degree in three years. His book reviews, "The Mind in Motion," ran in both newspapers and radio.

The Alveys' daughter and only child, Ellen, was the highlight of their lives. He tells her story in his 1993 book, Portrait of a Daughter. Ellen was six years old when the family moved to Fredericksburg. Her father would be dean of the college until 1967 and remain as professor of education until 1971.

When Dr. Alvey came to the college in 1934, it was the State Teachers College at Fredericksburg. It became Mary Washington College in 1938, as it moved into a liberal arts curriculum. In 1944, it was affiliated with the University of Virginia.

Dr. Alvey's first title was Director of Teacher Training; he was officially designated as Dean of the College in 1936. He initiated a bachelor of arts degree system and established the honor code.

It wasn't long after his arrival in Fredericksburg that he also began to play a vital role Fredericksburg life. He was trustee and elder at the Presbyterian Church of Fredericksburg, president of the Kiwanis Club, chairman of the Education Committee of the Fredericksburg Chamber of Commerce.

He was a "dollar a year man" during World War II as state chairman of the sale of War Savings Bonds in Schools and Colleges. In December of 1970, he was elected President of Historic Fredericksburg, Inc. (now Historic Fredericksburg Foundation, Inc.)

Ed Alvey certainly didn't take the world "retirement" literally when he retired from the college in 1971. He became president of the Senior Citizens Organization of Fredericksburg in 1976 and historian for Kenmore in 1979. In addition to his books, he would write over thirty articles for the Fredericksburg Times magazine and over a dozen for the Richmond Quarterly.

In 1977, he received an honorary doctorate in humane letters from Mary Washington College. In 1984, he was elected dean emeritus and in 1991 a dormitory was named after him. The college's Edward Alvey, Jr. Scholarship, established by the class of 1936, is awarded annually to the student most closely emulating the commitment to education and academic excellence exhibited by Dr. Alvey throughout his outstanding career at Mary Washington College.

When Dean Alvey retired from Mary Washington, the Alumni Association presented him with a citation to a "gentleman, scholar, educator and friend ... [with] integrity, courage, patience, kindness, strength of character and geniality."

Dr. Alvey's Fredericksburg Times Articles

January, 1976 -- "Federal Soldiers Attend Church"
March, 1976 -- "Clara Barton Was Here"
May, 1976 -- "The Remarkable Major French...Soldier, Cotton Broker, Partner of J.P. Morgan"
September, 1976 -- "The Confederate Cemetery"
June, 1977 -- "History of the Presbyterian Church of Fredericksburg"
April, 1979 -- "The Streets of Fredericksburg
July, 1983 -- "A Church's Distinctive History" (Presbyterian Church)
February, 1984 -- "Dashing Through Fredericksburg in a One- Horse Open Sleigh"
September, 1984 -- "What's in a Name?"
March, 1985 -- "Any Bonds Today?"
January, 1986 -- "In Espana, She Was 'Esnowflake'"
August, 1986 -- "Accordion Music"
September, 1988 -- "Mary Washington College Reception"
December, 1987 -- "Sunday School Christmas Entertainments"
April, 1989 -- "Fredericksburg Fire of 1807"
July, 1989 -- "Summer Vacations: Old Virginia Style"
August, 1989 -- "My Special Summer Places"
December, 1989 -- Review: "90 Years of Caring, Mary Washington Hospital"
April, 1990 -- "A Lover of Hats"
September, 1990 -- "A Year to be Remembered (Kenmore Celebration)"
December, 1990 -- "Dr. Forrest J. Prettyman, Minister and Composer"
February, 1991 -- "A Birthday Broadcast From Mt. Vernon"
September, 1991 -- "Monroe Hall"
April, 1992 -- "A Gala Movie Premiere in Fredericksburg"
August, 1992 -- "The Fredericksburg Flood of 1942"
September, 1992 -- "The Cavalry Troop of Mary Washington College"
November, 1992 -- "Robert A. Hodge"
December, 1992 -- "Christmas at the Presbyterian Church of Fredericksburg"