'What would Larry do?'

He was around when women weren't allowed to attend the University. He remembered when Memorial Gymnasium used to be the basketball team's home. He could recall how it used to be legal to drink alcohol in Newcomb Hall. In fact, his first year at the University was the same year Newcomb Hall opened.

Lazarus "Larry" Powell, Newcomb Hall's Building Manager and a keeper of Newcomb's history, passed away the night of Oct. 31 from pneumonia at the age of 64. The loss of such a prominent figure in Newcomb Hall came as quite a shock to the students and staff that knew him well.

"Because [Powell] had had similar respiratory problems in the past, we were concerned when he fell ill, but we expected him to come back to work at some point," Newcomb Hall Director Bill Ashby said.

On the morning of Nov. 1, Ashby said he received a call from Powell's daughter, notifying him that Powell had died the night before.

"We gathered as a staff that morning and the general feeling was just of shock and emptiness," Ashby said. "When you lose someone that was here every day for 23 years, there's no other way to describe it."

Powell first came to the University in 1958 as a student, but on Oct. 1, 1982, he became the building manager of Newcomb. He only recently had his 23rd anniversary of working as Newcomb's building manager, but he had been a part of the Charlottesville and University communities for 47 years.

"What was really special about Larry, he lived walking distance from Newcomb Hall -- he lived his life in a pretty compact circle, and he really believed in Newcomb as the center of that community," Ashby said. "He thought of this as a place where the faculty, students and staff could all get together as a community -- you could just see that in the way he lived his life. He believed in what this building stood for."

Ashby only began working as Director of Newcomb Hall in the fall of 2001, but there are others, like Information Desk Manager Shelly Ward, who knew Powell much longer -- Ward knew Powell for all of the 23 years he worked as Building Manager.

"He loved Halloween," she said, smiling fondly as she looked at the picture-collage memorial that she created in his honor. "I had a hard time finding serious pictures of him."

Although Ward said Powell was typically a serious person, he would randomly come up with "witty, off-the-wall" comments, as she described it, that no one was expecting to come from him.

Both Ward and Ashby emphasized that Powell really seemed to have an impact on the students he worked with. At Powell's memorial service, Ward noted that at least half of those in attendance were past or present University students.

If any further proof was needed, Newcomb Hall Building Attendant Supervisor and fourth-year College student Curran Jhanjee, who worked closely with Powell the past two-and-a-half years, talked of how Powell had quite an influence on him.

"I think it's hard to come to grips with him not being here just because he seemed to be a permanent fixture," Jhanjee said. "When I think of Newcomb, I think of Larry -- he's just part of the building. It's just harder to work, a lot of it's just because I've been working with him for so long, you kind of feel like you're working for him, not so much the building."

Jhanjee recalled the moment he heard that Powell had passed away: Jhanjee was at a career fair and, five minutes before he had a job interview scheduled to start, he received a phone call.

"It was about the time that I usually have a weekly meeting with Larry and I missed the meeting, so I thought I was in trouble," Jhanjee said. "It came up as an unknown number, which is usually Newcomb calling me, so I was like, 'Larry's going to have my head.'"

Upon hearing the news, Jhanjee was quite shocked. Having to then go on to a job interview, Jhanjee said he just had to stop in the middle of it because he couldn't concentrate on anything other than the loss of Powell.

Fourth-year College student and Newcomb Hall Building Manager Mike Provenza, who worked with Powell for three years, also thought quite highly of him. Provenza was originally hired as a building attendant, which is a position that involved working very closely with Powell.

"He was really a modest guy and he didn't really talk about himself very much -- if you wanted to get to know him, you kind of had to pry information out of him," Provenza said. "But the one thing that stuck out was that I can honestly say that he was more of an advocate for students than anyone I've met at the University."

Provenza attributed Powell's great popularity with the students to the fact that he was always willing to do anything he could to help someone else.

"He would ask if I needed a day off and he would do everything in his power to do that, including offer to work my shift himself -- he's a 64-year-old man and he's offering to close the building at two o'clock in the morning," Provenza said. "With that type of relationship, I would do everything I could to help him out because I knew that he would do the same thing for me."

With Powell gone, many noticed some differences around Newcomb.

Provenza said the building managers, who normally work shifts when Powell wasn't going to be there anyway, are still feeling the impact of not having Powell as a resource of information anymore.

"We have to ask ourselves, 'What would Larry do?' in any situation that comes up," Provenza said.

While Powell's death was the loss of a coworker and friend for many, it was also the loss of the significant amount of knowledge about Newcomb and the University that Powell carried around in his memory.

"There's a lot of history in the attic of Newcomb," Provenza said. "There's really incredibly old Cav Dailys up there, yearbooks from 1895, there's really old art, just a whole lot of stuff and, a lot of it, only [Powell] knows where it is. A lot of the stuff is currently lost, and it wasn't lost before, but now that Larry's gone, it's lost because no one else knew where it was and really, no one else cared."

Powell's death is being felt throughout Newcomb Hall, but the staff has discussed plans to memorialize Powell in some way.

"When something unexpected like this happens, you need some time to grieve and reflect," Ashby said. "Now we're getting to the point where we can discuss future plans."

The students and staff have talked about having a memorial in the building to recognize him in some permanent way; there has also been talk of an annual award for a student employee in honor of him, Ashby said.

Ashby mentioned that though it is still in the planning process, he envisions the award's purpose being "to recognize whoever reflects the commitment and passion Larry exhibited during his 23 years here."

Ward said that she thought a memorial of some sort in honor of Powell would be an excellent tribute to the man who devoted so much of his life to Newcomb Hall and the University.

"He's going to be greatly missed for a long time to come," Ward said. "New students that come in next year will never have known him, but this will be a great way to keep his name alive."

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