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Former official passes at age 86

Colleagues remember executive vice president, WWII veteran for technological advancements, innovation

Avery Catlin, former computer science professor and executive vice president of the University, passed away Saturday at Westminster-Canterbury of the Blue Ridge from pneumonia. Catlin first began to teach in the Engineering School in 1948 and assumed the position of executive vice president in 1974.

Catlin, who was 86, played a large role in revolutionizing the University's technological capabilities, including introducing computers into offices and classrooms. He also advocated the introduction of e-mail into University-wide use.

"Mr. Catlin was a thoughtful and committed administrator, often seeing the potential for new technology and innovation before others could imagine its significance," Leonard Sandridge, current executive vice president and chief operating officer wrote in an e-mail. "[Catlin] was an important figure in the leadership of the University at a time when the institution was establishing itself as a national research institution."

The New York native studied at the University as an undergraduate but left to fight in World War II before graduation. When the war ended, Catlin returned to the University to earn his bachelor's degree in electrical engineering and his master's degree and doctor of philosophy in physics. Catlin returned to the Engineering School as a professor before becoming executive vice president in 1974. After a 12-year term, he resumed his role in the classroom.

Catlin was the first University official whose job directly involved layout planning, said Alexander "Sandy" Gilliam, the University's protocol and history officer. He was involved with determining the locations of some engineering buildings and Clemons Library, as well as with the conversion of Madison Hall into office buildings.

Gilliam, who worked as the president's assistant during this time period, said his first encounter with Catlin involved Catlin hooking up a typewriter to a telephone jack so that Gilliam could receive information on legislative bills pertaining to the University from Richmond more quickly. The contraption rarely worked, but when it did, Gilliam said it was "marvelous."

"He really sort of dragged [the University] kicking and screaming into the computer age," Gilliam said, noting that Catlin was also responsible for upgrading the University telephone system.

Former University President John T. Casteen, III said these contributions played an integral role in University life today.

"Our capacity to plan and accomplish what we plan has distinguished the University in recent times, and that capacity began with Mr. Catlin's work in planning," Casteen wrote in an e-mail yesterday. "He understood that the price of failing to plan would inevitably be future failure in the work that we do."

Catlin is survived by his wife of 64 years, Edith Reed Catlin, as well as their four children.

"[Catlin] was unflappable; he was bright; he was easygoing and he just refused to let things get to him," Gilliam said. "He was genuinely a good guy."

Funeral services will be held tomorrow at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Ivy, Va.


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