Hampden-Sydney College has lost a longtime supporter and champion with the passing of Raymond B. Bottom, Jr. '51, who passed away on February 7, 2018, at the age of 88.
"Ray Bottom believed strongly in our mission to form good men and good citizens, and for his entire life he remained a steadfast and enthusiastic supporter of his beloved alma mater, the Wilson Center for Leadership in the Public Interest, and the Kappa Alpha Order," said College President Larry Stimpert. "We will miss Ray's counsel and friendship, and we are ever grateful for all that he did for the men of Hampden-Sydney."
A native of Hampton, Virginia, Mr. Bottom was the single most generous financial supporter in the history of Hampden-Sydney College. First elected to the Board of Trustees in 1973, Mr. Bottom received a number of honors from the College over the years, including the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award and the Keating Medallion, which recognizes outstanding service and extraordinary dedication to Hampden-Sydney.
"I have never known a man more generous, more humble, and more willing to do anything to help his alma mater," said Dean of Admissions Anita H. Garland. "When I came to the College 38 years ago, he was one of the first alumni I met, and he has been an integral part of my life and that of our office since that time. I can't quite imagine recruiting a class of Hampden-Sydney men without him."
The former chairman and editor-in-chief of the Daily Press newspaper, Mr. Bottom later served as chairman and chief executive officer of Centennial Communications, Inc. He earned a degree in physics from Hampden-Sydney College and served as an officer in the U.S. Air Force, retiring from the Air Force Reserves after a decorated 27-year career. Mr. Bottom remained an avid pilot throughout his life, often donating the use of his plane for charitable causes. He was also a passionate supporter of the Virginia Peninsula USO and the Virginia Air & Space Center, where he had served as a director.
"Hampden-Sydney lost a good man this morning, and I lost a great friend," said Director of Admissions Jason Ferguson '96. "'Ray Bottom from Hampton' was one of Hampden-Sydney's best, and there is no one who loved this College more than he. Through his generosity and relentless recruiting efforts, he is responsible for countless young men having the opportunity to walk this campus and learn to share in his adoration for this special place."
Mr. Bottom also served on the advisory board of the Wilson Center for Leadership in the Public Interest at Hampden-Sydney and remained active with the College's chapter of the Kappa Alpha Order.
"Ray was an ardent supporter of the Kappa Alpha Order, and I was fortunate enough to befriend him in 1994 when I served as president of the fraternity," Ferguson said. "Over the past 24 years, I believe that we spoke just about every day, sometimes twice a day. I will miss those calls. I will miss Ray. He was the kindest, gentlest, wittiest, and most giving man I have ever known."
Dean Garland agrees. "Our world has shifted at Hampden-Sydney College. Our axis is gone. In the passing of Ray Bottom, the College has lost its most faithful servant, most devoted alumnus, most generous donor, and its greatest friend. Countless members of the alumni body and current students have lost the man who made a Hampden-Sydney education possible for them."
Mr. Bottom actively encouraged many young men in the Peninsula area of Virginia to attend Hampden-Sydney, in addition to generously supporting scholarship aid, which was a family priority: The Raymond B. and Dorothy Rouse Bottom Scholarship, established by Mr. Bottom's parents, provided need-based scholarship aid to Peninsula-area students at the College. "He was our star recruiter," Dean Garland said, "poring over local newspapers for stories about students who would 'fit' us, speaking with those students about Hampden-Sydney, and bringing them to the campus to show them the place that changed his own life. Yearly he sponsored events for students and parents so that they could meet alumni and see in practice the brotherhood of Hampden-Sydney College."
The sad news of Mr. Bottom's passing elicited an outpouring of tributes from College alumni and friends whose lives he touched. "He believed that every person deserved the right to a great education and that money should not prevent a person from receiving such an education, which is why he donated plenty of resources to the College to make sure students could finish what they started," said Rusty Foster '04 in a post on Facebook. "He taught me how to give back, to pay it forward, to lend a helping hand, and to always have a good laugh. He taught me to be selfless. He was for sure a role model. He is a rare breed of a person—something we need more of in today's world."
John Axsom '05 also grew close with Mr. Bottom through a shared love of Hampden-Sydney. "Whether you met him for the first time, or knew him for forty years, Uncle Ray considered you to be the most important person in the room," Axsom said. "Selfless, and caring, Uncle Ray embodied all the characteristics of integrity that we want each Hampden-Sydney man to learn, practice, and share with the world at large. He is arguably the alumnus that loved our college the most, and I will dearly miss him, his vignettes, and his love of philanthropy."
Mr. Bottom's selflessness extended far beyond College-related endeavors. "I'll never forget when my 4-year-old daughter needed special medical care, and Ray took us in his plane to the Mayo Clinic," recalled Tayloe Negus '88, a longtime friend. "As odd as it sounds, we found a way to have a wonderful time together during these trying days in Rochester, Minnesota. Truly memorable. And truly life changing. Because of the incredible care and consultation she received at the Mayo clinic, my daughter is thriving today—while giving her dad too much of a hard time—at the age of almost 20. Thank you, Ray."
"Ray Bottom was the absolute finest embodiment of a Hampden-Sydney man," said Dr. Herbert L. King, Jr. '94, the College's vice president for institutional advancement. "He loved this College, her students, her alumni, and he worked tirelessly to promote Hampden-Sydney in all that he did. We are an infinitely stronger institution because of his care and devotion, and hundreds of young men have strong lives today because Ray Bottom introduced them to Hampden-Sydney. We will dearly miss him."
While the gravity of this loss is reverberating across the College family, Mr. Bottom's legacy and selfless spirit will live on at this College and in all whose lives were graced by his friendship and generosity.
"'Uncle Ray' will be missed like no other," said Dean Garland. "He was a legend in his own time, and a true Hampden-Sydney hero."
Raymond B. Bottom Jr., former Daily Press chairman, dies at 88 (Daily Press)