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Remembering Harry W. Porter

January 22, 2011

I received this email yesterday from Kim Tanzer, current Dean of the School of Architecture at the University of Virginia (my alma mater):

University of Virginia School of ArchitectureHarry W. Porter

Dear School of Architecture Community,

I write with the sad news that Harry W. Porter, former faculty member and dean, passed away yesterday at his home in New Bern, NC where he lived with his wife Anne. He was 74.

One of the founding figures of the school, Porter was recruited by Dean Joe Bosserman to come to Charlottesville in 1969 after having taught at the University of Michigan (1965-69) and Harvard (1964-65). Upon arriving, he established the School of Architecture’s department of landscape architecture and served as its first chair from 1969 through 1982.

Later, Porter served as associate dean of administration (1982-1983) and interim dean of the School until he was appointed dean in 1989. During his tenure, Porter was awarded the Elson Professor of Architecture chair and the Lawrence Lewis, Jr., Professor of Architecture chair.

In 1991, Porter became the first University Architect in the newly created Office of the Architect where he advised on the architectural design and development of the University Grounds. He was also the first dean of the School to live in Pavilion IX on the Lawn until he retired in 1994. In 1996, a pumpkin ash tree was planted in his honor in front of Pavilion IX, drawing a large crowd of friends and admirers from across the university.

As a sign of the alumni body’s great affection and gratitude for Porter, the School completed a successful campaign after his retirement to establish the Harry W. Porter Jr. Visiting Professorship in Architecture. This program continues today, serving all four departments on a rotating basis to invite outside guest critics and lecturers each year to the School.

Porter was recognized nationally as one of the country’s finest educators in landscape architecture. He was a Fellow of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), an honorary member of the Virginia Society of the American Institute of Architects (VSAIA), and former president of the Council of Educators in Landscape Architecture.

Several of the School of Architecture’s current landscape architecture faculty were students of Porter’s—Elizabeth Meyer, Reuben Rainey, and Nancy Takahashi. They remember him fondly for his energetic nature, inspirational leadership, and his educational mission to produce leaders in the field working in the urban, public realm of design. He will be greatly missed by all who had the pleasure of knowing and working with him.

I had the pleasure of being a student at the University of Virginia’s School of Architecture under Dean Porter, and always enjoyed my encounters with him. I recall him welcoming me to the school and was impressed that he remembered my name, even though I had only met him once several months prior. He was always smiling, happy, and eager to have a conversation with students. I was honored to attend a dinner he hosted in his home in Pavilion IX on the Lawn, and honored to have his signature on my diploma when I graduated. My thoughts and prayers are with his family and loved ones.

If you have any “Harry Porter” stories you’d like to share feel free to leave comments below.

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