Willis and Mary Nolen Blackwood: The Hokie Nation Personified

"It amazes me,” Mary Nolen Blackwood joyfully reminisces, a Virginia Tech grad of ‘73, “you love each other in spite of your idiosyncrasies.”  Willis and Mary Nolen Blackwood, Class of 1972 and 1973 respectively, have continued to maintain their connection to Virginia Tech for the past 50 years following graduation through heavy family ties and financial involvements. Even in Florida, where they spend their summers, they have a Virginia Tech community, "It’s just amazing how we run into the Hokie Nation," says Mary.  When asked what comes to mind when they hear the words “Virginia Tech,” they say “family, home.”

At Virginia Tech, Mary majored in psychology and Willis majored in business administration. Then, after receiving their degrees from Virginia Tech, both of them acquired master’s degrees from VCU, with Mary’s being in health administration and Willis’s MBA. Both during and following their time at Tech, they have each had their own set of accomplishments related to the university, as well as those they achieved together. 

"It's just amazing how we run into the Hokie Nation." Mary Nolen Blackwood

Mary was the first of seven kids to go to college, and she has over twenty Hokie family members, including her and Willis’s two children.  In 2018 she received the Alumni Distinguished Service Award, and is part of the College of Science Hall of Distinction. The College of Science commemorated her achievement in this video.  These honors are the result of her generosity and her service. She is a member of the Legacy Society, Pylons Society, and the Ut Prosim Society President's Circle.  She is a lifetime member of the Women in Leadership and Philanthropy Council, serves on the College of Science Dean’s Roundtable Advisory Board, served on the Virginia Tech Foundation Board, and was the first female Chair of the College of Arts and Sciences Roundtable, among other affiliations. Additionally, as the Chair of the College of Science committee for the Campaign for Virginia Tech she raised more than $62 million.  Aside from Tech, she is involved in many community organizations, including the Chesterfield-Colonial Heights Christmas Mother Program, the United Way, and is an officer of election for Chesterfield County. She has served for several state agencies in Virginia, and in the Department of Psychiatry at the Medical College of Virginia/Virginia Commonwealth University.

"Do something you are passionate about and you enjoy, your career. It may not be a huge moneymaker but if you love it you will be successful."Mary Nolen Blackwood

Willis has his own involvements serving the university. He is the Chair of the Virginia Tech Real Estate Industry Advisory Board. Along with his wife, he established the Blackwood Development Company, a commercial real estate company, and over the course of his career has developed more than two million square feet of retail space as a company owner. 

While these two clearly possess their own individual affinities for hard work and service, they show such qualities to an even greater extent as a couple. Together they have provided a variety of donations to the university, including major gifts to the Athletics Department to develop Lane Stadium’s South End Zone and West Side expansions, and funding for the Pamplin College of Business for entrepreneurial scholarships, the Real Estate Management Program, the Olympic Sports project, the Hahn-Hurst Head Coach's office, and donating $2 million to name and endow the director’s position for Virginia Tech’s Real Estate program. They are bronze benefactors within the Virginia Tech Athletic Fund, and are President’s Circle members within the university’s Ut Prosim society.  Additionally, they provided bequest provisions for Virginia Tech Athletics and the College of Science in their estates, and a Leadership gift of $250,000 to Intercollegiate Athletics for an indoor golf facility that is to be named after them. 

In the end, Mary and Willis have some advice to share.  Mary advises current Virginia Tech students to “do something you are passionate about and you enjoy” she adds, “it may not be a huge moneymaker but if you love it you’ll be successful.”  Willis implores students to make sure they “stay involved with the university.” Considering their success, students can feel confident in taking their advice and putting it into practice.  And even better, students can feel optimistic that the Hokie family expands across the world. “There’s always a connection,” Mary assures, “we are always running into somebody.”  

One thing is for sure: Mary and Willis Blackwood will always be one big Hokie family, and Virginia Tech will never forget their generosity and influence.  

Date Recorded: May 10, 2018

Interviewer: Ren Harman

Date Posted: December 16, 2019

Editor: Amy Burke, Rachel Beisser, and Jessie Rogers

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