Sandy Gilliam: Historian

Sandy Gilliam
  • Class of: Col ’55
  • Hometown: Baltimore, MD
  • Current City: Charlottesville, VA
  • Current Job: UVA History and Protocol Officer; formerly CIC officer, teacher, Foreign Service officer
  • Bodo’s Order: For breakfast, egg and sausage on an everything bagel, cut in half. Another choice would be the lox and cream cheese spread on everything, cut in half, and then the other one is liverwurst on everything, cut in half, with lettuce, onion, mustard and mayonnaise

Tell us about your current life.

I’ve been retired since 2014 and have two sons and four grandchildren. One of my sons attended UVA and is now an architect, and the other attended West Point. I was formerly the University History and Protocol Officer at UVA, and I’ve started to write short papers on things of interest in UVA’s history, for example the responsibilities of the Honor Committee versus those of the student council.

Tell us your UVA story.

I like to say that I was admitted to the University when I was four years old. My mother was from Charlottesville, and my father, grandfather and other family members all attended UVA. My father got me all dressed up and presented me, his firstborn, to Ms. Mary Proffitt, secretary to Dean Lewis at the time—so my future was sealed from then on!

I started off with the idea of going to medical school, but found organic chemistry and changed my mind. However, I realized I had a love of history and switched majors in my third year. My father agreed to the change but told me to see Dr. A.D. Hart, the head of student health. I was to see him every day of summer school so I’d be “straightened out” from whatever had possessed me to change my course of study. But after our initial meeting where I proved that I was more or less sound of mind, Dr. Hart said to me, “You’re wasting my time and I’m wasting yours. I won’t tell if you won’t.”

I pledged Beta in my second year and lived with the fraternity in my third. I was also president of the Student Union, which was my introduction to difficult diplomacy.

What’s a favorite UVA memory?

My family has a history at UVA—we would come to Charlottesville in the summer, I’d attend football weekends at the frat house, and I have wonderful memories of the Rotunda with the magnolias in bloom.

What was your journey after leaving UVA?

I joined the CIC (Counter-Intelligence Corps) and was sent to Germany to hunt Soviet spies. After I left the army, I attended graduate school to study history, but it was hard to get back into it, so I quit by my second year. I taught at St. Christopher’s in Richmond for two years and then started working for the Foreign Service on Jan. 2, 1962. My first post was in Tel Aviv, and I was later sent to Chad.

I decided to return to UVA in the summer of 1974 because I wanted to get out of Washington, but by November I was having second thoughts about it. However, I changed my mind when I saw a female student outside of my old room on the Lawn; it made me realize that the University was changing for the better and that coming back was the right choice. One of my duties was organizing Queen Elizabeth II’s visit to the University in July 1976 alongside an official from the Virginia governor’s office, and I also organized the visits of other high-ranking officials, including the emperor and empress of Japan and the crown prince of Jordan.

What makes you say Wahoowa?

It really is, to me, alma mater. I also think of my family—of my mother being from Charlottesville and our family visiting the town in the summer.

How do you stay connected with UVA and other alumni, and why is it important to connect with the UVA community and other alumni?

In the past, people assumed the Alumni Association was for sports and sports alone, and the magazine wasn’t at the same level of quality as it is now. Today, though, Virginia Magazine has intelligent articles that reflect the real interests of alumni. I surveyed alumni during the University’s first capital campaign and found that many were flattered to be included in alumni activities. Surveying in San Francisco revealed a need for more outreach in places farther from Charlottesville. Nowadays, I’m involved with two different informal groups of alumni that regularly meet to catch up.

Tell us the biggest way in which you hope alumni can help impact UVA.

Above all, participation. Alumni appreciate being asked to give back, and it seems people have realized that alumni need to be taken seriously, and there should be ways organized for them to engage.