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Stuart Shumate

Stuart Shumate

Civil Engineering
Class of 1936, BS

One of the key men who planned the building of Crystal City, Virginia, was Stuart Shumate, a 1934 graduate of civil engineering at Virginia Tech. Mr. Shumate was the president of the Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac Railroad (RF&P) at the time, and his company owned this valuable piece of land just outside the nation’s capital.

The purchase of this northern Virginia land by the railroad was not unusual. Railroad companies routinely bought property along their lines in order to use the land to develop industry. The goal was to secure businesses that might, in turn, use the transportation giant for transporting freight. But Mr. Shumate recognized that the future site of Crystal City was “way too valuable” for industrial use. Instead, he worked with Charles A. Smith, a developer, to build prime business and government buildings with designs that primarily used vertical architecture to maximize the space. Mr. Shumate recalls this venture as the largest operation he undertook during his career.

Mr. Shumate had learned early in his life how to stretch a penny. Born in 1915, he experienced the Great Depression as a young teenager. He entered Virginia Tech in 1932 after graduating from Calverton High School. When the time came to receive his bachelor’s degree, he recalls few options were available. One that interested him was an opening with the Pennsylvania Railroad. After the company met with a number of applicants from Tech’s College of Engineering, they selected Mr. Shumate to come to Philadelphia for a second interview. They immediately offered him his first position.

Although he admits that he took the job “because he could get it” in the aftermath of the stock market crash of 1929, Mr. Shumate quickly became fascinated by the railroad industry and “loved every minute of his work.” Part of his early responsibilities was to ensure the safety and reliability of the railroad’s infrastructure to allow the then high speeds of 70 to 80 miles per hour.

He recalls 1943 as a pivotal year for him. He met and married within six months “a pretty girl named Mary from West Virginia, and every year since the marriage has only gotten better.” But shortly after his wedding day he was shipped overseas as a member of the U.S. Army Transportation Corps. The Army used his talents to operate a railroad in Europe, and when he returned to the Pennsylvania job after the war, he carried a Bronze Star and retired from the service with the rank of colonel.

He moved to the operations side of the railroad business and began his professional ascent. But he soon received a telephone call from one of his Virginia Tech CE classmates who graduated two years ahead of him — Tom Rice (a 1999 initiate of the Academy of Engineering Excellence). In 1946, Mr. Rice recruited his friend to the RF&P Railroad. “I valued Stuart very much as a fine, fine gentleman and engineer. In fact, when he moved to Virginia, he and his wife Mary and I and my wife Jaqueline shared a house together since housing was so limited after the war.”

Mr. Shumate eventually became the RF&P president in 1961, and remained in this position for two decades. (Mr. Rice went on to become the CEO of CSX Corporation.) After Mr. Shumate’s retirement, CSX acquired RF&P.

Mr. Shumate was extremely active in his community during the time he was the RF&P president. His role also made him president and director simultaneously of the Richmond Land Corporation, and he served as chair of the Potomac Yard Board of Managers from 1955 until 1981. He was a director of the A.H. Robins Co. from 1966 until 1986, providing him with “an exciting exposure to a different type of industry.” He was also a director of the First and Merchants National Bank (1958-68 and 1974-81) and the Fruit Growers Express Company (1960-78). He served for eight years on the Board of Visitors of Virginia Commonwealth University and was a member of the study group that recommended the merging of the Medical College of Virginia with the Richmond Professional Institute.

He served on five Chambers of Commerce: the U.S., Virginia, Alexandria, Fredericksburg, and Metro Richmond, including the 1974 chairmanship of this last group. He was also a member of the Traffic Clubs of Richmond, Pittsburgh, and New York.

He and his wife, an artist who works with water colors, have two children, John and Susan, and two grandsons.

Class of: 1936
Year Inducted into Academy: 2001