Clifton C. Garvin, Jr.
Class of 1943, BS; Class of 1947, MS
When Clifton C. Garvin won the 1997 Ruffner Award from Virginia Tech for his service to the university, he was described as “a man for all seasons. A top student. A soldier. One of the nation’s preeminent business leaders. A dedicated volunteer who has given his time and talents to the betterment of the university.”
A native of Portsmouth, Virginia, Mr. Garvin earned both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in chemical engineering from Virginia Tech in 1943 and in 1947, respectively. His education was interrupted during World War II when he served with the U.S. Corps of Engineers in the South Pacific, attaining the rank of captain.
In 1947, the chemical engineer started his career with Exxon as a process engineer. In 1968, he was named to the Exxon Board, and four years later, he was named the company’s President. He reached the pinnacle of corporate America when he was elected Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer of the giant petroleum company in 1975. He held this position until his retirement in 1986.
He has also retired as a board director from several other prominent companies: Citicorp and Citibank; Hospital Corporation of America; Johnson and Johnson; JC Penney Company, Inc.; PepsiCo, Inc.; and TRW, Inc. He has served as a director of the Americas Society and as a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, Inc.; The Business Council; The Business Roundtable; and the American Institute of Chemical Engineers.
Throughout his distinguished career, Mr. Garvin has always found time to serve his alma mater. He served on the university’s Board of Visitors from 1988 until 1996, exhibiting strong leadership skills and exceptional business acumen. His executive ability landed him the position of Rector of the Board from 1991 until 1996. He is also a member of the Committee of 100 of the College of Engineering, the Ut Prosim Society, and the Virginia Tech Foundation. He has served on the latter’s Board of Directors and is its current Chair.
Most recently, he co-chaired the University’s Capital Campaign, traveling across the country to meet with alumni and other friends of the university. The campaign was the largest fund-raising effort in the university’s history. The university far exceeded the expectations of the goal of $250 million, reaching almost $340 million.
Among his other achievements include three honorary doctorates: in commercial science from New York University in 1978, in engineering from Stevens Institute of Technology in 1982, and in humane letters from Georgetown University in 1985. He received the Distinguished Service Award from Texas Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association in 1984 and the C. Walter Nichols Award from the New York University Graduate School of Business in 1985. In November of 1986, the government of The Netherlands named Mr. Garvin a Commander of the Order of Orange-Nassau.
He is married to his wife Thelma for 56 years and they have four children, 10 grandchildren, and one great grandson.
Class of: 1943, 1947
Year Inducted into Academy: 2000