George R. Goodson, Jr.
Class of 1949, BS
Forty-nine years ago, George R. Goodson, Jr., started his career with Warwick Plumbing and Heating, and quickly climbed into the executive ranks. In 1983, the Virginia Tech mechanical engineering graduate was named President, and six years later, Chairman. He continues to hold this position and his son Royden, also a Hokie with a civil engineering degree, serves as President. His second son, Pax, a graduate of MIT, is the Executive Vice President. Goodson was associated with another Virginia Tech mechanical engineering graduate, Hobart Speegle, Jr., when they founded Warwick Air Conditioning in 1958, a company Mr. Speegle subsequently owned until his retirement.
The Goodson team has witnessed its company grow to become one of the largest mechanical contracting firms in Virginia, grossing upwards of $50 million annually. The range of mechanical contracts extends from churches, schools, and hospitals to piping systems for water treatment plants, paper mills, high pressure air systems for NASA, and nuclear clean piping systems for Newport News Shipbuilding. In 1989, the company was named to the distinguished list of Top 10 suppliers by Newport News Shipbuilding.
Born in Newport News, Virginia, George’s father worked for the Newport News Shipyard. The older Goodson would often take his son, an aspiring engineer, to the massive facility where he was fascinated by the ship construction. During summer breaks from Virginia Tech, he was able to work in the shipyard on hydraulic engineering and engineering technology projects. To this day, he remembers a granite monument in the shipyard engraved with the words: “We shall always build good ships, at a profit if we can, at a loss if we must, but always good ships.” It is a principle he has applied throughout his career with his construction contracts.
Mr. Goodson’s fascination with engineering led him to Virginia Tech in 1945. As a student, he was a member of the Corps of Cadets, achieving the status of Distinguished Military Graduate. “The Corps taught me discipline and regimentation which I needed. It didn’t solve all of my problems,” Mr. Goodson laughs, “but it helped.”
His other activities at Virginia Tech included membership in Omicron Delta Kappa, Pi Tau Sigma, Phi Delta Epsilon, and the German Club. He was the treasurer of his class of 1949, and he volunteered as manager of the baseball team for three years. “We had good teams and a good coach in Red Laird. I enjoyed being able to get outside for the Blacksburg springtime. I could also get excused from classes on occasion!”
The college days ended in 1949 when Mr. Goodson received his bachelor’s degree and had to find a job. “It was a pretty scary time,” he recalls. He began working in Pennsylvania for the Philadelphia Gear Works as a sales engineer. He stayed for two years until the Korean War interrupted his life. With an Air Force Reserve commission, he was called by Uncle Sam to serve 21 months. After a year in electronics school studying radar, he did not have enough time to go to Korea, and so he spent the remainder of his time in Montana.
Upon his discharge, he decided to return to Virginia, and in 1953 started his career with the company he now chairs. In the early years, he worked in the field as a foreman and later as an estimator and project manager. “I was fortunate to be able to work in the field. I liked working with my hands, and the combination of my college education and field experience served me well in managing the company. “To this day, I have great respect for the working man and the skill he brings to the job,” Mr. Goodson says.
He supplies continuing support to Virginia Tech. He recently funded the Goodson Learning Center in the mechanical engineering department. This center is specially equipped with an area for students to study with computer terminals, an office for the ASME student group, and a place to relax. He also established a professorship within the department that is now held by Dan Inman, director of the Center for Intelligent Material Systems and Structures. Mr. Goodson is a founding member of the Ut Prosim Society. He has served on the board of the Virginia Tech Foundation and on the Advisory Board of the Committee of 100.
Professionally, he has held membership in the National Association of Professional Engineers; the American Society of Mechanical Engineers; the American Society of Military Engineers; the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration, and Air Conditioning Engineers; and he served as a Director of the Associated General Contractors of Virginia.
“I have always felt a strong obligation to give back to the community that has given so much to me,” Mr. Goodson says. Among his civic offices, he has served as a past president of the Peninsula Fine Arts Center, the Virginia Living Museum, and the Warwick Rotary Club. He is currently serving on the board of the Virginia Air and Space Center, and is Chairman of the building committee for the Virginia Living Museum. He has served as elder and deacon in his Presbyterian Church.
He cites his continued association with the Virginia Living Museum as most rewarding. “When we started the VLM over 30 years ago, it was the first in the state. We are now constructing a new $23 million facility that will serve over 400,000 school children and visitors annually. It will be one of the finest of its kind in the country.”
“Virginia Tech deserves a lot of credit for my success in business. The education I received at Tech provided me with the working knowledge needed when starting out in industry. It taught me sound engineering fundamentals that have remained with me through the years. Also, the friendships made at Tech and the association with fellow Techmen in business and with the community have meant a great deal to me. To this day, I love returning to campus to see what is going on and to catch up with lifelong friends,” he reminisces.
Class of: 1949
Year Inducted into Academy: 2003