This May, Virginia Intermont College in Bristol closed its doors after 130 years - leaving thousands of alumni without an alma mater and hundreds of students to complete their degrees elsewhere. Mary Lou Smith spent her entire adult life at the school, and she’s in the process of compiling a history book to preserve the school’s legacy.
It’s safe to say, that after 60 years, Mary Lou Smith was a fixture at Virginia Intermont College.
She had a long career teaching physical education there—and even attended the school herself from 1953 to 1955 back when it was a junior college.
“I came back to VI in ’57 and taught until - I go laid off or fired? Whatever you call it when the school died.”
Maybe not fired - Mary Lou Smith’s last day at Virginia Intermont College was the day the doors closed in May. Her longtime association with the school has left her with a trove of VI trivia with information from the start of the school in Glade Spring, Virginia in 1884…to the construction of the Bristol campus in 1891…memorabilia continuing for 130 years, until VI succumbed to financial failure and the loss of accreditation.
“It’s going to be a history book but it’s also going to be part autobiography - because of, you know, my long years with the school. Nearly half the time the school existed, I was there - I lived it.”
Smith says she didn’t cry at the final graduation ceremony - but she did tear up. She delivered the school’s alma mater to the last group of students receiving a degree from Virginia Intermont, and kindly recited it for me:
“In Bristol town stands VIC. No other stands so high. Upon Virginia’s mountain land, beneath an azure sky. Her towering walls rise from the hills, where stately trees abound. And the moon and stars keep silent watch, over VI’s hallowed grounds. We are students all of VIC. Our second Mother dear. We love each brick and clinging vine, her noble precepts clear. We will always hold her banner high, wherever we may be. And prove that we are worthy of our own dear VIC.”
That alma mater is what prompted Smith’s tears on graduation day, and she even choked up on the phone. But she says’s she’ll redirect her emotions—putting her heart and soul into just ensuring the school lives on, if only in a book.