Archive for February, 2011

More Celebrations in Bardstown

Max Shapira '65, right, joins Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear in rolling the first barrel into Heaven Hill's new rickhouse.

There was another celebration in Bardstown, Ky., yesterday with Washington and Lee alumnus Max L. Shapira, of the Class of 1965, who operates Heaven Hill Distilleries. Back in December, we wrote about the 75th anniversary of Heaven Hill on the day that it filled its 6 millionth barrel of bourbon.

On Wednesday, Max cut the ribbon and was joined by Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear to roll the first 53-gallon, 500-pound barrel of Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey into Rickhouse “J,” the latest addition of a nearly $5 million expansion of the company’s barrel-storage capacity. With 49 warehouses in Kentucky’s Nelson and Jefferson Counties already filled to capacity with aging whiskey, the company constructed two new rickhouses, increasing  barrel storage by an additional 40,000.

Heaven Hill is the largest independent, family-owned and -operated bourbon distiller and distilled-spirits producer in the United States. The new warehouse is for its growing inventory of approximately 900,000 aging barrels, the second largest in the world. In 2010, for the first time in its history, Heaven Hill produced more barrels than anyone else in the industry.

Max represents the third generation of Shapiras in the business. His son, Andy Shapira, of the Class of 1996, joined Heaven Hill as director of sales analysis three years ago. Founded in 1934, Heaven Hill has a diversified portfolio of brands including The Christian Brothers Brandies, Evan Williams and Elijah Craig Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskeys, Burnett’s Vodkas and Gin, Hpnotiq Liqueur, PAMA Pomegranate Liqueur, Lunazul and Two Fingers Tequilas, and Dubonnet Aperitif.

And Meet My Guidedog, Too

Matt Simpson '12 and Lacrosse

Matt Simpson, from Smyrna, Ga., is a junior resident adviser at Washington and Lee. A politics and history major, he is also visually impaired. He shares his room in Davis Hall with his guide dog, Lacrosse.

This week Matt spoke with Beckie Supiano of the Chronicle of Higher Education for an episode of the Chronicle’s new audio web series, “Say Something,”  in which Chronicle writers collect interesting stories about students from all over the country. Matt described the way he’s managed to handle all his RA duties despite his blindness. You can listen to the story below or go to the Chronicle site.

In addition to everything else that he does, Matt has played on the U.S. Champion Goalball team. W&L news director Sarah Tschiggfrie wrote about his athletic career in a 2009 story on our website.

New Memoir by Mark Richard ’80

Mark Richard '80

“Say you have a ‘special child,’ which in the South means one between Down’s and dyslexic.”

So begins “House of Prayer No. 2,” the new memoir by Washington and Lee alumnus Mark Richard, of the Class of 1980, that was released today amid a flurry of positive reviews everywhere from Sunday’s New York Times Book Review to Entertainment Weekly.

In her New York Times review, Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum writes: “Richard was a ‘special’ child in several senses, and he beautifully demonstrates how this word, especially as it was used in the South, is roomy enough to accommodate contradictory meanings. The child is special because he bites strangers at parties but also because he sees an angel pass through the living room on Easter morning. One teacher predicts future greatness, while others suspect he ‘might be retarded.’ He can read aloud from a college chemistry textbook by the age of 6, but is considered ‘slow’ because he can’t correctly color the state bird. He is also special because of the congenital hip problems that land him for long spells in the Crippled Children’s Hospital, where he endures torturous operations and slow, immobile recoveries inside a body cast.”

A journalism and mass communication major at W&L, Mark was an assistant at Shenandoah: The Washington and Lee University Review. After W&L, he became an award-winning writer of short stories and novels, publishing two collections, “The Ice at the Bottom of the World” and “Charity”; and a bestselling novel, “Fishboy.” His short stories have appeared in The New Yorker, Harper’s, Esquire, GQ, The Paris Review, The Oxford American, Grand Street, Shenandoah, The Quarterly, Equator and Antaeus. He has received the PEN/Ernest Hemingway Award, a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, a Whiting Foundation Writer’s Award, a New York Foundation for the Arts fellowship, the Mary Francis Hobson Medal for Arts and Letters and a National Magazine Award for Fiction.

Then there is his work in television and film, including being co-writer and actor in 2008’s Stop-Loss, a film that describes as about “a veteran soldier who returns from his completed tour of duty in Iraq, only to find his life turned upside down when he is arbitrarily ordered to return to field duty by the Army.”

In advance of the publication of “House of Prayer No. 2,” Mark appeared on National Public Radio’s “The Diane Rehm Show,” where he referred briefly to his W&L career: “Probably not the best fit for me,” he said. “I didn’t go to prep school. I went to public high school, but I had great teachers there. I had a couple of really good teachers again. I had Jim Boatwright, who’s editor of Shenandoah magazine, who encouraged my writing, and a couple of maverick teachers, Bob De Maria in the journalism department. All you need is one or two teachers.” You can listen to the entire interview and read the transcript here.

Cowboys, Jets & Walt Michaels

Walt Michaels '51 was a four-tme All-Pro linebacker.

An interesting connection occurred last week in Houston, where Washington and Lee’s Board of Trustees was holding its winter meetings at the Houstonian. Turns out that the board of the University of Wyoming also happened to be meeting at the same hotel, and the two universities share a bit of a history.

In 1951, W&L and Wyoming met in the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla. Behind quarterback Gil Bocetti ’51 and fullback Walt Michaels ’51, the Generals had compiled an 8-2 record and were unbeaten at 5-0 in the Southern Conference. Wyoming was the undefeated champion of the Mountain States Conference. As it happened, the Cowboys wound up handing the Generals a 34-18 defeat, and some W&L fans will always point to Walt’s having to miss the contest because of appendicitis. It was the first game Walt had ever missed, and conspiracy theories circulated because the doctor who treated Walt was from the University of Virginia.

More than 60 years later, Walt was back in the news, when New York Times writer George Vescey tracked him down at his home in Pennsylvania last month to talk about Walt’s seven seasons as coach of the New York Jets prior to the Jets’ playoff game at Pittsburgh. If you missed the column, you can read it here. It has a lot of good stories, including about the battles that Walt used to have with Oakland Raider owner Al Davis, whom he always suspected of spying on Jet practices.

Asked what has changed about football since he was playing and coaching, Walt’s response was typical: “Nothing. If you hit people, you can win.”

Brain Freeze! Alumnus’ Record Label Releases Benefit DVD

Peter Homans, a member of Washington and Lee’s Class of 1972 who has blended his musical and business skills, is practically a walking advertisement for a liberal arts education. In the Spring/Summer 2010 issue of the alumni magazine, we wrote about his PARMA Recordings, which had just released “Tendrils,” a CD containing music by Peter; Byron Petty, a professor in the W&L Music Department; and the late Robert Stewart, the founder of that department. You can read that article here.

And now Peter’s company has issued a new work, this time a DVD under the aegis of Big Round Records. Titled “Brain Freeze,” it’s a DVD of the stand-up act of comic John Kawie, who had a stroke at age 47. Kawie chronicles his recovery in his act. After startup costs, PARMA will donate 17 percent of retail sales to the American Stroke Foundation.

Peter has a B.A. in English plus two master’s of music degrees. He worked as assistant business manager and primary musical assistant to the famed composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein. He received two fellowships to the Tanglewood Music Center and won the Aaron Copland Prize for Composition. He also worked with Bear Stearns, the investment bank and brokerage. He founded his own broker/dealer research firm and branched out into the music industry as a composer and an investor in PARMA.

Book Burning Targets Alumnus

Erik Curren

Authors want their books to garner notice: good reviews, robust sales, enthusiastic readers. Having one’s book burned in protest, however, isn’t usually on the wish list. Erik Curren, a member of Washington and Lee’s Class of 1987, found this out last week, when his 2006 book, Buddha’s Not Smiling: Uncovering Corruption at the Heart of Tibetan Buddhism Today, went up in flames during a Feb. 5 protest in Gangtok, Sikkin, India, located in the eastern Himalayan Mountains.

As one can surmise from his book’s subtitle, Curren touched a nerve, in this case with followers of Ogyen Trinley Droje, the head of the Kagyu sect of Tibetan Buddhism. Some Buddhists see him as the successor to the Dalai Lama; others back a different candidate. To complicate things, some Indians believe he has unsavory ties to the Chinese government. Curren examined the controversy in his book and found evidence for the charges of corruption. The group that organized the Feb. 5 protest told the Augusta Free Press that Curren’s book contained inaccurate information and that he did not contact them for comment, charges he denies.

Curren, a Buddhist himself, told Charlottesville’s WVIR-TV, “On the one hand I’m glad that people are taking my book seriously. On the other hand I’m appalled that in today’s day and age, something like a book burning is considered to be a valid form of communication about a controversial issue.”

Curren is the managing partner of the Curren Media Group in Staunton, Va.

A Plethora of Pulitzers

This past Monday on the campus of Washington and Lee, members of the Journalism Department, budding student journalists and two visitors had dinner together, courtesy of the Reynolds Foundation. It’s not unusual, of course, for W&L students to have face time with distinguished visitors. What made this dinner party out of the ordinary, however, was the number of Pulitzer Prize winners around the table.

One guest was reporter Daniel Gilbert. Now at the Wall Street Journal, he won the 2010 Pulitzer for public service when he worked at the Bristol (Va.) Herald Courier for his stories “illuminating the murky mismanagement of natural-gas royalties owed to thousands of land owners in southwest Virginia, spurring remedial action by state lawmakers,” as the Pulitzer website puts it.

Another guest was Jane Healy, the former editor of the editorial page at the Orlando (Fla.) Sentinel. She received her Pulitzer in 1988 for her editorial writing in protest of the overdevelopment of Orange County.

Charlotte Hall, Donald W. Reynolds Distinguished Visiting Professor

And then there was Charlotte Hall, W&L’s current Reynolds Distinguished Visiting Professor. In 1995, when she worked at Newsday (Long Island, N.Y.), she supervised a two-person team that took the Pulitzer for investigative reporting “that revealed disability pension abuses by local police.” Hall is teaching a course on opinion writing this term.

Pamela Luecke, Donald W. Reynolds Professor of Business Journalism

Rounding out this illustrious group was W&L’s own Pam Luecke, the Donald W. Reynolds Professor of Business Journalism. When Pam was an editor and the senior vice president of the Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader, the paper won the 2000 Pulitzer for editorial cartooning, and she has supervised two Pulitzer projects during her editorial career. Pam joined W&L in 2001 and is now the head of the Journalism Department.

Perhaps the influence of all these superb yet modest journalists rubbed off on the students in attendance, and one day we’ll be writing about their Pulitzer Prizes.