June 9, 2009 — Family members, friends and colleagues of the late John A. "Jack" Blackburn gathered on the Lawn today to plant a tree in honor of the former dean of admission, who helped many minority and low-income students gain access to the University of Virginia in the more than 23 years he served as dean.
"Jack worked tirelessly to build the strength and diversity of our student body," U.Va. President John T. Casteen III said, also lauding Blackburn's integrity and fairness.
Located on the northwest corner of the lower Lawn, near Cocke Hall, the autumn purple white ash tree recognizing Blackburn will develop a vibrant purple or red color in the fall, Arboretum and Landscape Committee Chairman Eric Nagy said, adding that ash trees are signature features of the Lawn.
While the Arboretum and Landscape Committee plants a memorial tree every year for Founder's Day, only four other trees on the Lawn are commemorative.
"I think it's a wonderful testament to his life," said Greg Roberts, who succeeded Blackburn as dean of admission. "We can walk by the tree and think of Jack."
Blackburn's widow, Betty, said having a tree on the Lawn would make her husband very proud. "He loved the Lawn," she said.
Blackburn's ashes lie under the tree in the same brown paper bag that Blackburn used to bring his lunch to work every day.
During the ceremony, Nagy also led the crowd of about 120 people in a moment of silence to remember Mark Fletcher, U.Va.'s executive director of intramural and recreational sports, who died unexpectedly Monday. Fletcher was a member of the Arboretum and Landscape Committee and would have been at today's ceremony, Nagy said.
Shortly before Blackburn's death on Jan. 20, friends quietly began raising money for a scholarship fund in his name. Funds raised to support AccessUVA thus far total about $1.8 million, which Casteen said will fund up to eight Blackburn scholars for each class.
Blackburn came to U.Va. in 1979 as an associate dean and began serving as dean of admission in 1985. Rather than admitting students based primarily on grades and standardized test scores, Blackburn sought to admit and enroll students of all different backgrounds.
In his tenure as dean of admission, Blackburn promoted AccessUVA and aggressively recruited qualified minority, low-income and international students. Blackburn also oversaw the abolition of early decision admission and the University's change to the Common Application, which aimed to broaden the University's applicant pool and increase the University's accessibility to prospective students.
In October, Blackburn received U.Va.'s Thomas Jefferson Award, the highest honor a member of the University can receive from U.Va., for his years of service and commitment to the University.