July 15, 2008 — Raymond C. Bice Jr., who charmed psychology students with his inventive "Bice devices," entertained standing-room-only audiences with tales of the old University and held several key administrative posts during a half-century at the University of Virginia, turns 90 on July 26.
His friends are invited to help him celebrate on Saturday, July 26, from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. in the Rotunda Room at Westminster Canterbury, 250 Pantops Mountain Road in Charlottesville.
It was the University's beautiful Grounds that lured Bice to Charlottesville in September 1948, but it was the students and his love of teaching that kept him here. He described his time at the University — in which he taught 91 consecutive semesters to some 27,000 students — as "pure pleasure."
A native of LaCrosse, Wis., who earned bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees at the University of Wisconsin, Bice was elected professor emeritus in 1994 but stayed on until 1998 as University History Officer. He worked with five of the University's seven presidents.
"He is one of the most unique characters you'll ever come across in your life," said Jeanne Bailes in a 2005 interview. Bailes, clerk of the Board of Visitors, who worked for Bice for nearly 21 years, described him as warm, devoted and understanding. But, she added, "There aren't enough adjectives to describe him."
In addition to being a popular teacher, Bice was an administrative jack-of-all-trades at the University, holding titles such as associate dean in the College of Arts & Sciences (1958-1969), assistant to the president (1969-1990), secretary to the Rector and Visitors (1969-1990) and University History Officer (1991-1998). Among students, he was best known for his Psychology 101 course, affectionately known as "Bice Psych."
Bice's 500-seat lecture at times had a waiting list of more than 100 students, some of whom sent flowers, poems and other treats to attempt to gain entrance to his course.
He combined household items and off-the-shelf parts to illustrate some of the more difficult psychological concepts. One such "Bice device" demonstrated how the human pupil responds to stimuli. Bice focused a magnifying glass on the eye of one of his female students. First, he showed her an inanimate object. Next he had a male student remove his jacket and saunter in front of the young woman. "Her pupil opened 200 percent," Bice said, in a Richmond Times-Dispatch article in 1994.
Bice's devices weren't limited to the classroom. He also used them in his administrative work. Alexander "Sandy" G. Gilliam Jr., today's secretary to the Rector and Visitors, recalled in a 2005 interview Bice's ingenious solution to a crisis that loomed as the University planned for Queen Elizabeth II's 1976 visit to U.Va.
Gilliam, who chaired the planning committee, recalled, "I had it all worked out. I got a stopwatch and decided to walk the actual route that the queen would" at the actual time when she would walk it. When he reached the top stair to the Dome Room, where the queen, her party and dignitaries would gather for lunch, he discovered that "the sun would hit the queen right in her eyes, and she wouldn't be able to see anything."
An ROTC officer suggested putting parachutes over the skylight at the top of the dome to block the sunlight, but no one could figure out how. Instead, Bice "found a trap door to the top of the Rotunda. … His solution was to get that kind of paper that you wrap meat in and paste it down with water-soluble glue." Bice's fix worked for the queen's visit on July 10, 1976; rains eventually washed the paper away. "That was just like Ray, to come up with a [solution] like that," Gilliam said.
In addition to his love for gadgets, another love emerged unexpectedly for Bice in 1965. Zula Mae Baber, then associate professor of nursing, summoned him to a meeting to discuss male students sneaking into the all-female nursing dormitories. Bice was director of housing for the male dorms at the time. As their meetings to monitor the situation continued, romance blossomed. In 1966, Baber and Bice exchanged vows in the University Chapel. They were happily married for nine years, until Mrs. Bice's death from cancer in 1975.
Bice continued to serve the University for another 20 years after his wife's death. He served as assistant to the president as well as secretary to the Board of Visitors, under President Frank L. Hereford Jr. The pair also developed quite a following for their comedic abilities. They began the "Frank and Ray Show" in the 1970s. Seats were hard to come by as the two spun their tales of U.Va. to hundreds of undergraduates.
For his service to the University community, Bice was recognized with many awards. He received U.Va's highest honor, the Thomas Jefferson Award, in 1978, and the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award in 1997. In 1995, Bice also received honorary keys to Pensacola, Fla., where his patented transducer led to the creation of a vibrating vest at the University of Western Florida, for the United States Navy. In 1997, U.Va. named a student apartment building on Brandon Avenue after Bice and his late wife.
After retiring, Bice and longtime friend and World War II Navy comrade Vincent Shea, the University's former vice president for business and finance, became avid travelers. They took a cruise each year to places such as Russia, Alaska, England, Norway, Sweden and the Greek Islands.
A visitor to Bice's retirement apartment at Westminster Canterbury in June 2005 found the professor emeritus still tinkering. Three DVD players, two VCRs and multiple sound systems were rigged to a television, the main feature in his small living room. To the left of his custom entertainment wonderland, she reported, stood a three-foot-tall gray robot nestled under the kitchen table. Near the front door was a coat closet he had transformed into a computer room.
At age 89, Bice is ever the scientist. Surrounded by cluttered shelves, CPUs and monitors Bice was still up to his old devices.