University Honors Sullivan, Jeffries With Living Monuments

October 14, 2021 By Matt Kelly, mkelly@virginia.edu Matt Kelly, mkelly@virginia.edu

Living memorials of luminaries who have contributed to the University in a variety of ways dot the Grounds of the University of Virginia. Recently, two more of those luminaries saw trees planted in their names.

Officials planted a Morton elm in front of Pavilion X on Thursday to honor President Emerita Teresa Sullivan, and a black gum tree in the Spies Garden at the School of Law to honor former Law School Dean John Jeffries on Oct. 5.

On Founder’s Day each year, the current University president traditionally presides over the official tree planting, with the Arboretum and Landscape Committee selecting the honorees. Jeffries was to have been honored in 2020 and Sullivan in 2021, but COVID-19 forced the postponement of both events.

University President Jim Ryan, who presided over this month’s two tree plantings, praised Jeffries, who first had been his teacher and later his colleague in the Law School, as “astute, gracious, concise, helpful and unfailingly loyal to his friends.”

Ryan said Jeffries had deep roots at the University and that he was well-known for his teaching, his scholarship and his service to the community.

“John is known far and wide as one of the best teachers to have ever taught at the Law School, and he’s been called ‘the most renowned teacher on a faculty known for outstanding teaching,’” Ryan said. “From my own experience, I would concur. John was my professor and was the best classroom teacher I have ever seen.”

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Ryan recited a long list of Jeffries’ contributions to the University, and recalled how he convinced the former dean to extend this service.

“When I accepted the job as president, John told me he would do anything he could to help me, which was an offer I immediately cashed in by convincing him to serve for three years as senior vice president for advancement,” Ryan said. “And because I can’t imagine doing my job without him, after he wrapped up his advancement duties, I asked him to stay on as counselor, a title that I think describes John perfectly. He has since served on the Emmet-Ivy Task Force and the Naming and Memorials Committee, among other roles, and has been a close adviser to me and someone whose judgment I’ve been able to rely on in good times and in challenging ones.”

In lauding his predecessor, Ryan said that Sullivan’s leadership was forward-looking even from the very beginning, when she raised concerns about the invasive emerald ash borer, which had devastated ash trees in her native Midwest and was headed toward Virginia. Her warnings proved to be an apt metaphor for her presidency, he said.

“I think it well illustrates three aspects of Terry’s leadership at UVA,” Ryan said. “First, it’s a perfect example of her commitment to deepening knowledge and understanding through scholarship and research that can be applied to pressing real-world problems. Second, it reflects her care and concern for the community here, and her investment in University life, from the landscape and built environment to its inhabitants. And finally, Terry’s forward-looking approach has benefited all of us, including me in my current role as president, but also, and more importantly, future generations of students, faculty and staff at UVA.”

Ryan cited many of Sullivan’s accomplishments during her tenure, including increased research funding, the renovation of the iconic Rotunda, expanding faculty recruitment and increasing pay, improving affordability for students, and planning for the University’s future.

“One of Terry’s greatest legacies may be her efforts to honestly and transparently examine UVA’s past with an eye toward a more just and inclusive future,” Ryan said. “She amplified, continued and began new efforts to look candidly at the history of our University, establishing the President’s Commission on Slavery and the University, which explored the role of enslaved laborers in UVA’s history. In her typical style, Terry took on this work with clear eyes and humility, claiming that any president would have done the same. Terry brought plans for the Memorial to Enslaved Laborers to the Board of Visitors for approval, named Gibbons Hall and Skipwith Hall for enslaved laborers and created the President’s Commission on the University in the Age of Segregation.

A crowd of admirers gathered outside Pavilion X to watch the planting of a Morton elm in Sullivan’s honor. (Photo by Sanjay Suchak, University Communications)

“Her efforts have facilitated a long process of introspection and honest reflection that continues today.”

The tradition of naming trees goes back almost to the University’s founding more than two centuries ago, said Mary Hughes, the landscape architect in the Office of the Architect for the University.

“There is still a lot of mystery about how the tradition of naming trees started and then became institutionalized,” she said. “The University has had honorific ‘named’ trees since the mid-19th century. I do not know how the naming occurred – perhaps by decision of the faculty, since there was not a paid administrator running the institution at the time.

“However it came about, the large ash tree in Pavilion IX garden, although planted by professor George Tucker in 1826, was named for mid-century Pavilion resident William McGuffey because of the great care he took to protect and nurture the tree.”

The McGuffey Ash died in the late 1980s and its offspring was replanted in 1996. The ginkgo tree west of the Rotunda was named for William Pratt, who planted it in 1859.

Around 1950, then-University President Colgate Darden created a Tree Committee, made up of faculty and staff who advised him and Facilities Management on the selection and planting of new trees on Grounds. 

University President Jim Ryan congratulates his friend and former professor John Jeffries at a tree planting in Jeffries’s honor, held Oct. 5. (Photo by Dan Addison, University Communications)

“The successor to that committee is now known as the Arboretum and Landscape Committee, which has the responsibility of designating the official Founder’s Day tree honoree each year,” Hughes said. “It appears from the records that the first Founder’s Day tree was planted in 1972. It is the dawn redwood in the Chapel triangle, named for professor Ladley Husted, then chair of the Tree Committee.”

Teresa Sullivan

Sullivan, the University’s eighth president and the first woman to hold that office, led UVA from 2010 to 2018. Her accomplishments include addressing the generational turnover of UVA’s faculty and prepared the University for its third century of teaching and scholarship.

During her tenure, the University completed a $3 billion capital campaign, the largest in its history to date. Sullivan presided over establishing the Strategic Investment Fund to provide significant support for scholarships, research, academic initiatives and health care services without using tuition dollars.

It was under her administration that the University restored founder Thomas Jefferson’s Rotunda, the centerpiece of the University, a UNESCO World Heritage site and the focus of Jefferson’s Academical Village. Sullivan also initiated UVA’s bicentennial commemoration, which launched the University into its third century.

Sullivan created the President’s Commission on Slavery and the University, which recommended building UVA’s critically acclaimed Memorial to Enslaved Laborers, and the President’s Commission on the University in the Age of Segregation.

Also during those years, the University increased its national ranking for federal research and development funds, received the Senator Paul Simon Award for Campus Internationalization and the U.S. Department of Education’s Green Ribbon Award for its sustainability accomplishments.

John C. Jeffries Jr.

Jeffries, a 1973 graduate of the law school he would one day lead, dedicated his professional life to the University. As a student, Jeffries was editor-in-chief of the Virginia Law Review, a recipient of a Z Award for the highest academic average and the Woods Prize for the outstanding graduate. He was clerked for Supreme Court Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr. immediately after graduation and then served as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army. 

Ryan puts down a shovelful of soil at the planting of a black gum tree in the Spies Garden at the School of Law. (Photo by Dan Addison, University Communications)

Jeffries was appointed the inaugural Emerson Spies Professor of Law in 1986, a position created to honor a long-time teacher and former dean. His primary research and teaching interests are civil rights, federal courts, criminal law and constitutional law. Jeffries was the co-author of casebooks in civil rights, federal courts and criminal law, and has published a variety of articles in those fields.

He also wrote a biography of Powell, who sat on the Supreme Court from 1971 to 1987. Using interviews and court documents, Jeffries examined Powell’s life and framed the major issues of his career.

Jeffries has also held a variety of other academic appointments within the Law School. He has served as the Arnold H. Leon Professor and as an academic associate dean. He became acting dean in the fall of 1999, while Dean Robert Scott was on sabbatical. Jeffries was named the permanent dean in 2001, serving until 2008.

In 2017, he received the Thomas Jefferson Award for excellence in scholarship, the highest honor given to members of the University community. A former senior vice president for advancement at UVA, he currently serves as counselor to Ryan.

Media Contact

Matt Kelly

University News Associate Office of University Communications