Thomas J. Grizzard, Jr., professor emeritus of civil and environmental engineering in the College of Engineering at Virginia Tech and former director of the Occoquan Watershed Monitoring Laboratory, died unexpectedly on June 24. He was 70.
“Our hearts are heavy with the news of Tom’s passing,” said G. Don Taylor, the Charles O. Gordon Professor of Industrial and Systems Engineering and interim dean of the College of Engineering. “As a Hokie through-and-through and a pioneer for our college in the National Capital Region, he has left his mark on this university. Our thoughts go out to his family and friends during this difficult time.”
Born in Richmond, Virginia, on August 23, 1946, Grizzard was an expert in the urban water cycle and a dedicated member of the Virginia Tech community. After receiving his bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, and Ph.D. from Virginia Tech, Grizzard would go on to work as a professor and the director of the Occoquan Watershed Monitoring Laboratory at the university from 1974 to 2014 — an impressive 40-year span that included three decades also serving as director for civil and environmental engineering graduate programs in the National Capital Region.
So influential was his work at the Occoquan Watershed Monitoring Laboratory that he would come to be known throughout the National Capital Region as “the protector of the Occoquan.”
“The magnitude of Tom’s impact across the board would be hard to overstate. He was a pioneer in safe reclaimed drinking water right here in the D.C. area and worldwide; he brought Virginia Tech’s civil engineering graduate programs to Northern Virginia; helped design and open our Northern Virginia Center in Falls Church; and brought his energy, insight, devotion, enthusiasm, and infectious laugh to everything he did,” said Steve McKnight, vice president for the National Capital Region. “His many friends, colleagues, employees, students, mentees, and collaborators cannot imagine Virginia Tech in the NCR without Tom.”
Initially, Grizzard began his undergraduate studies at Virginia Tech in the College of Architecture before transferring into the College of Engineering to study civil engineering. While an undergraduate, Grizzard supported himself by working as the headmaster of the Virginia Tech athletic dormitory, where he formed lifelong friendships with other notable alumni, such as Jim Richards, Scott Dawson, and Gene Fisher.
Richards remembers this time as an endless back-and-forth of pranks, including jumping out of dorm room wardrobes to scare each other and even once bringing a massive, but ultimately harmless, snake into the dorm.
“He was an intellectual, smart guy, but he liked to have a good time,” Richards said, laughing.
Still, Grizzard was also the type to encourage those around him, Richards said. After his time at Virginia Tech, Richards went on to pursue professional football and spent time in the military. Grizzard stayed in touch, and convinced Richards to come back to school to get his master’s degree.
“And that’s just the kind of guy he was,” Richards said. “He was just a good friend who cared about me and I cared about him.”
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