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2021 James 2021

James Nichols

May 13, 2021 — May 13, 2021

James Robbs Nichols, Dean Emeritus of Virginia Tech’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, died Tuesday, January 6, 2015 at Alive Hospice in Nashville, Tennessee. He was 88.
A passionate supporter of Virginia’s farmers and agribusiness men and women, and of Virginia Tech, he treasured a network of colleagues, students, and friends built over decades. He loved his work.
A World War II veteran, he was educated on the GI Bill at the University of Tennessee and earned a Ph.D. at the University of Minnesota under the direction of Dr. W.E. Peterson. Before coming to Virginia Tech as head of the Department of Dairy Science in 1965, he taught at Penn State and at the University of Tennessee Martin. Both as a department head and as a long-tenured Dean of Agriculture and Life Sciences, his hiring of talented faculty strengthened the college. He brought into being a new animal science building, Litton Reaves Hall, and his controversial but forward looking land swap secured land necessary for the growth of the college (the Kentland Farm and Ag Research Center near the New River). This land now serves the beef herd of the Animal Science Department, Horticulture/Crops research, and within the year will be home to the dairy herd and dairy cattle research.
Because he was a leader in improving genetics both in Virginia and throughout the country, the then fledgling farmer-owned cooperative Select Sires hired him as its general manager. From 1971 to 1973, his visionary leadership helped position the organization for future growth in the industry. Select Sires is now the largest of all Artificial Insemination companies and has the greatest share of the bovine genetic market. An avid supporter of Tech’s athletic teams, he served for several years on the Virginia Tech Faculty Athletic Board and in retirement served as president of the Blacksburg Sports Club.
A lifelong Methodist and member of the Blacksburg United Methodist Church, he and a small group of friends started a non-denominational men’s Bible study. Still meeting monthly after 20 years, the group continued to be a source of inspiration and deep friendship for him. In the last year of his life, he spoke most often of friends from his Bible study group, his beloved Virginia Tech, his pride in the accomplishments of his successors at Select Sires, and the garden house he built with his friend Ted Heller. His final year was enriched immeasurably by the amazing doctors and nurses at Vanderbilt Medical Center, the loving staff and residents at the Health Center at Richland Place, and the wonderful staff at Alive Hospice, all in Nashville. He was deeply grateful.
Predeceased by his beloved wife of 52 years, Johnnie Nichols, he leaves a brother and sister-in-law, Burruss and Mary Alice Nichols of Jackson, Tennessee; a daughter and son-in-law, Tina Nichols and Crayton Robert Benson of Nashville, Tennessee; granddaughters, Stephanie Nichols Raby and Crayton Benson Knox (Forrest); great-granddaughters, Bonnie Nichols Scott and Alexandra Nichols Scott; great-grandsons, Robert David Knox and Elijah Douglas Knox, all of Nashville, Tennessee; nieces, Dr. Lee Nichols Russell (Dr. Jim Russell), Teresa Lass (John) and Brenda Narvin; nephews, Mike Nichols (Debbie) and Richard Mason; great nieces, Marianne Nichols, Hannah Russell, Haley Russell; great nephews, William Nichols and Ryan Russell. He is predeceased by his parents, William Ed and Beulah Robbs Nichols, and his sister, Eddie Muriel Mason Weaver.A Memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. on Saturday, January 24 at the Blacksburg United Methodist Church. Visitation will begin at 10 a.m. at the church. Private burial will follow in Jackson, Tennessee, beside his wife and parents.Donations may be made to the James R. Nichols Scholarship Fund at Virginia Tech Development, 902 Prices Fork Road, Suite 4000, Blacksburg, VA 24061 or to the Blacksburg United Methodist Church, 111 Church Street Southeast, Blacksburg, VA 24060.
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