Martha Brown Harder, formerly of Blacksburg, VA, died March 18 in Nashville, TN after a period of declining health. She was born December 31, 1933, in Linden, TN, the youngest daughter of Edmund and Bonnie Kirk Harder. Martha’s degrees included an A.A. from Martin Methodist College, a B.S. from Peabody College of Vanderbilt, an M.A. from Austin Peay State University, and an Ed.D. from Auburn. She taught business and studied law at Cumberland College in Lebanon, TN, was Dean of Students at Lander College in Greenwood, SC, and held various teaching and administrative positions at Virginia Tech before retiring in 1996.
She became Virginia Tech’s final Dean of Women in 1966. The position was created in 1965 when Tech became a fully coed school. She witnessed the graduation of the first African-American woman, chaired the Women’s Studies Committee, survived the occupation of the administration building by student protesters, and then as Dean of Student Programs became the first woman in Student Affairs to supervise men.
Martha was independent in her private life. She was assertive before women were encouraged to be. She did not map out a career path but instead took opportunities that found her. She in turn helped students find their own opportunities. She stood out in her family–evenly spaced in age between her oldest sister, whom she referred to as her second mother, and her oldest nephew and niece. Her life experiences similarly spanned generations. Being the first woman in many jobs could be difficult and lonely, but, nevertheless, she persisted! Her varied interests included books, music, conversation, politics, bridge, needlework, crafts, Hokie sports, travel, and therapeutic shopping. She sang beautifully for her high school graduation, college groups, church choirs, and weddings. She collected teacups and mustache cups and made miniature villages and Christmas ornaments. She enjoyed visiting with children and was delighted that one great-great-niece looked like her prize-winning photo from the 1934 Sears National Baby Contest.
She was preceded in death by her parents; three sisters, Mary Savage, Mavis Ragan, and Mildred Kiser; two nieces, Gwendolyn Rosado and Marsha Savage; a nephew, Phillip Ragan; and many close friends, including Raynard Hale. She is survived by a nephew, Ronald Ragan; four nieces, Kathy Gant, Susan Savage, Bonnie Savage, and Rosemary Walling; eleven great-nieces and -nephews and their children; and invaluable friends in Blacksburg. She will be missed by an extended network of family, friends, and former students across the country.
A memorial service will be held Saturday, April 21, at 10 a.m. at Blacksburg Christian Church with Rev. Gary McCoy presiding. Burial will be Sunday, April 22, at 2 p.m. in Kirk Memorial Cemetery in Linden with Rev. Hoyt Kirk presiding. A reception will follow at the Commodore Hotel.
In lieu of flowers, Martha requested that you donate a children’s book to a library of your choice.