It may have been a happy accident or, perhaps, a shared “love of learning” that brought Dr. Kathryn Mitchell Pumphrey ’75, ’88 MEd and Richard Pumphrey ’74 together one Sunday night nearly 50 years ago.
At least that’s how the Pumphreys remember their encounter at Knight-Capron Library in 1973.
“I put my books down at one table and walked away, and I came back about an hour later and he was sitting on the other side of the table,” Kathryn recounted, recalling a crowded library. “I guess our love of learning brought us together.”
Now, the two want to spread that love to their Lynchburg family. They’ve endowed a speaker series that will celebrate the liberal arts and honor their respective disciplines.
“[We wanted] to encourage a love of learning and start a series that would help broaden the student experience,” Kathryn said.
Held annually, the Pumphrey Speaker Series in Art and English will bring one speaker to campus each year, alternating between the two areas.
When thinking about a way to give back, Kathryn, who recently retired as executive vice president of the Centra Foundation and serves as vice chair of the University of Lynchburg Board of Trustees, and Richard, a retired professor of art, agreed that an event of this kind would have the biggest impact.
“Names on walls can change,” Richard said. “Buildings come down, equipment gets old. The idea is the effect of the speaker series will continue way beyond the event.
“The event itself should really be the catalyst. It should be a seed for these people that are in attendance.”
It’s also about introducing new ideas — to students, faculty, and the community at large — and about showing students what is possible in a field they might be interested in.
“We want to be able to introduce the speakers in both of these disciplines, to put them before our public as exemplary in their fields of study, exemplary in their creativity, exemplary in their scholarship,” Richard said.
“So our students can see what is possible, what is expected of them as professionals, and give them a high mark to aim for. To have these speakers effectively become role models for the students.”
Both Kathryn and Richard experienced a rich academic life at Lynchburg with faculty who guided them through an intellectually stimulating liberal arts curriculum. They also got involved in student government, publications, and intramural sports, building lasting friendships — and life skills — along the way.
“Lynchburg College was doing its job because it opened doors for us,” Richard said. “It showed us areas of endeavor that we really hadn’t considered before. And where we might fit in — on a larger scale than we saw ourselves.”
As part of that exploration, Richard changed his major three times before landing on art. Kathryn, initially a chemistry major, eventually switched to English.
“I felt like majoring in English, and English literature and writing, was the best decision I could have made for the career I went into, which was professional fundraising,” Kathryn said. “It provided me with critical and creative writing skills that I needed for my profession, the communication skills, and enabled me to think analytically.”
It also offered a solid foundation for graduate school. Kathryn later earned an MEd from Lynchburg and an EdD from the University of Virginia. Richard completed his MFA in sculpture at the University of Georgia.
Both found that their liberal arts education gave them an edge.
“The liberal arts education gives you a breadth of knowledge that a lot of other institutions don’t provide,” Kathryn said.
That breadth of knowledge laid the groundwork for a long career in fundraising for Kathryn and many years of volunteer involvement at Lynchburg. Richard’s experience inspired a return to his alma mater, where he taught for 38 fulfilling years.
“I think what drew me to the teaching side of art was based on the relationship I had with my professors at Lynchburg College, that I would like to have the same relationship with my students,” he said.
“But when I went to class [as a student,] I didn’t feel like I was just going to class because of the discipline, I felt like I was going to class because of the individual, meaning the faculty that I interacted with, that I respected them, I enjoyed them, and could learn from them.
“It was a wonderful experience, not only in art but across the whole curriculum.”
Kathryn and Richard are happy they’re able to honor that experience, and the faculty they had, with the Pumphrey Speaker Series in Art and English.
But they’re even happier that it’s a gift that will keep on giving for generations to come.
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