A life in mission

Hampden-Sydney College mourns the loss, celebrates the life of Ray Bottom

Ray Bottom in 1966

When Ray Bottom graduated from Hampden-Sydney College in 1951, he was poised for a lifetime of servanthood. He had earned the Keating Medallion, Hampden-Sydney’s honor for service and dedication to the college, as well as a Sullivan Award. He would go on to a long life of proving just how deserving of that award he was.

Bottom died in February 2018 at the age of 88, leaving behind a legacy worthy of the Sullivan name. At Hampden-Sydney, the oldest of the few remaining all-male campuses in the United States, he was a role model for the younger generations.

“Ray Bottom believed strongly in our mission to form good men and good citizens, and for his entire life he remained a steadfast and enthusiastic supporter of his beloved alma mater, the Wilson Center for Leadership in the Public Interest, and the Kappa Alpha Order,” says College President Larry Stimpert. “We will miss Ray’s counsel and friendship, and we are ever grateful for all that he did for the men of Hampden-Sydney.”

Bottom poses with a photo of and plaque dedicated to his sister, Dorothy Rouse-Bottom at the Hampton History Museum, which commemorated her life and public works.

A study in generosity

A native of Hampton, Virginia, Mr. Bottom was the single most generous financial supporter in the history of Hampden-Sydney College, and was elected to the Board of Trustees in 1973.

“I have never known a man more generous, more humble, and more willing to do anything to help his alma mater,” says Dean of Admissions Anita H. Garland. “When I came to the College 38 years ago, he was one of the first alumni I met, and he has been an integral part of my life and that of our office since that time. I can’t quite imagine recruiting a class of Hampden-Sydney men without him.”

The former chairman and editor-in-chief of the Daily Press newspaper of Newport News, Virginia, Bottom later served as chairman and chief executive officer of Centennial Communications, Inc. He earned a degree in physics from Hampden-Sydney College and served as an officer in the U.S. Air Force, retiring from the Air Force Reserves after a decorated 27-year career. Bottom remained an avid pilot throughout his life, often donating the use of his plane for charitable causes. He was also a passionate supporter of the Virginia Peninsula USO and the Virginia Air & Space Center, where he had served as a director.

“There is no one who loved this College more than he,” says Director of Admissions Jason Ferguson. “Through his generosity and relentless recruiting efforts, he is responsible for countless young men having the opportunity to walk this campus and learn to share in his adoration for this special place.”

Bottom (left) with fellow Times-Herald owner William R. Van Buren.

Recruiter-in-Chief

Bottom actively encouraged many young men in the Peninsula area of Virginia to attend Hampden-Sydney, in addition to generously supporting scholarship aid, which was a family priority: The Raymond B. and Dorothy Rouse Bottom Scholarship, established by Bottom’s parents, provided need-based scholarship aid to Peninsula-area students at the College.

“He was our star recruiter,” says Garland. “Poring over local newspapers for stories about students who would ‘fit’ us, speaking with those students about Hampden-Sydney, and bringing them to the campus to show them the place that changed his own life. Yearly he sponsored events for students and parents so that they could meet alumni and see in practice the brotherhood of Hampden-Sydney College.”

Bottom not only wanted young men to attend Hampden-Sydney, he wanted to make sure that none of them would be turned away for lack of funds. Even in death, he was able to contribute to that cause. The sad news of Bottom’s passing elicited an outpouring of tributes from college alumni and friends whose lives he touched.

“He believed that every person deserved the right to a great education and that money should not prevent a person from receiving such an education, which is why he donated plenty of resources to the College to make sure students could finish what they started,” says Rusty Foster, a 2004 graduate. “He taught me to be selfless. He was for sure a role model.”

Captain Ray Bottom (right) poses in his Air Force uniform in 1965.

A friend to all

Bottom’s selflessness wasn’t limited to Hampden-Sydney—it extended far beyond college-related endeavors.

“I’ll never forget when my 4-year-old daughter needed special medical care, and Ray took us in his plane to the Mayo Clinic,” says Tayloe Negus of the class of 1988. “As odd as it sounds, we found a way to have a wonderful time together during these trying days in Rochester, Minnesota. Truly memorable. And truly life changing. Because of the incredible care and consultation she received at the Mayo clinic, my daughter is thriving today.”

The gravity of the loss reverberated across the Hampden-Sydney community. Bottom’s legacy and selfless spirit will live on there, in all whose lives were graced by his friendship and generosity, and in the Sullivan family, where his example is a perfect fit for the Award he received so many years ago.

“Ray Bottom was the absolute finest embodiment of a Hampden-Sydney man,” says Dr. Herbert L. King, Jr., the College’s vice president for institutional advancement. “He loved this college, her students, her alumni, and he worked tirelessly to promote Hampden-Sydney in all that he did. We are an infinitely stronger institution because of his care and devotion, and hundreds of young men have strong lives today because Ray Bottom introduced them to Hampden-Sydney. We will dearly miss him.”

This article was adapted from a piece that originally appeared on Hampden-Sydney College’s news site. To read the original, or learn more about the college, visit hsc.edu. Additional photos provided by the Newport News Daily Press. Visit them at dailypress.com.

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