Did you ever wonder what once occupied the space where Leyburn Library presently stands?
This question relates to the sad news of the recent passing of Frank Parsons, surely one of W&L’s most influential alumni and administrators of the past half-century. Thereby hangs a tail — a squirrel tail. For detailed accounts of the “Squirrel Memo” and other aspects of Frank’s career, see this W&L news article. Below is the short version.
One of the many, many projects in which Frank was involved during his long service at W&L was the planning of the building now known as Leyburn Library. What is less well known is that the population of squirrels (and other wildlife) living behind Washington Hall represented at least a potential threat to Federal Government funding in support of the endeavor.
In 1974 Frank was charged with filling out an application to the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare for funding under the Higher Education Act to help pay for library construction. Anyone who has had the joy of filling out government forms at any level — or even filling out forms in the college application process — has some idea of the challenges presented by mysterious questions couched in bureaucratic verbiage.
Frank Persons rose to the occasion and his witty response to HEW’s lengthy request for information became part of W&L legend as the “Squirrel Memo” and inspired an unusual response from the agency, addressed directly to the University President. Not only that, but the Wall Street Journal got wind of the exchange and published an admiring opinion piece, which current members of the W&L campus community can read online, thanks to a University Library subscription.
Thank you, Frank.