from The Bridge: Fall 2012/Winter 2013 issue
Greyson and Garland Tucker '69, parents of Liza Tucker Koch '03, have made a significant lead gift to renovate the gardens of Belfield, the former Lexington home of the late Frank J. Gilliam, the beloved dean of students. In 2010, W&L received an anonymous gift from a former trustee to acquire and help renovate Belfield, which the University will use as a guest and event facility.
"I was always interested in what happened to Belfield," says Tucker. "Dean Gilliam retired in 1964, but he still had an office in Washington Hall. An aunt introduced us, and I was always in and out of his office. He and his wife, Louise, were very generous about entertaining students in their home."
During his senior year, Tucker began dating Greyson, who was a freshman at Sweet Briar. She spent a number of dance weekends as a guest of the Gilliams. "During the first year of our court- ship, we spent a lot of time at their house and in their garden. We very much enjoyed getting to know them and the history behind their garden," says Tucker. "Often two people in their 20s aren't that likely to become interested in gardening, but we were fascinated with how they developed the grounds, which were extraordinarily beautiful and well known throughout Virginia."
The gardens were the work of renowned landscape architect Charles F. Gillette, who established a regional style-the Virginia Garden-that harmonized architecture with the surrounding landscape. A book about Gillette, "Genius in the Garden," features photographs of Belfield's gardens. Louise Gilliam had been president of the Garden Club of Virginia from 1948 to 1950, and in 1960 the Gilliams received the Massie Medal for horticultural achievement, the highest award given by the organization.
"We expanded our friendship in their house and garden and got married shortly before Mrs. Gilliam died," Tucker reminisces. "Whenever we visited, we always spent time in the garden. I would say directly as a result of that experience, we too became avid gardeners." The Tuckers' own garden has been featured in Carolina Gardener and Southern Living magazines.
Tucker and Gilliam also shared a passion for history. Gilliam introduced Tucker to the historical figure John W. Davis, a member of the W&L Classes of 1892 and 1895L, who ran as the Democratic nominee for president against Calvin Coolidge in 1924. "Davis had been an outstanding lawyer in New York and a close friend of Gilliam's," said Tucker. Two years ago, he wrote "The High Tide of American Conservatism: Davis, Coolidge and the 1924 Election." He says, "That project came out of my friendship with Dean Gilliam, to whom I dedicated the book."
Davis was responsible for a prominent feature of Belfield's gardens, a Tudor stone sundial. In 1939, Britain had sent various artifacts to the New York World's Fair. When the fair closed in 1940, however, it was afraid to send the items back because of war-time German U-boat activity. Davis, who had been U.S. ambassador to the United Kingdom, had charge of their disposition. He called Gilliam, who had visited the fair, and asked if there was anything he would like.
Tucker was pleased to observe that the sundial remains in the garden to this day. "We went on a tour of the property after W&L acquired Belfield. The gardens need a lot of work," he says. "There are a lot of good memories for Greyson and me that revolve around the house and gardens, so their restoration is important to us. We feel very fortunate to have known the Gilliams. They had a lifelong impact on us."
Belfield and the gardens will reopen this fall. At its October 2012 meeting, the Board of Trustees approved the project, and trustee William M. Webster IV '79 made a commitment to Belfield in honor of the Gilliams.