Dillard ’70: “Such a Good Feeling”

Man seated at table conversing with a cacdet

Peel Dillard ’70 with the recipient of his scholarship, Brad Davis ’21, at a Keydet Club scholarship banquet. Davis is an offensive lineman for the Keydets.

In 1966, R. Peel Dillard ’70 announced to his family that he wanted to attend VMI. He remembers clearly that his father was utterly incredulous. “First, we were a Hampden-Sydney [College] family,” said Dillard. “Second, he could not conceive of anyone choosing the rigors of VMI over the many ‘benefits’ of Hampden-Sydney.” Dillard chose VMI anyway.

More than four decades later, Dillard did something else that might initially promote a certain incredulity: Although he was not an NCAA athlete at VMI, he established a football scholarship. Yet, when Dillard explains the reasons behind the scholarship—and his long record of support of VMI athletics in general and VMI football in particular—it seems the most natural thing in the world.
In the late 1970s, he was ending six years of active duty as a naval flight officer in the U.S. Marine Corps (he flew the A-6 Intruder), an experience he describes as “the greatest thing that had happened to me. The camaraderie among Marine aviators is strong, and I enjoyed flying the A-6 Intruder and seeing something of the world.” Dillard decided to return to where he had grown up—Virginia’s “Middle Peninsula” and, more specifically, Essex County. There, he took up farming on land long held by his family. He also continued to serve in the Marine Corps Reserve—with squadron VMFA-321 as a radar intercept officer in the F-4 Phantom—and retired as a lieutenant colonel in 1991. In 1982, he established D&M Surveyors, PC, and continued to farm—cattle, soybeans, and corn being his current specialties.

Living in Essex Country made visiting VMI much easier, so Dillard, along with his wife, June, and two daughters, Anne and Leigh, often traveled to Lexington for football weekends. “We spent a lot of time and had a lot of fun on those weekends,” Dillard said. “June especially loved it.” Sadly, June died in 2012.

A few years later, Dillard and his daughters resolved to honor June and enshrine their memories of their time together at VMI. They did so by establishing the June B. Dillard Football Scholarship in 2017. “It seemed like a good tribute to her,” according to Dillard.

Dillard with daughters

Peel Dillard ’70 with his daughters, Anne and Leigh. Dillard farms in Essex County, Virginia’s “Middle Peninsula.” He recently endowed a scholarship in memory of his wife, June.—Photos courtesy Dillard.

The scholarship, however, was not the beginning of Dillard’s support of VMI athletics. He had for many years been a generous supporter of the Keydet Club Scholarship Fund as well as the fund that supports scholarship assistance to VMI football players. Asked why he had decided to focus his philanthropy on athletics, Dillard replied, “For me, a successful VMI is a VMI that is successful in everything. It would not be in keeping with what we expect from our cadets—that is strong performance academically, physically, and militarily—if we accept anything less than the strongest, most competitive academic, athletic, and military programs possible.”

“If we want VMI’s teams to be successful—and again we should—we can help by ensuring that they have as much scholarship support as the rules allow.”

As to his decision to concentrate much of his giving in support of VMI football, Dillard explains. “More so than any other sport, football draws people back to VMI. It brings classes together—at tailgates and in the stands—and it helps bind everyone in the VMI family—alumni, parents, and friends—closer to the Institute.”

Yet, to Dillard, the most important effect of the scholarship he established in honor of his wife is that it will have on the lives of the cadets who receive it. “It’s important that these kids who give so much and work so hard to represent VMI on the field, the court, the track, wherever, know that the VMI family is doing everything we can to support them.”

“Above that, it also serves to give a kid a chance to come to VMI, play at the highest level of NCAA sports, and get an education that will help them succeed after they graduate.”

As to his relationship with the cadet who is the current and first recipient of the June B. Dillard Football Scholarship—Brad Davis ’21, an offensive lineman and a high achieving mechanical engineering major—Dillard says, “That is the best thing about establishing a scholarship: It connects you with cadets. I don’t know if there has been anything that has made me feel so good as getting to know Brad and his family and seeing him do so well as a student, a player, and a cadet. It is such a good feeling that I don’t understand why more people don’t do it.”

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  • Scott Belliveau

    Scott Belliveau '83 Communications Officer - Executive Projects

    The communications officer supports the strategy for all communications, including web content, public relations messages and collateral pieces in order to articulate and promote the mission of the VMI Alumni Agencies and promote philanthropy among varied constituencies.

How Peel Dillard ’70 Became Part of My Family

By Benita Davis

I owned an antique shop/café across from the Lunenburg, Virginia, courthouse. One afternoon, a gentleman came in looking for lunch. He had been over at the clerk’s office doing research for his business, and the clerk suggested my place. With the café pretty much empty, we chatted while he ate.

We got to talking about my oldest son, Brad, a rising high school sophomore who had just started the college football recruiting process. I described Brad’s determination to play at the highest possible level and the work he put into achieving that goal—not just training but also getting good grades, tracking his contacts with coaches, and gathering information about programs.

My customer suggested that Brad consider VMI. I mentioned the encounter when I got home; however, Brad was not at all interested.
Over the next few years, we pieced vacations together around recruiting trips. After a visit to the mountains, my husband—who had played football for Randolph-Macon College—suggested we stop at Washington and Lee University. To get to W&L, we drove by Foster Stadium. I told my husband to pull in so we could take a look.

Brad objected, saying he wasn’t going to play at VMI. I reminded him of my father’s admonition, “Don’t ever say you’re not going to do something, because that is exactly what you will end up doing.”

“I don’t care what Papa always says,” Brad replied, “I am not coming here.”

More than a year later, VMI invited to Brad to post. That weekend, Coach Wachenheim made him an offer—and Brad accepted it. He became part of the Class of 2021.

The next year, we attended spring practice at VMI. In the stands, I saw the gentleman who had visited my café years before. I went up to him and re-introduced myself. He then introduced himself: Peel Dillard ’70. When I told him Brad would be playing for VMI, Peel was incredibly happy, and he thanked me for stopping by.

That fall, at the scholarship dinner, I spotted Peel in the line of people entering Crozet Hall and flagged him down so he could meet Brad. Peel told me that we’d talk inside—because we were dining at his table. Peel later explained that, after our spring meeting, he wanted to become Brad’s scholarship donor.

That night, we met Peel’s daughters and learned about Peel’s wife, June. Brad and Peel formed a fast friendship, and Peel became part of our family.

Peel figures largely in Brad’s life. He faithfully attends home games, and he is often the first to greet Brad afterward. He and Brad trade stories about their cadet experiences. When Brad’s first win at VMI happened Nov. 3, 2018, against Tusculum—which also is June’s birthday—I don’t know who was more excited, Brad or Peel.

Peel is so humble and kind. Whenever we ask Peel about himself, he replies, “I am just an old farmer who greatly loves and misses his wife.” And any time we thank him for his generosity, he always thanks Brad for choosing to play football at VMI.

football players being tackled

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