Anthony E. Hamilton ’79, the first African-American class president at VMI, died Jan. 26, 2022. He was 64.
Matriculating from Staunton, Virginia, Hamilton arrived on post with a strong record of leadership and athletic success and a full scholarship for football and track. He was the president of his class at Staunton High School (formerly Robert E. Lee High School) for three years, and he played football, track, baseball, and basketball. Hamilton was also a member of the band and participated in many church-related groups. Along with his parents and brothers, he was part of a traveling gospel music group, the Hamilton Family Singers, and played as a drummer and percussionist for the Al Hamilton Community Choir (formerly known as the Staunton Community Choir) and the Garrison Family Choir.
At VMI, Hamilton majored in economics and he was a member of the Promaji Club, as well as the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. A two-sport athlete, Hamilton excelled as a defensive player on the football team and a competitor in the 400-meter race. He lettered in both sports three of his four years as a cadet and became a member of the Monogram Club.
In spring 1976, the Class of 1979 elected Hamilton as its president only eight years after VMI enrolled its first Black cadets. Michael S. Ogden ’79, the Class of 1979’s class agent, said, “The election took place following Breakout, which meant the class had several months to observe each other. While Tony’s success on the football field certainly made him better known than others, in so many other ways, he just stood out.”
Carl Jackson ’79, longtime friend, said, “Hamilton was a great communicator and, through his collaborative behaviors, exuded the quiet confidence and skills of clear leadership. He was the right person for the task.”
As class president, he was a member of the General Committee, Executive Committee, and the Post Committee. Hamilton was respected and admired throughout the Corps of Cadets for his concern for all cadets, not just his brother rats, and his respect for the regimental and class systems.
Yet, his ceaseless devotion to his class and his steadfast leadership style are what his brother rats best remember about him.
“He took the responsibilities seriously,” recalled Ogden. “I remember many times seeing Tony walking toward the commandant’s office with that look on his face, the look that said, ‘This is something to do with the class, and it’s my job to deal with it.’ The time he took performing those duties probably cost him a few points on his GPA, but he never complained.”
Perhaps the best example of Hamilton’s devotion to his duty and his leadership came in spring 1979. One evening, some of the Class of 1979 destroyed the sentinel box in Old Barracks during the annual “burning of the woollies.” The administration was furious at this incident and Maj. Gen. Richard L. Irby, Class of 1939, superintendent, wrote what Ogden described as “a pointed letter to the class expressing his displeasure.” When the Institute could not affix blame on who was responsible, Irby summoned Michael Mendez ’79, who had served as officer of the day the night the box was destroyed, to his office. There, Mendez recalled, the superintendent told him, “Since no one … would take responsibility, I would be held responsible” and that expulsion was under consideration. In a somewhat dramatic fashion, Hamilton and Paul Jussel ’79, class vice president, then arrived at the superintendent’s office. “[They] told the superintendent that the Class of ’79 would take full responsibility for the destruction of the sentinel box and that the class would pay for its reconstruction.” True to their word, at commencement, Hamilton presented the superintendent a check to pay for rebuilding the sentinel box. A plaque commemorating the incident now adorns the sentinel box.
"I want you to know that I and others in the VMI family appreciate what you did for your class, the Corps, and the Institute. I commend you for your leadership and your efforts. VMI is a better place because of your having been here, and you should be proud of your accomplishments.”Col. Charles E. Edgar III ’58, in a letter to Anthony E. Hamilton ’79
Such was the impact of his leadership and character that then-Col. Charles E. Edgar III ’58, commandant at the time, wrote Hamilton after graduation. “This past year was a productive one,” Edgar wrote. “It could not have been without the contributions you personally made to it, so I want you to know that I and others in the VMI family appreciate what you did for your class, the Corps, and the Institute. I commend you for your leadership and your efforts. VMI is a better place because of your having been here, and you should be proud of your accomplishments.”
After graduation, Hamilton went to work for C&P Telephone (the direct ancestor of Verizon), beginning a successful corporate career. Hamilton retired as a network operations consultant for MasterCard in the Saint Louis, Missouri, area. He also served in the U.S. Army Reserve for 10 years.
Hamilton continued to serve VMI as an alumnus. For example, in 1989, he was the moderator of a panel that discussed the integration of Black cadets into VMI. The panel included four of the first Black graduates from the Class of 1972— Harry Gore ’72, Phil Wilkerson ’72, Adam Randolph ’72, and Richard Valentine ’72—and two White alumni—James Hannay ’56 and Jere Real ’56, both of whom were editor-in-chief of The Cadet. In November 2021, he participated in the Cadet-Alumni Networking Forum with four of his brother rats: Tim Bridges ’79, Charlie Sachs ’79, Gleb Taran ’79, and Pete Alvarez ’79.
Hamilton was widely and deeply admired by his class. Proof of this is the fact that more than 60 of Hamilton’s brother rats attended his memorial service in February. Additionally, the Class of 1979 established the Anthony “Tony” Hamilton 1979 Memorial Scholarship. This scholarship will provide financial support to rising 2nd Class and 1st Class cadets who demonstrate strong leadership within the Corps of Cadets. According to Ogden, the goal is to establish the scholarship with an initial endowment of $79,000. “It didn’t take long for the BRs who worked with me on this project to come up with the criteria: Leadership, pure and simple,” said Ogden. And this seemed fitting for a man whom Ogden described as “a humble man, a respectful man, and a true believer in the VMI system.”
Hamilton is survived by his wife of 38 years, Cassandra; five children; mother, Catherine G. Hamilton; and other family members. At his burial, cadets from the VMI Color Guard were present, and a bugler and bagpiper played. Col. John Brodie (Hon), VMI’s director of music, also presented Hamilton’s widow with a Virginia state flag, which had flown over the Capitol in his honor, and a U.S. flag which had flown over the Institute. The flag presentation was accompanied by a certificate signed by the presidents of the Classes of 2022, 2023, and 2024.
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.