A pillar of the Virginia business community, active citizen, philanthropist, and loyal alumnus who selflessly served the Institute as well as gave generously in its support, Floyd D. Gottwald Jr. ’43 died Jan. 27, 2022. He was 99.
As a cadet—known as “Billy” to his brother rats—Gottwald was a member of the staff of The Cadet and the American Chemical Society. He also was a keen equestrian who was a member of both VMI’s Hunt Club and Horse Show Team.
After graduating from VMI with a Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry, he attended the Army’s Officer Candidate School at Fort Riley, Kansas, and was commissioned in the cavalry. Along with his Brother Rat Jeffrey G. Smith, Gottwald joined the 124th Cavalry Regiment, the last Army unit to retain horses, in early 1944. The regiment soon moved to Fort Riley, was officially “unhorsed” in July 1944, and shipped to India, arriving in August 1944.
After being joined by a field artillery battalion and receiving extensive training in jungle warfare and long-range penetration operations, the regiment became part of the 5332nd Brigade (Provisional), also known as the Mars Task Force. The brigade’s other units included the 475th Infantry Regiment, the successor to Merrill’s Marauders, and the elite 1st Chinese Regiment (Separate).
Given the mission of clearing northern Burma of Japanese forces and reopening the Burma Road to China, the task force moved more than 300 miles behind Japanese lines. Resupplied only by air, its march was made over steep, jungle-covered mountains veined by swift streams and in weather characterized by steamy hot days, cold nights, and heavy rains. In mid-January, near Nampakka, Burma, the task force met Japanese forces in battle.
On Feb. 2, 1945, Gottwald’s Troop F assaulted a Japanese position near Loi Kang. The troop commander, 1st Lt. Jack L. Knight, singlehandedly knocked out five Japanese pill boxes, despite being wounded twice by Japanese grenades. Leading his men forward after his second wound, Knight was shot and soon died in the arms of Gottwald, himself wounded later in the action. For his valor, Knight received the Medal of Honor, the only member of the Army Ground Forces in the China-Burma-India theatre to do so.
Gottwald left service in 1946 in the grade of first lieutenant and received the Bronze Star Medal with Combat V and the Purple Heart.
After the war, Gottwald joined Albemarle Paper Manufacturing Company as a chemist. In 1951, he received a Master of Science degree in chemistry from the University of Richmond.
After the merger of Ethyl Corporation and Albemarle in 1962, Gottwald became Ethyl’s executive vice president. Two years later, he became the vice chairman of the board of Ethyl Corporation, serving in that capacity until 1968. In 1970, he became the corporation’s chief executive officer and held that position until 1992.
After a reorganization of Ethyl, Gottwald was the chairman and chief executive officer of Albemarle Corporation, a chemical production company now headquartered in Charlotte, North Carolina, from 1994 to 2001 and its chief executive officer from 2001 to 2002. From October 2002 until April 2007, Gottwald was Albemarle’s vice chairman. From 2007 until his death, Gottwald was chairman emeritus. He served on the board of Tredegar Corporation from 1989-2005.
Gottwald was a director of numerous other corporations, including CSX and Reid-Provident Laboratories, and of several professional organizations such as the American Petroleum Institute, the Chemical Manufacturers Association, and the National Association of Manufacturers. He was a member of The Conference Board and the Virginia Business Council and the board of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond.
“In everything in which he was involved—be it in business, civic affairs, or charity—Mr. Gottwald made a significant difference. And, by becoming a major donor in support of the Institute, that’s what he did at VMI. Along with his brother, Bruce, he made the Institute a much better school. Through his generosity and his example—which encouraged many others to join him—he did more for VMI than almost anyone I know.”Charles F. Bryan Jr. ’69, Ph.D.
An active citizen, Gottwald served on the boards of the University of Richmond and the College of William & Mary as well as the Council for Financial Aid to Education. He also was a member of the board of the George C. Marshall Research Foundation and Downtown Development Unlimited of Richmond and served as the president of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.
Gottwald received wide recognition for his accomplishments and leadership in business and his civic involvement. The graduate school of business at the College of William & Mary presented him its Medallion Award, and the University of Richmond named him a Doctor of Commercial Science. He received honorary doctorates from Virginia Commonwealth University, Virginia Union University, and the College of William & Mary. In 1996, the University of Richmond presented him with its Trustees’ Distinguished Service Award, and the Science Museum of Virginia named him its Outstanding Industrialist. He was elected to the Greater Richmond Business Hall of Fame in 1999. In 2017, the Virginia General Assembly honored his many contributions to the Commonwealth by presenting him with the Outstanding Virginian Award.
Thomas G. Slater Jr. ’66, a prominent attorney and former president of the VMI Board of Visitors, served on the board of the Tredegar Corporation for more than 10 years. Slater remembers Gottwald as “low key and understated, but when he spoke, people always listened.” Slater attributed that to “his [Gottwald’s] record as a highly successful leader of Ethyl Corporation, which he and his brother built into a multibillion-dollar conglomerate. It earned him the highest respect and credibility.”
Charles F. Bryan Jr. ’69, Ph.D., who was the chief executive officer and president of the Virginia Historical Society from 1988 to 2008, remembered Gottwald as “a great supporter of the arts and culture, especially the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.” Bryan recounted an example of Gottwald’s interest in art and history. “In the 1990s, a man contacted us about a collection of Civil War drawings in three large-format books. They were the most amazing watercolors, executed by the man’s ancestor who was a Union soldier who served in Virginia.”
The man offered the collection for sale, and he and Bryan arrived at a six-figure price. One problem: The Society had just concluded a fundraising campaign, and all its major donors had participated. Knowing Gottwald’s philanthropic interests, Bryan asked him to examine the art and, perhaps, fund the purchase.
“Mr. Gottwald was a very quiet man, a man of few words. He was never cold to people, but he wasn’t talkative,” remembered Bryan. As he examined the books, he remained true to character. “He was so quiet I thought, ‘This is not going well.’” Then, he paused on a certain page and, pointing to a house in the image, said, “See this? That’s my great-grandfather’s house.” He then asked Bryan, “How much?” Bryan quoted him the six-figure price. Gottwald simply replied, “Let’s get ’em.”
His love of the Institute was deep and abiding, and his service to it was extensive. He served as a trustee of the VMI Foundation for many years and was its president from 1980 to 1984. He also was an informal adviser to many Institute leaders.
Although this service was valuable, Gottwald made a bigger mark on the Institute through his philanthropy—the vast majority of which he provided anonymously. He supported the Institute’s academic and cocurricular programs through the Foundation Fund. He gave generously to the Center for Leadership and Ethics, establishing the Floyd D. Gottwald Jr. ’43 Visiting Chair in Leadership and Ethics in 2006. He was a keen supporter of the academic program through gifts to the chemistry department and the Class of 1943 Academic Excellence Endowment. He also had, according to Slater, “a special interest in making sure VMI remained competitive in the salaries paid to its faculty, especially those in the STEM fields.”
Another focus of his giving was scholarships. He gave to the Keydet Club Scholarship Fund, and he established a merit-based scholarship that supports numerous cadets. That his support of scholarships was at the core of his giving was made plain during an interview Gottwald gave in 2015. Asked why he supported VMI, he produced a thick file folder in which were the letters cadets had written him in thanks for his support. In the letters, there were numerous places where Gottwald had underlined words and phrases, indicating he did not casually examine the letters, but carefully read them. “This is why I do it,” Gottwald said. “I get this batch of letters every year. I always read them and file them. I just hate to throw them away.”
For Gottwald, the letters expressed the “purpose of a VMI education and the belief cadets have in the Institute’s mission. So many colleges and universities now resemble mass mob scenes; there’s no focus, no purpose. The students seem to be left to drift.”
“That’s not what VMI does,” he continued. “Its education doesn’t begin and end at the classroom door. Its leaders are determined to form the character of each cadet. And, through these letters, you can see what VMI is doing and what it is turning out in the way of graduates.”
Asked to describe the effects of Gottwald’s philanthropy on the Institute, Bryan replied, “In everything in which he was involved—be it in business, civic affairs, or charity—Mr. Gottwald made a significant difference. And, by becoming a major donor in support of the Institute, that’s what he did at VMI. Along with his brother, Bruce, he made the Institute a much better school. Through his generosity and his example—which encouraged many others to join him—he did more for VMI than almost anyone I know.”
In recognition of his achievements and his service to the Institute, the VMI Foundation presented him its Distinguished Service Award in 1991 and the VMI Keydet Club presented him its Spirit of VMI Award in 2004.
Gottwald’s wife, Helga Koch Gottwald, survives him. He is survived by three sons, William M. Gottwald, James T. Gottwald, and John D. Gottwald, as well as eight grandchildren; seven great-grandchildren; three step-children; eight step-grandchildren; and seven step-great-grandchildren. He is also survived by his brother, Bruce C. Gottwald Sr. ’54, and several nephews, nieces, great-nieces, and great-nephews. His first wife, Elisabeth Shelton Gottwald, predeceased him in 2002.
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.