Culinary History Collection


Current Editor: Cynthia D. Bertelsen

Issue 1 Spring 2001

Getting to Know Dr. Markham Peacock:
Former Professor and English Department Head, Virginia Tech

Dr. Jean Robbins

This article is a compilation of reflections after many visits with a new friend, Dr. Markham Peacock, and from reading about him in an article by Edward L. Tucker. When I learned of the donation of Dr. Peacock's wife's cookbook collection to the Virginia Tech's Department of Foods, Nutrition, and Exercise Physiology, I did not realize that I would meet and become a friend to this caring and brilliant gentleman. My husband and I have enjoyed several visits with Dr. Peacock at his retirement home, Brandon Oaks (Roanoke, Va.). Each time we leave him, we remark of our enjoyment of his wisdom, his knowledge of many subjects, and his sense of humor.

A part of his life's story--

Markham Peacock was born in Shaw, Mississippi and was educated at Webb School. His Bachelor's and Master's degrees are from Washington and Lee, and his Ph.D. is from the Johns Hopkins University.

He joined the Tech faculty in 1926 when there were only three other faculty members in the English and the foreign languages departments. At that time the student body at VPI numbered about 1100 students, and Dr. Peacock knew each by name. In 1928 Mrs. Newman, wife of the head of the English Department, introduced the young bachelor to Dora Greenlaw from Louisiana, who was Dean-elect of the Episcopal School at Vicksburg. They married that year. Sharing a love of music and art, together they directed the first drama course at Virginia Tech and they led the Ring Dance in 1951. Another of their special interests was traveling, visiting most of the major countries of the world.

One of their friends remarked that there was an aura of social life at the Peacock home in Blacksburg. An invitation to one of Mrs. Peacock's seated dinners for sixteen was coveted. She knew how to entertain with elegance. Three servants assisted with the preparation and serving full course dinners. The Peacocks entertained frequently, including students as well as faculty in the invitations.

In 1960 with a growing and changing institute, Dr. Walter Newman asked Dr. Peacock to assume the chairmanship of the English and Foreign Languages Department. (These departments were combined in 1958.) Both departments were at critical stages of development, so with firm assurances of support for correcting several problems in each department, Dr. Peacock accepted the position tentatively. His primary interest was teaching, not administration.

With full support from the foreign languages faculty, he initiated bachelor's degrees in French, German, and Spanish, and added courses in Russian, Latin, and Greek. Following the expansion of the curriculum, he requested that then-President Marshall Hahn secure another department head for foreign languages.

During Dr. Peacock's tenure, the English Department increased from 26 to 44 faculty and established a bachelor's degree program and a year later added a master's degree program. The previously all male English faculty had overlooked opportunities to hire promising women scholars as permanent members, but Dr. Peacock employed the first woman in a tenured position as an assistant professor, Caroline Chermside. As a member of the English Department, she proved the wisdom of Dr. Peacock's action and selection.

Dr. Peacock's leadership came at a most critical period in the history of these two departments at Virginia Tech. After several years in administration, he stepped down as head of the English Department and returned to the teaching position he enjoyed. He has said that most of the students were "grand and delightful" to teach.

His life with his wife, Dora, was one of love and respect for each other. When questioned of his favorite foods, he replied that he had always enjoyed everything Dora served. His donation of her great cookbook collection will continue to provide enjoyment and learning for students and professionals.

This is a brief story of a great gentleman and his great lady.

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