At the time of his appointment to the presidency of the V.A.M.C. General Lunsford Lindsay Lomax was farming in Fanquier County, but had no experience whatever in the operation of an educational institution. He was a popular man, but his appointment as president might well have been influenced by his long friendship with the new governor, Fitzhugh Lee, Lomax's classmate at West Point, and with W. H. F. Lee, who, so Conrad claimed, had wanted a place on the first faculty.
Because of the turbulent condition surrounding the college and the confused condition of the program of study, any observer could see that this administration would face much difficulty.
To add to the unrest of the time, the great rural population of the state was throwing off the deadly lethargy into which it had dropped after the Civil War. A rejuvenating sense of power, strength, and optimism was in the making. As a result of this awakening the rural population was asking for more of the public services, especially in education. The V.A.M.C. as the people's college was caught up in the demand for a better day as it awaited a leader to show the way. Unhappily Lomax, for all his sterling qualities, was not that leader, although he devoted his full energy in his effort to become so.
During his administration, some of the demands and problems with which he had to cope included the following, although not necessarily in the order of importance.
Perhaps the most significant event during Lomax's administration was the act of the state legislature on March 1, 1886, establishing an agricultural experiment station at Blacksburg, to be maintained by the Congress of the United States. This station was not formally organized until after the passage of the federal Hatch Act of March 2, 1887. Lomax, against his better judgment, was appointed acting director by the experiment station.
By 1891, the Board of Visitors for the college had become very unhappy with the progress of the college and was convinced that under Lomax the college could never be a true agricultural and mechanical school that Virginia wanted and would be proud of.
At the board's meeting on April 7, 1891, it became clear that Lomax would be removed. The board even considered creating another position for him, but Lomax resigned rather than take another position; thereupon, the board appointed Professor John E. Christian, acting president to complete Lomax's unfinished term. At the same time, professors Graham, Morton, and Scott were released at the end of the academic year, because the board believed they did not have the training needed to fit into the new program the board was planning for the school.
Following the resignation of Lomax from the presidency, the board launched an immediate search for a successor. Vawter took the lead and wrote to a number of college presidents over the South, asking for names of possible candidates. Charles W. Dabney immediately answered by suggesting the name of John M. McBryde, president of the University of South Carolina at the time. Charles W. Dabney also wrote to McBryde, telling him of the opening. According to Dabney, Vawter was among those who planned to make the school an unmistakably creditable agricultural and mechanical college with all the right credentials.
Following the correspondence and additional testimonials and a meeting between McBryde and a committee of the board in Richmond, the Board of Visitors unanimously elected McBryde president of the Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical college on May 7, 1891. He assumed his duties at the college on July 1, 1891.