Joe Pitt, long-time professor and faculty advisor, retires from Virginia Tech
Joe Pitt, VA Psi ’66, spent a half-century in spirited philosophical debate with some of the brightest young minds at Virginia Tech and three decades teaching the merits of the creed to brothers of Pi Lambda Phi. Earlier this year, he announced his retirement from Virginia Tech where he has served as professor of philosophy.
“Hooked” by the Creed
When Joe went to college at William and Mary, he admits he was not in the least bit interested in fraternities. But he joined the choir and met a Pilam brother, Sam Sadler. “He convinced me to come to rush and find out a little about Pilam, and the first thing he handed me was the creed. I was hooked, if these guys actually live up to this, I want to be a part of it.”
Joe recalled, “There is the creed, but fraternity is fraternity.” There were lots of parties, drinking, and good-natured ribbing among brothers. “But, we still had the highest GPA of any fraternity on campus.” Joe became involved and served as pledge master and treasurer.
Joe met his wife Donna through the fraternity. She was a Pi Lambda Phi sweetheart. The whole brotherhood showed up for their wedding. And his fraternal bonds continue today, “I remain friends with a bunch of brothers. We have an email list from ’64 to ’74.”
Respected Professor, well-liked by his students
After earning a master’s degree and Ph.D. from the University of Western Ontario, he was offered a job at VA Tech in 1971. With some help, he built his own house on a farm outside of Blacksburg, an achievement he was quite proud of, admitting “the only thing I ever built before was a bookcase that leaned.”
Joe and Donna settled in and became quite attached to the community and the college, who supported his academic aspirations, “I was fortunate that the school supported me in any endeavor I wanted to take.”
Joe taught a course on Rodgers and Hammerstein, describing their musicals as a “fight of good versus evil.” As the class concluded, he read the creed aloud to his class and revealed that Rodgers and Hammerstein were Pilam brothers. He concluded that “their musicals are an extension of the creed.”
Joe taught hundreds of undergraduate and graduate courses in philosophy to over 18,000 students. He was admired and well-liked by his students. Some comments on Rate My Professor included:
“Joe Pitt is hilariously blunt, a good lecturer, and old-fashioned. The class itself is very engaging, and usually consists of him briefly explaining a concept and then having a philosophical discussion with the class.”
“He is an amazing professor. He keeps the class interesting, get’s the students involved, and has a gift for teaching. He’s the kind of professor that makes you WANT to go to the class.”
When he announced his retirement, two former Ph.D. students presented him a book entitled, “Feedback Loops: Essays on the Philosophy of Joseph C. Pitt.” It was a touching account of his teaching style written by some of his former students.
The advisor who imparted life lessons
One day, when walking across campus Joe saw a student wearing a Pilam hat. Joe stopped the undergraduate and asked about the hat. Mike Ginaven shared the news that there was a colony at VA Tech. The next week they asked him to be their advisor. He served in that role for more than 30 years.
His impact was earnest and profound, as remembered by brothers he advised.
“I remember the first time I met Joe. Our pledge class met him at a local restaurant. The conversation didn’t start until everyone who was wearing a baseball hat took it off. Joe would give ‘the look’ to anyone who didn’t comply promptly. There were a few pleasantries, then Joe would dive right into his inquiries on grades. Every time. There were plenty of fraternity-related conversations over the years, but Joe always emphasized grades and the need for the brothers of our chapter to become valuable members of society.”
– Marc Weppner, VA Omicron Zeta ’95, Former IEC Treasurer
“When I was Rex, I always thought that Joe was a ‘wet blanket’ who just didn’t want us to have fun and grow as a chapter. It wasn’t until later that I realized that Joe was just being a devil’s advocate; he wanted us to learn, grow, and succeed from the decisions that we made as a chapter. Over the years, some of Joe’s characteristics rubbed off on me as we helped to guide, nurture, and ‘pass the lamp of knowledge’ onto future Pilams. For that, I am forever grateful.”
– Vin Marbury, VA Omicron Zeta ’88, Former IEC Councilman
Joe believed strongly in the creed and fiercely defended the role of fraternity to his skeptical academic colleagues. When colleagues complained how “bad” fraternities were and asked why he was Faculty Advisor, he responded, “I simply reached into my vest, pulled out a copy of the Creed, and stuck it in their faces. They shut up.”
Is there an “afterlife?” Retirement and beyond.
In 2021, Joe was officially honored as a professor emeritus by the University. He still has an office on campus and serves on the Rhodes scholar selection committee.
Though he never envisioned himself as a writer, Joe penned five books and collaborated on more than a dozen others. He’s currently working on a new book that asks the cerebral questions, “how fast is the universe expanding and what is it expanding into?”
Joe forever left his influential footprint on the philosophical world and the lives of countless students and Pilam brothers.
Article written by Shawn Mahoney (Temple University ’92)