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Once a Lawn Mower, a Self-made Billionaire Makes a Lasting Gift to Virginia Tech

A self-made billionaire has announced a gift of $2 million to Virginia Tech, even though he did not complete his graduation from that college of engineering. //

His philanthropy is the result of a long-term relationship with Paul and Dot Torgersen of Blacksburg, Va. When he was a youngster, he used to mow the Torgersen's lawn for some spending money. Today, that young man is the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Google, and according to some accounts, a possible candidate for Time Magazine's next Person of the Year. His name is Eric E. Schmidt.

Last spring, Paul Torgersen, president of Virginia Tech from 1993 until 2000 and dean of its College of Engineering from 1970 to 1990, visited Schmidt in California, the home of Google. Over breakfast they discussed the possibility of Schmidt funding an endowed dean’s chair that would enhance the already attractive leadership position of Virginia Tech's highly ranked College of Engineering.

When Torgersen made the proposal, he suggested to his former neighbor that the gift be named the Eric Schmidt Dean's Chair in Engineering at Virginia Tech. Recently, Eric and his wife, Wendy, agreed to fund this proposal, the largest philanthropic gift they have made to date.

But they had a caveat unknown to Torgersen. When the legal document was completed, the Schmidts request was to name the chair the Paul and Dorothea Torgersen Dean's Chair in Engineering.

Richard Benson, the current Dean of Engineering at Virginia Tech, informed the Torgersen of this change at the request of the Schmidts.

'I was stunned. I still am,' Torgersen said. 'Dot and I have had some nice things happen to us over the past 52 years, but I do believe this is one of the nicest. The chair is a capstone both for the college and Dot and myself.'

In an email to Torgersen after the surprise twist, Schmidt wrote, 'This seemed to be the least Wendy and I could do to honor your and Dot's commitment
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