The photograph of former Virginia Gov. A. Linwood Holton Jr. signing the bill that separated “George Mason College” from the University of Virginia is an important, but seldom seen, piece of Mason history.
Now, more than four decades after the stroke of the pen in April 1972 that created “George Mason University,” the Holton name will receive more prominent display on campus. On Tuesday, April 12, the green space adjacent to the Center for the Arts will be dedicated as A. Linwood Holton Jr. Plaza in honor of the role Holton played in Mason blossoming from a 4,000-student local college in 1972 to the 34,000-student international university it has become today.
Holton, 92, is expected to attend the ceremony, as is one of his daughters, Virginia Secretary of Education Anne Holton, and various key figures from throughout Mason’s history.
A half-century ago, Holton recognized the educational and economic impact a major institution of higher learning could have in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C. In addition to signing the legislation that granted Mason its independence, Holton appropriated funds for various capital projects that contributed to Mason’s rise.
“Gov. Holton’s foresight spurred the emergence of the world-class university that serves the region and state so well today,” Mason President Ángel Cabrera said. “The association of his name with one of the most prominent public spaces on our campus will serve to remind generations to come of the foundational role Governor Holton played in our university’s history.”
In addition to his role in establishing George Mason University, Governor Holton played a leading role in integrating Virginia schools and increasing the number of women and African Americans employed in state government. He also created Virginia’s Governor Schools Program.
In two oral histories he recorded for the Mason Libraries’ Special Collections Research Center, Holton recalled why the timing was right for him to sign Bill H-210, allowing Mason to become its own entity.
“[Mason] was big enough and capable of sustaining itself on an independent basis and certainly was entitled to the prestige of becoming a separate institution,” he said. “And it probably was going to be in a much better growth pattern when it was separated from its mother’s apron strings.”
Holton appointed Mason’s first Board of Visitors. Later, as chair of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority and president of the Northern Virginia-based Center for Innovative Technology, he observed firsthand the rise of a university that he refers to as “progressive and aggressive.” The university awarded its highest honor, the Mason Medal, to Holton in 2010.
“I’m very proud of George Mason University,” Holton said in the oral histories. “It has done exactly what you had hoped a large urban university would do. It’s serving a wonderful purpose. I’m very proud to have been a part of supporting it through the years.”