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Latham honored with Distinguished Service Award

By David Nutter

Spectrum Volume 18 Issue 28 - April 18, 1996

It is only natural that William "Bill" Latham likes to fly. The Haymarket dairy farmer, hotel owner, and pilot has been soaring ever since his graduation in 1955.

An active student leader, Latham served as president of the student body and president of the Canterbury Club. He was selected for the 1954-55 edition of Who's Who Among Students in American Colleges and Universities.

"Bill Latham has done so much for Virginia Tech," said Tom Tiller, vice president for alumni relations. "Throughout his career, he has taken the time to help the university. At one point he was serving on the Board of Visitors and the Alumni Association at the same time."

In honor of his selfless devotion to the university, Latham is being honored with the 1996 Alumni Distinguished Service Award.

"There are a lot of people who've served Virginia Tech and the Alumni Association in more ways that I," said Latham. "I accept the award with great humility."

Latham has, at one time or another, held every officer position in the association including president. Governor Charles Robb appointed Latham to the Board of Visitors in 1985, where he chaired the Buildings and Grounds Committee.

Tiller says that Latham has helped transform the relationship Virginia Tech has with its alumni.

"Bill Latham was instrumental in leading the merger of the Alumni Association into the greater university community," said Tiller. "That took strong leadership. It was a three-year process that required the efforts of the past three Alumni Association presidents." The merger was critical to building a stronger, more cohesive alumni association.

After receiving his degree in general agriculture and a minor in business administration, Latham returned home to Haymarket to operate Waterloo Farm, a 700-acre dairy and general farm. Latham and his wife, Elizabeth, raised four children there. Latham sold his dairy heard in 1977, but continues to operate the farm raising beef cattle and grain.

A straight-talking man, Latham saw opportunity in the hotel business. He organized Budget Motels Inc. in 1973 as a franchise operator for Days Inn and Comfort Inn motels. The company operates eight motels in Virginia, Kentucky, Louisiana, and North Carolina and he continues to serve as chairman of the board of Budget Motels Inc.

But while hotels are his business, flying is his passion. With more 11,000 hours in the air, Latham regularly takes off in one of his two planes. While a Rockwell Turbo Pro Aero Commander is the plane of choice for business, a 1942 rehabilitated Grumman Widgeon Flying Boat is what provides the fun.

"During the summer, we use it just about every weekend," he says. It may be called a flying boat, but "it handles just like a little Cessna. I can take off in 700 feet on water and 1,000 feet on land.

"We'll land on a lake and I can drop my fishing line right in," he says with a laugh.

A nice landing for a man who has worked hard for his family and his university