M. Edgar Hollowell, Jr. '61: "Behold How Good It Is"When he was a cadet at Fishburne Military School in Waynesboro, Virginia, M. Edgar Hollowell, Jr. ’61 received an appointment to West Point, but was disqualified because of a vision problem. Then, he decided to attend The Citadel. Aware that Hollowell also had been admitted to VMI, one of five VMI alumni on Fishburne’s faculty at the time, Colonel E. B. Young, Jr. ’43, undertook to persuade him to attend the Institute. As Hollowell recounts, “He asked me, ‘Would you like to graduate?’ I replied that I did. ‘Well, you’ll need to pass my class, and to do that I advise you to accept VMI’s appointment.’”
Despite this forceful persuasion, Hollowell thrived at the Institute. He majored in English—as his history in The Bomb describes it, “Throwing aside the slide rule, he cast his lot with ‘the chosen people.’”—and planned to attend dental school. During his first-class year, however, he heard “The Call” and decided to become a priest with the Episcopal Church.
Hollowell attended the Virginia Episcopal Seminary and served for a short time at a parish. From the beginning, however, he was determined to be a military chaplain. “Being a parish clergyman often means being on the ‘frame’ of people’s lives because for many people religion is on the periphery of their lives,” he explained. “A military chaplain, however, is always involved intimately with his charges. If your unit goes to war, you go to war. If your unit jumps out of airplanes, you jump out of airplanes. You are at the center of where their lives are.”
Hollowell served 24 years in the Army. His assignments included being the chaplain for the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry during the battle in the Ia Drang Valley in 1965, a liaison officer to the British Army, and the chaplain at the Army Engineer School.
Retiring from the Army in 1999, he returned to Fishburne and, for 15 years, headed its English Department and served as a coach. He also learned to fly gilders and joined the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary.
As season ticket holders for VMI football and basketball, he and his wife, Phyllis, often visit Post. He is consistent donor to the Foundation Fund, which provides unrestricted money to VMI’s academic and co-curricular programs. He also supports the Regimental Band, the Center for Leadership and Ethics, and the Jackson-Hope Fund.
“We all have an obligation to pay back at least something of what VMI gave us,” he responded when asked why he has given for decades. “Many alumni don’t share that sense of obligation, some because they paid to come to VMI and others because they still hold a grudge against VMI for some reason. I would tell the former that none of us—no one—ever has paid ‘the full freight’. VMI receives state support from which everyone benefits, and there are scholarships and other financial support that many cadets receive. As to the latter, no alumnus ever has a completely loving relationship with VMI. But, most of us manage to get over it.”
“Alumni need to recognize what VMI has done for them and how strong of an institution it is,” Hollowell continued. “A Latin phrase sums it up nicely, ‘Ecce Quam Bonum,’ which translates into ‘Behold how good it is.’”
“VMI is about honor. It’s about integrity. It’s about life. You should want to help it and help all those who follow you to receive the same education and reap the same benefits you did. You should want to make it as good for someone else as it was for you.”