Supervisor Richard Shifflett, who retired from the University
this spring after 42 years of service, poses in front of the
Rotunda, his favorite place on Grounds. "I never tire
of looking at it."
has watched U.Va. and its landscape grow
By Rebecca Arrington
you arrive on Grounds this weekend to celebrate U.Va.'s 171st
commencement, look around. The pristine buildings and well-manicured
Lawn have been readied for the occasion by dedicated maintenance
crews, who began work for this special time back in March.
Grounds department, for example, has been cleaning flower beds,
trimming shrubs, edging, mulching and reseeding since early spring,
said landscape supervisor Richard Shifflett, who's helped prepare
the Grounds for 41 graduations. Facilities
Management also works "a good week-and-a-half before
and after graduation to set up and take down the stage, speakers,
chairs and ramps. Crews work from 5 a.m. to 5 or 6 p.m."
on Finals weekend, noted Shifflett, who won't be among the early
risers this go 'round. After 42 years of service to the University,
he retired May 1.
thought about canceling graduation because Richard wouldn't be
here," said his boss, landscape superintendent Jeff Ertel.
left things in good hands, though, assured Dick Fowler, facilities
operations director. "Richard has taught others well. He
has been a patient teacher and good manager, always leading by
example with his positive attitude, strong work ethic, honesty
and integrity," Fowler said. "The University is fortunate
to have had his help for 42 years."
the years at U.Va., Shifflett has watched the student body, as
well as the landscape, grow. The first graduation he worked, in
1959, he helped set up 2,000 chairs. "Last year on the Lawn
alone, we set up 20,000," he said.
also recalled "one graduation when we had to spray-paint
the Lawn with green food coloring. Due to a severe drought, the
grass was brown and yellowed.² That was before the sprinkler system
was installed, he said.
how much has U.Va.'s landscape changed during Shifflett's tenure?
"When I started here in August of 1958, University Hall,
the Law, Darden and JAG schools, and the new University Hospital
didn't exist. Carruthers Hall was State Farm Insurance Company,
and Stacey Hall was a Sears store,² he said. "There was nothing
on Alderman Road except the Facilities Management building."
work at U.Va. has also provided him opportunities to see a number
of presidents and other dignitaries. His biggest thrill was when
Queen Elizabeth visited in 1976. "She really impressed me,"
started work as a tree climber earning $1.25 per hour. After 10
years, he was promoted to grounds foreman. When he retired, he
was a buildings and grounds supervisor A, responsible for all
35 grounds department employees, 12 of whom reported directly
University is a good place to work, with room for advancement
for anyone who takes the initiative, he said. He would, however,
like to see the people in his department be recognized as tradesmen.
The award-winning Lawn is internationally recognized, yet those
who maintain the Grounds and are required to have specialized
knowledge about how to care for its trees, grass, flowers and
shrubs, aren't classified as tradespersons. "We lose a lot
of good people who leave our department for better-paying positions,"
said he is grateful to the landscape and general services crews
"for their support through the years. People give me a lot
of praise and thanks for the way this place looks, but it's the
result of their hard work," he said.
That feeling is mutual, said co-worker Tim Spencer. "If everyone
who Richard has helped in his years at U.Va. had attended his
retirement party [last month], we would have had to hold it in
Now that he is retired, Shifflett and his wife plan to spend more
time with their only granddaughter, 4-year-old Lauren. Among the
projects he's tackling at home are putting a new roof on his house
and some interior painting. His yard, however, needs no sprucing
When asked if it was as well-kept as U.Va.'s Grounds, he gave
a modest smile, then a direct "yes." Like the Lawn,
there are towering trees and grass as thick as carpet -- just
the way Shifflett likes it.