William Denton Badgett
Lexington - William Denton Badgett, 88,of Lexington, Virginia died peacefully at home, surrounded by people who loved him.
He was born in Waynesville, North Carolina to parents Frances Denton Badgett and Charles Shepard Badgett, Jr. and was raised mostly in Knoxville, TN. In 1942, he moved with his family to Miami Beach, FLA and then to Bethesda, MD. The Badgetts returned to Knoxville in 1945 where he attended Knoxville High School. As a college undergraduate, Bill entered the University of Tennessee and transferred to the Virginia Military Institute. Inspired by his professors and passionate about his education, he pursued graduate study in art history at Harvard University. Upon graduation from VMI in 1953, he married Varnell Gibson, also of Knoxville, and soon served in Korea as part of the USAF 608th AC&W Squadron performing radar surveillance. His first-person account of his time in Korea is published in "Americans at War: Eyewitness Accounts from the American Revolution to 21st Century" edited by James R. Arnold and part of the Cold War History Project by Vincent Noel.
Upon his return, he and Varny had their son Jeffrey in Lexington, Virginia. The family moved to Lexington, MA so he could attend Harvard University. While in Massachusetts, they had a daughter, Anne. They returned to Lexington, VA where two more children—Amanda and Frances-- were born. Bill began his lifelong teaching career at VMI, winning several Distinguished Teaching Awards, and so loved teaching that he continued as professor emeritus long after his retirement in May, 2009.
Bill "Billy B" Badgett taught several liberal arts courses in his 62 years at VMI: art history, freshman (Rat) English, poetry of the Great War, art and war propaganda, the history of film, the history of architecture, the history of music, public speaking, and much more. Among his mentees and students are Rhodes Scholars, prominent art historians, and elected leaders. He had a particular eye for students who were unsung and underrepresented—students whose first exposure to art history or classical music or poetry was in his class. He nurtured students who had glimmers of promise, who went on to appreciate the humanities, be they civil engineers or geologists or soldiers, and they, in turn, inspired him. Despite his deep affection and enduring respect for VMI, his classroom was a "demilitarized zone" where cadets were encouraged to relax and engage without having to adhere to VMI's rigid culture. In addition to teaching, he organized the classical music program at VMI, bringing live classical performances to Lexington.
In addition to his career at VMI, he contributed liner notes to the Kandinksy Trio's critically acclaimed "In Foreign Lands" cd. He was active on the Lexington School Board, was an early supporter of the Rockbridge SPCA, and was a musician who performed recorder and crumhorn in a local Renaissance music group that his colleague and friend William F. Byers (VMI '43) had named "The Chocolate F." He was a member of the City of Lexington Architectural Review Board, and an avid supporter of an independent bookstore in Roanoke, Virginia called Book Strings & Things (now defunct).
Bill made a family of his friends everywhere he went, from restaurants he frequented to his childhood circle of friends, to his brother rats at VMI, to the loving circle of caregivers who tended him in his final days. He was the consummate teacher, often unintentionally leading tours in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. during exhibitions, or reciting W.B. Yeats on his front porch on summer evenings for any neighbors who happened by. Upon the death of his wife Varny, he continued to support the many causes she held dear.
He was in his element in his study, surrounded by his books, sipping his favorite red wine, listening to Mozart, and holding court for family and friends. He was versed in Indian classical music, loved Bollywood, was in awe of the feats of mountain climbers, and watched "The Man Who Would be King" a thousand times or more.
He is preceded in death by his beloved wife Varnell Gibson Badgett, who died in 2015, his brother Charles Shepard Badgett, III (VMI '52) who died in 1964, and his parents. He is survived by his children Jeff (Jane), Anne (David), Amanda (Neil), Frances (Kevin), his grandchildren Cora, Daniel, Ruby, and William, his companion Emily Miller, and the tens of thousands of VMI cadets he taught over the years.
There will be a non-denominational graveside service at Stonewall Jackson Cemetery on Friday, March 6th at 2:00 pm. After the service, the family will receive guests at the Badgett home, 309 South Jefferson Street, in Lexington, Va.
The family requests donations in Bill's honor to the Rockbridge Area Relief Association or the VMI Foundation in lieu of flowers.
Most importantly, the family members wish to express their deepest gratitude to Rockbridge Area Hospice for overseeing his needs in his final days and to his devoted caregivers who gave so much of themselves to tend to him.
Arrangements by Harrison Funeral Home & Crematory, Lexington, VA.
Published in Knoxville News Sentinel from Feb. 26 to Feb. 27, 2020.