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September 12, 2011

Donor honors Foster by endowing scholarship in his name

By: Jimmy Robertson

From left to right: Bud Foster, James Gayle, John Montague and John Moody posed for a photo before one of the Hokies’ fall scrimmages. Montague endowed a scholarship in Foster’s name and Gayle was the inaugural recipient.

John Montague, a loyal Tech alum and donor, knows a thing or two about building something, having put together a thriving construction company before handing it over to his sons when he retired in 2003.

That gives him something in common with defensive coordinator Bud Foster, the current architect of Tech’s defense whose units usually rank among the best nationally on an annual basis.

Montague’s appreciation of Foster’s work led to him endowing a football scholarship in Foster’s name this past spring. The Bud Foster Defensive Scholarship will go annually to a defensive player of Foster’s choosing.

“He wanted to give a scholarship on behalf of me, and I was very honored,” Foster said. “I was really taken aback by that, for him to think of me that way.”

As long as Foster remains at Tech, he’ll get to name the recipient of the scholarship, and once he departs/retires, the scholarship still will remain in his name. The next defensive coordinator then will choose the honoree.

Foster named defensive end James Gayle as the inaugural recipient of the Bud Foster Defensive Scholarship. He wants the scholarship to go to a player who embodies the traits of the Tech defense and not just the player who produces the most, though production certainly enters into the equation.

“It’s going to exemplify hard work and accountability and playmaking,” Foster said. “It’s going to exemplify performance and consistency. Those are the things that represent our defense. That’s who we are, and we want the recipient of this scholarship to embody all of those things.

“Obviously, it doesn’t have to be a senior. We gave it to James, who took another step in the spring. His motor was running all the time. He was just a factor every snap. There could have been some other guys, like Jayron Hosley and Eddie Whitley. We’re going to be a young defense, and we – it wasn’t just me making the decision; it was our staff – just felt like James was a guy who was the MVP of the spring and deserving of it [the scholarship].”

“I thought it was an honor,” Gayle said. “It came when I was working as hard as I could both in the weight room and on the field. He [Foster] told me midway through the spring, and I had just had two great scrimmages. I took it as an honor.”

Montague already was endowing a position scholarship, having chosen the defensive end position a couple of years ago because two of his favorite players played that spot – former ends Bruce Smith and Corey Moore. He decided he wanted to do something even bigger. So he contacted John Moody of the Hokie Club and asked if anyone had done anything in honor of Foster. That led to him endowing the new scholarship.

“We weren’t trying to entice him [Foster] to stay here, but rather, we wanted to recognize him for everything he had done,” Montague said. “This way, he could have influence on picking who the defensive player is. At some point in time, he’ll be gone, but the next defensive coordinator can pick, and it still will be the Bud Foster Defensive Scholarship.”

In many ways, Montague relates to many of the players who have come through the Hokies’ football program. His persistence, work ethic and blue-collar attitude have made him one of life’s success stories.

Montague, a Richmond native, originally attended the University of Florida for a year and a half, with full intentions of participating on the swimming team and the water skiing team. But he left, and he spent a semester at the University of Richmond.

He then decided to start his academic career over and enrolled at Tech, where he pursued and received a degree in industrial engineering in 1967. He worked for a year before attending graduate school at “that school in Charlottesville,” he joked. He got his graduate degree from UVa, and not long after that, he and his wife started a small construction company that they built into a business that made them financially secure.

But in 2004, his life took a dramatic turn.

“We retired December 31, 2003, and had bought a condo in Florida,” he said. “We had been down there six days and she [his wife] was diagnosed with cancer. She started cancer treatments down there, and 45 days later, she died. So for the next two years, I floundered around a bit.”

Montague’s life turned around when he met Jean Skelton, the daughter of Bill Skelton, who gave so much of his time, money and effort to Virginia Tech for most of his life before passing away in 2008. Skelton, a 1940 graduate of Tech and a former dean, served in many roles in his 70-year affiliation with the school, including – but not limited to –fundraiser, reunion organizer, leadership board member and campaign chair.

Skelton’s influence on Montague became profound after Montague and Jean Skelton wed in 2006. Before his passing two years later, Skelton encouraged Montague to start giving more back to Tech.

Thanks to Skelton’s influence, Montague approached the Hokie Club about starting a position scholarship. That led to the defensive end scholarship.

These days, Montague and his wife find themselves being pulled toward Richmond more and more because of their three grandchildren. They also spend four months a year in Florida, but they find themselves calling Blacksburg “home” because of the love of the town, and of course, the university. He even changed his will to help both the school and the athletics department even more.

“We’ve tried to split things between athletics and academics,” Montague said. “I did a will change and left a percentage to the industrial engineering department and the athletics department. That will set up three more position scholarships in football and three in industrial engineering.”

Certainly, those within Tech’s football program are grateful for the generosity, especially the players, who are becoming more and more cognizant of the cost of attending college.

“There are some guys on the team who aren’t on scholarship and they have to pay their own way,” Gayle said. “Joey [Phillips] just got on scholarship. He played three years and is just now getting on scholarship and getting his education paid for free. So that makes you appreciate what you have and also the hard work and commitment that guys like Joey and some of the other guys who aren’t or weren’t on scholarship have.

“I feel like, as an athlete, maybe we take it for granted sometimes. But when you think about it and you ask the average student, and they’re going to be in debt by, like, $100,000, then it makes you think. So I’m very grateful to the people who contribute the money for our scholarships.”