In memoriam: Russell Hitt, leader in construction and philanthropy
October 1, 2020
Russell Amos Hitt, who helped transform his family’s business into one of the nation's largest and most successful general contracting firms and whose family has been extraordinarily generous to Virginia Tech, died peacefully at his Falls Church, Virginia, home on Sept. 14, 2020. He was 85.
Hitt and his family’s foundation were among the early supporters of Virginia Tech’s two-building Intelligent Infrastructure and Construction Complex, a home for the university’s nationally leading programs in smart construction, autonomous vehicles, ubiquitous mobility, and energy systems. One of the buildings, which will allow for doubling the enrollment of the Myers-Lawson School of Construction, will be named Hitt Hall.
“The construction industry has lost a pioneer, and the Myers-Lawson School of Construction mourns the loss of a patriarch, Russell Hitt,” said Brian M. Kleiner, director of the Myers-Lawson School of Construction and the Ralph H. Bogle Jr. Professor in Industrial and Systems Engineering. “He leaves behind a tremendous legacy, having touched so many lives, driven by a solid set of core values. His mark on construction education at Virginia Tech will be an indelible landmark, Hitt Hall. As students, faculty, staff, and visitors experience the breaking of ground and the raising of a building in the coming months, let us remember Russell Hitt and his passion for construction education excellence.”
Integral to Virginia Tech’s strategic growth plan, Hitt Hall and the New Dining Facility will be at the epicenter of a new group of facilities in the North Academic District of campus. The approximately 100,000-gross-square-foot building will span three floors and will include innovation and discovery spaces for the Myers-Lawson School of Construction, a 600-seat full-service dining facility, and flexible general assignment classrooms. The project is currently in design with construction anticipated to begin in 2021.
“Virginia Tech will always be grateful for the visionary leadership and generosity of Russell Hitt and the Hitt family, which has helped position the university as a national leader in the field of intelligent infrastructure,” said Virginia Tech President Tim Sands. “Thanks to their support, Hitt Hall and other facilities under development will facilitate cross-disciplinary connections between faculty and students and large-scale partnerships with industry.”
Hitt, who was chairman emeritus of HITT Contracting, also paid it forward through quiet giving gestures that few knew of: the cost of citizenship for a Filipino woman supporting her family abroad, a monetary gift to the family of a child battling leukemia, and a warm hotel room on a frigid night to a homeless man, according to his obituary.
The only son of Myrtle and Warren Hitt, Russell Hitt was an Arlington, Virginia, native who was born on April 12, 1935. Two years later, his parents founded W.A. Hitt Decorating, a small residential and commercial remodeling business. He attended the Georgia Institute of Technology for an academic year before marrying his wife, Joan, and then enlisting voluntarily in the U.S. Army during the Korean War, serving two years as a radar operations specialist.
After his military service, Hitt immersed himself in project management at HITT Contracting, learning the trades through a hands-on approach. Together with son Brett and son-in-law Jim Millar, he built the company into one of the top 100 general contractors nationwide.
Hitt’s work ethic and implacable will were legendary. Relating as much to the blue-collar working man as to management, he often said with conviction, "Some people go off personality; I go off performance."
While Hitt did not attend Tech, he admired and benefitted from the graduates the university was producing.
“The skill and talent that comes out of Virginia Tech is exceptional,” Hitt said about the family’s contribution a few years ago. “I know that because we’ve had a lot of Hokies on our team over the years. It’s an honor to give back to a university that not only develops capable, passionate minds, but that values the partnership between industry and higher education.”
Hitt was an active member of the community, holding numerous board positions and generously contributing his time to the Salvation Army, Central United Methodist Church, National Capital Hospice (now Capital Caring Health), and the Boy Scouts of America.
Hitt received the Myers-Lawson Award for Outstanding Contributions to the Construction Industry from the Virginia Tech Myers-Lawson School of Construction, and he and his wife, Joan have also given generously to Georgia Tech's building construction program, Phoenix House Mid-Atlantic to fund the construction of a Wellness Center, and Inova Health System to expand substance abuse disorder treatment and education services so that Virginians would no longer have to travel out of state for addiction help.
In 2014, Russell and Joan funded a treatment suite offering advanced radiation therapy for various cancers at the Virginia Hospital Center Department of Radiation Oncology. The hospital dedicated and renamed the new facility the Hitt Family Center for Radiation and Oncology. Hitt was also involved in preservation efforts with the Germanna Foundation and the Piedmont Environmental Council in Fauquier County.
Hitt is survived by his beloved wife of 66 years, Betty Joan Davis Hitt; his four children, Jodi Hitt Nash, Tracy Hitt Millar and husband James Millar, Brett Hitt and wife Kristen Hitt, and Todd Hitt and wife Susie Hitt; 15 grandchildren; and 11 great grandchildren. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to support construction education at RussellHitt.com.
Written by Richard Lovegrove