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First UVa Wise Chancellor Papa Joe Smiddy dead at 96

(PHOTO: File / WCYB)

Officials with the University of Virginia's College at Wise on Monday announced the death of the man who many call the face of the institution- Joseph C. "Papa Joe" Smiddy.

Chancellor Donna P. Henry said Smiddy, 96, was still working for the College until his passing. "At our last meeting, he was still giving advice and was very supportive of the direction of our College," she said of the school's first chancellor. He took that job in 1968.

Smiddy began working at the Wise County school in 1954 after previously working for Shell Oil and serving as principal at Jonesville High School in Lee County.

The lifelong educator also had a love of bluegrass music. The clawhammer banjo player had a music festival named in his honor at Natural Tunnel State Park and had a special display featuring his musical pursuits unveiled in 2014 at the Appalachian Cultural Music Association.

When News 5 asked him about his legacy at the ceremony three years ago, he said: "I'd like for them to remember how much I loved the people of the mountains and thankful to the good Lord for being born into music."

Funeral arrangement will be announced at a later date. The college's 2017 Commencement exercises at set for Saturday at 11 a.m. at the Prior Convocation Center on campus.

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