Four-story, brick building with trees and a sunset in the background.

Gone but not forgotten

EVMS retires school’s original building,  Smith-Rogers Hall

THE AGING, FOUR-STORY BRICK OFFICE building looks a bit out of place amid the stately homes in the Ghent neighborhood of Norfolk. Only a small sign and an empty lot next door hint at the building’s origins and the critical role it played in the history of EVMS.

Known as Smith-Rogers Memorial Hall, the building began its life in 1962 as a nursing school and dormitory adjoining what was then Leigh Memorial Hospital. Eventually, the hospital moved and its vacated building was razed.

But Smith-Rogers Hall remained and took on a new life.

Over the ensuing half century, Smith-Rogers Hall gave birth to a medical school, nurtured early students in a collaborative, supportive environment (a novel approach to medical school at the time). After classes and labs moved to new buildings in the medical center, Smith-Rogers provided office space for generations of administrative support staff.

Today, the school’s original home sits vacant, waiting for a new owner and, perhaps, a new mission. The EVMS administrative offices that had called Smith-Rogers Hall home for decades all moved by mid-January — most relocating to the school’s newest structure, Waitzer Hall.

Inhabitants of Smith-Rogers fondly recall their time spent in a building named for a pair of leading community physicians.

Kerrie Shaw, MS, MSLS, former Director of Library Services, joined EVMS in 1973, the year the first classes began in Smith-Rogers Hall.

She recalls that the library occupied two former dorm rooms — separated by a bathroom.

“We used the bathtub to hold a file cabinet and stacked up donated books and supplies there as well,” she says.

Then there were the occasional “visitors” to the library. “Before a backdoor was installed in order to get to the gross anatomy lab,” Ms. Shaw recalls, “the cadavers were delivered to the building’s front door and parked in front of the library entrance until they could be moved to the lab.

Marcus Martin, MD (MD ’76), and Thomas Hubbard, MD (MD ’76), JD, once knew the building well as two of the medical school’s first students.

While some details about the building have faded over the intervening 45+ years, Smith- Rogers Hall remains iconic for them and their classmates.

Soon after the inaugural MD class arrived, administrators discussed the challenges of compressing what was traditionally four years of learning into just three. “We were told its going to be a tough three years,” says Dr. Martin, now a retired emergency physician and member of the EVMS Board of Visitors. “They told us we would spend a lot of time [in Smith Rogers Hall].

And they were right.

“We spent a lot of bonding time as classmates because we were a small, tight-knit group,” Dr Martin says. “Smith-Rogers Hall was our homebase — comfortable, welcoming and secure.

Dr. Hubbard, now a Professor of Clinical Pediatrics at EVMS, says the new school’s provisional accreditation caused he and his classmates some pause. “What balanced that was the enthusiasm and the caliber of the faculty,” he recalls. “The [faculty] who came to the school were of exceptional quality.

Dr. Martin recalls hitting the books in study carrells on the building’s fourth floor. “I may have spent more time there studying than in my apartment,” he says.

He vividly recalls taking regular study breaks to catch the newest episode of the TV series “Kung Fu,” an action/adventure show he enjoyed with many of his classmates. For Dr. Hubbard the preferred diversion was bridge. “We often played into the wee hours of the morning,” he says.

But with the compressed schedule, there was little time for such distractions. Not only that, members of the inaugural class felt the responsibility to excel and perform well on board exams to ensure that this innovation in medical education would endure.

Now, nearly 1,400 medical and health professions students carry the symbolic torch that was lit and carefully tended in a building that — though no longer a part of EVMS — will never be forgotten.