Dr. Charles ‘Hap’ Fisher ’28 now celebrated as a witness to history
Roanoke College students are still learning from 102-year-old Dr. Charles “Hap” Fisher '28, and they're not alone.
The distinguished Maroon is among a group of centenarians who share their experiences in a powerful new documentary called "Witness to a Century." It is being aired on public television stations across Virginia but "premiered" in the Roanoke Valley recently with an event at Brandon Oaks, the retirement community in Roanoke where Fisher lives with his wife, Betty Florence Snyder Fisher ‘46.
That evening, seated among a crowd of more than 100 of his elderly friends and neighbors were a couple of dozen Roanoke College students and several faculty members and staff, including President Michael Maxey. They were there to see the hour-long documentary in which several Virginia residents 100 years old or older recall their experiences with the Roaring Twenties, Prohibition, The Great Depression, the world wars, the Civil Rights movement, advancing technology and more. "Witness to a Century" was produced in cooperation with several organizations, including WCVE PBS, Community Idea Stations and the Virginia Historical Society, whose director of education also spoke at the presentation.
At this premiere, viewers also saw a short profile the documentary producers did on Fisher, who sat in the front row and was obviously moved by the event. After the screening, Fisher rose from his chair, turned the crowd and said with emotion, "I am so grateful to so many for so much."
In the documentary, Fisher talks about the stock market crash, Pearl Harbor and World War II as well as the evolution of science and technology. Speaking to the gathering, though, he laughed and said he'd share his real advice.
"If you want attention, just live to be a 100 years old. You'll get it," he said, laughing.
Hanging on Fisher's words were students such as Robbie Karim '10, a chemistry major from Blue Ridge, Va., who rushed up later to shake his hand. Fisher's career has involved many different roles in industry, government and private life, including chemical pioneer, researcher, inventor, author, educator, administrator and public servant. For a few years he taught and researched organic chemistry at Harvard University and then got involved in various kinds of research, resulting in at least 72 patents. When he retired, he returned to Roanoke College and continued to research and write scientific papers for publication. He retired in November 2006, the day after he turned 100.
Karim, like many of his fellow students, frequently works in the College's organic chemistry lab, which is named for Fisher, and hears notable speakers through the department's "Fisher Lecture Series."
"Throughout all my studies, history hasn't been as much fun as tonight," Karim said. "It's firsthand experience hearing it from him and these people. This is just amazing."
Coincidentally, the theme for Roanoke College lectures throughout the year is "The 20th Century: A Retrospective." The next day several faculty members were speaking at a President's Forum on how the last century relates to their research, scholarship and creative work.
Chemistry professor Dr. Benjamin P. Huddle Jr. said he was surprised by the turnout for the premiere. He grinned and added that even his father, a retired Lutheran missionary, lives at Brandon Oaks and is good friends with Fisher.
"Who's going to watch a public television program? How boring," he said, satirically, "But it was great. There's a lot of history in the state of Virginia, and it's very good seeing through the eyes of people who lived through it."
Kelsey Sloan '10, a junior chemistry major from Salem, said she was yet again impressed by Fisher and added, "He's so cool. I want to be just like him."