After 68 Years

'Big Doc' Emerson's portrait officially unveiled
Descendants of Dean William H. Emerson, the founding dean of Georgia Tech, attending the unveiling of his restored portrait are: (left to right) front row--Ellen Emerson Yaghijan, Lucy Emerson Sullivan, Mary Lewis Emerson, Katharine Emerson Brown and Lucy Kiser Emerson; back row--Cherry L. Emerson, David Yaghijan, William Austin "Bo" Emerson III, and William Austin "Bill" Emerson.
Two days before the 1924 Homecoming luncheon to unveil a portrait of William Henry Emerson, the founding dean of Georgia Tech and one of four professors when the school opened its doors in 1888, the man known affectionately to a generation of Tech students as "Big Doc" died.

Sixty-eight years later, on Oct. 15, 1992, Emerson's portrait-which had become lost, found and restored-was unveiled in a ceremony attended by his descendants. The portrait and a plaque honoring Emerson hang in the atrium of a renovated Lyman Hall laboratory, where the archway entrance to the former Emerson laboratory (a 1925 addition), has been preserved as a memorial.

"This occasion is nice beyond words," said Cherry L. Emerson, a grandson of the dean, the person responsible for recovering and restoring the portrait, and whose contribution preserved the archway as a memorial.

Another grandson, William Austin "Bill" Emerson, said of the ceremony, "'Big Doc' would have been absolutely dismayed, and secretly proud." A third Grandson, Boynton Emerson, was unable to attend the ceremony. The original portrait was a gift to the school from the ANAK Society and the class of 1924, which commissioned the work to Kate Edwards, a noted Atlanta artist.

The October issue of the 1924 alumni magazine said she "succeeded in transferring to canvas not only the likeness, but the very character, resolution, honor and integrity" of Emerson.

The portrait was originally hung in the Lyman Hall laboratory when it was the chemistry building.

The portrait was displayed in various locations on campus until the 1980s. Cherry Emerson discovered that the portrait of his grandfather was missing during visits to campus in the spring of 1986 It was found in a deteriorated condition in the library archives.

Emerson had the portrait restored by Gustav Berger of New York, a conservator of art who was also responsible for restoration of the Cyclorama in Atlanta.

"Big Doc" Emerson of Tunnel Hill, Gal, graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy and earned his Ph.D. at Johns Hopkins University. He came to Georgia Tech in 1888 as first professor of chemistry. In 1910, Emerson became Tech's dean of faculty. Throughout his 36-year career at Tech, he was a teacher and educator as well as an administrator. He was teaching a course in physical chemistry the year he died.

His son, Cherry L. Emerson, ME '08, EE '09, also became a dean at Tech and served as president of the Georgia Tech Alumni Association in 1943. A building named in his honor houses the School of Biology.

Among the other descendants and family members attending the ceremony were William Austin "Bo" Emerson III; Ellen Emerson Yaghjian and her husband, David; Lucy Emerson Sullivan; and Katherine Emerson Brown. Cherry Emerson was accompanied by his wife, Mary; and Bill Emerson was accompanied by his wife, Lucy.