In memoriam: JoAnn Thrash Harvill, retired senior instructor
November 7, 2023
JoAnn Thrash Harvill, a long-time member of the Virginia Tech community, a retired senior instructor of English, and a beacon of inspiration, died on Oct. 20 at the age of 71, after a brief illness.
Born on May 31, 1952, in Brenham, Texas, she grew up in Beaumont, Texas, before making her way to Virginia, where she would leave an indelible mark on the lives of countless students, especially student athletes.
A memorial service celebrating Harvill’s life and contributions will be held on Nov. 11 from 10 a.m. to noon at Hahn Horticulture Garden Pavilion, 200 Garden Lane, Blacksburg. In lieu of flowers, those wishing to honor Harvill may consider a donation to Angels of Assisi, an independent, nonprofit animal welfare organization serving southwest Virginia and West Virginia.
Harvill’s journey to becoming a senior instructor at Virginia Tech began in 1977 when she accepted a teaching position. She obtained her Master of Arts in English from the university in 1980 and embarked on a distinguished teaching career that spanned more than four decades. Her dedication to education was recognized when she received the Joyce Gentry Smoot Award for Teaching Excellence in 1989-90. From 2009-2010, she served on the Professor of the Year Student Athlete Advisory Committee. In 2010, the Student Athlete Advisory Committee honored her as Professor of the Year.
An avid guitar player and teacher, she once recorded a record. But she also occasionally brough her guitar into the classroom for courses such as for first year writing or creative writing.
“She wanted her students to know that communication went beyond the traditional essay—that music and song lyrics went a long way in communicating and connecting,” said Alice Kinder, senior instructor of English. “She encouraged students to explore their own talents and she nurtured their efforts to do so.”
Harvill’s influence extended beyond the classroom. She was a passionate advocate for inclusivity, as demonstrated by her reading at the first-ever Lavender Commencement Ceremony for the LGBTQ community in 2009. Her impact on student athletes was profound, serving as the instructor of choice for most of the football teams over the decades.
“JoAnn thought beyond stereotypes, and her dedication to helping student athletes rewrite their academic narratives earned her the admiration of many in the Virginia Tech community,” said Kelly Pender, professor and chair of the Department of English, “Her legacy is one of compassion, intellectual curiosity, and a deep love for teaching.”
Harvill is survived by her brother, Michael Cecil Thrash, and her aunt, Dorothy M. Yentzen, both from Beaumont, Texas. She was preceded in death by her biological parents, Nazelle and Joe Thrash, and her adoptive parents, Viman and Olga Harvill.
“Through her love of language and learning, her instinctive generosity, and kindness, and above all, her dedication to her students, JoAnn has indeed touched eternity,” Kind said. “We will not see her like again, but may we all strive to embody the passion, empathy and zest for life JoAnn exemplified throughout her remarkable journey.”