A covert operation: How alumna Eva Dillon learned a Cold War secret

By Anthony Langley (B.S.’16/MC)

As a child, Eva Dillon (B.M.’82/A) moved all around the world. She and her six siblings would fall in love with a country, and a few years later, her father’s job would take the family somewhere new.

“I was born in Berlin, Germany, four years before the [Berlin] Wall went up,” she says. “I remember being frightened by the guards, the barbed wire and German shepherds, but our parents felt it was important that we see it.”

The family also lived in Mexico City and Rome before returning to the States shortly after the conclusion of the Cuban missile crisis. When Dillon was 17, the family moved to New Delhi. It was 1975, the year a bombshell, tell-all book called “Inside the Company: CIA Diary” was published. The book listed the names of 250 CIA officers, and her father, Paul Dillon, was on that list.

“We always thought he worked for the State Department, but when we saw a news article identifying him, we learned the truth,” Dillon says.

The book was written by former CIA officer Philip Agee who worked for her father when the family lived in Mexico City seven years earlier. In it, Agee revealed that Dillon’s father was an operations officer in the Agency’s Soviet division.  Eventually Dillon learned that he handled the CIA’s highest-ranking double agent, Gen. Dmitri Fedorovich Polyakov.

Going her own way

A year later, Dillon returned to the U.S. to attend the Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts, graduating with a music degree focused on composition and theory. Though music was her passion (she still sings to this day), Dillon realized that she wanted to go in a different direction.

“Five of my siblings attended VCU. We all lived in the Fan,” she says. “Just about all of us worked at Strawberry Street Café. It was how we worked our way through college. We had an amazing experience!”

After graduation, Dillon worked as a roving assistant at National Geographic, where she eventually landed in the advertising department. She loved the publishing industry and decided to pursue a career in business operations. She moved to New York City and got a job at a trade magazine in advertising sales, marketing and circulation. From there, she worked at TV Guide, Glamour, Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and other publications, later becoming president of Reader’s Digest.

Putting pen to paper

With 25 years of experience in the publishing world, Dillon was ready to write her own book, one that told the story of her father and Polyakov. After learning that the general’s son, Alexander Polyakov, had emigrated to the U.S., she sought him out, and he was willing to share his stories with her.

She began to collect material written about Polyakov from newspapers, magazines and various books, and with his son’s help, she also gained access to information from Russia that she had translated. Combining that information with interviews she had from her father’s former colleagues and friends, she filled in the details of the story.

The resulting book, “Spies in the Family: An American Spymaster, His Russian Crown Jewel, and the Friendship That Helped End the Cold War,” paints a broad picture of the Cold War, the issues and the political environment and tells various stories about government operatives and assets. The book also delves into further detail about what life was like for both the Dillon and Polyakov families unknowingly growing up in the family of spies.

“With [Alexander’s] help, I was now able to tell the story from two sides,” Dillon says. “General Polyakov worked on behalf of our country for 18 years. I felt it was important people know what he did for us.”

Dillon returns to VCU on Dec. 6 for a talk at James Branch Cabell Library to discuss the book and reveal additional insights into Cold War politics. The talk will be followed by a Q&A, book-signing and a reception.

Project shares ephemera from women’s suffrage, temperance, civil rights and other social movements

A postcard from a series published by The Cargill Company that was “Endorsed and Approved by the National American Woman Suffrage Association.” Source: Adèle Goodman Clark papers, 1849-1978, James Branch Cabell Library, VCU Libraries.

Sheet music for the suffragists’ rallying song “Votes for Women.” A Superboy comic PSA from the 1950s extolling the virtues of public education. A Victrola ad from 1920 suggesting that community singing would bring immigrants “into the fold of American citizenry.” A temperance movement handbill warning that alcohol is the “Fluid Extract of Hell” and “GUARANTEED TO KILL BOYS.”

These are just a few of the intriguing items to be found in a new project by VCU Libraries and seven partner institutions that showcases photographs, pamphlets, placards, advertisements, buttons and other ephemera from the history of social reform movements and social services.

“We’re making a door for researchers and others who are interested in the history of the social movements and our nation’s response to human need,” said project manager Alice Campbell, digital outreach and special projects librarian with VCU Libraries. “It’s difficult to know where to go and how to search across multiple institutions, so we’ve created a portal that lets you see choice materials from each of the institutions’ collections, and then travel through to their websites.”

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Jade Chang wins VCU Cabell First Novelist Award for ‘The Wangs vs. the World’

Jade Chang’s debut novel, “The Wangs vs. the World,” tells the story of an immigrant family whose sudden loss of a cosmetics empire and their home sends them on a road trip across America where they discover what endures as a family and within themselves. (Jade Chang photo credit: Teresa Flowers)

Jade Chang has won the 2017 VCU Cabell First Novelist Award, which honors an outstanding debut novel published during a calendar year. Her winning book, “The Wangs vs. the World,” published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, tells the story of an immigrant family whose sudden loss of a cosmetics empire and their home sends them on a road trip across America where they discover what endures as a family and within themselves.

Chang will receive the award Nov. 16 at Virginia Commonwealth University, where she will give a reading and participate in a roundtable and discussion with VCU students and the public. The event will be held in the Cabell Library Lecture Hall (Room 303) at 7 p.m. For additional details, visit www.firstnovelist.vcu.edu/event/. Chang was one of three finalists for the prize, now in its 16th year. The other finalists were Chad Dundas for “Champion of the World” and Margaret Wappler for “Neon Green.”

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VCU Libraries secures $1 million Cabell Challenge grant

VCU Libraries has achieved a major fundraising goal by matching a $1 million challenge from the Cabell Foundation. The fundraising challenge was issued by the foundation in December 2015, and VCU Libraries exceeded the $1 million goal 90 days before the deadline.

The Cabell Foundation, a prominent Central Virginia philanthropic group, seeks to make lasting, positive impact on the Richmond region by strengthening key educational and cultural institutions and projects. The challenge grant was intended to stimulate philanthropic support of VCU Libraries as well as provide essential funds to fulfill the rich promise of VCU’s new library building on its Monroe Park Campus. The challenge was a success on both fronts: VCU Libraries exceeded the monetary goal, and expanded its community of supporters, through a record 434 gifts and pledges from alumni, faculty, staff, community members and others.

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VCU Libraries exhibition showcases incredible medical, scientific illustrations by VCUarts students, alumni

Hannah Huddle (B.F.A.’16/A), a 2016 graduate of the School of the Arts, created this study of a beetle specimen found in Virginia Beach.

A new art show at the Tompkins-McCaw Library for the Health Sciences at Virginia Commonwealth University is featuring medical and scientific illustrations by students and alumni of the Department of Communication Arts in the School of the Arts.

“Intersections II” features the work of 16 students and alumni of the Department of Communication Art’s scientific and preparatory medical illustration track, which requires a rigorous set of science courses hosted by the Department of Biology in the College of Humanities and Sciences and VCU Life Sciences in addition to their art courses.

The exhibition, which opens today, is free and open to the public at Tompkins-McCaw Library, located on VCU’s MCV campus at 509 N. 12th St. Images from “Intersections II” also will be displayed on the James Branch Cabell Library Big Screen beginning Monday, Feb. 27.

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Cabell Library wins “2016 New Landmark Library” award

James Branch Cabell Library has been named a 2016 New Landmark Library by Library Journal, widely viewed as the most trusted and respected publication for the library community.

A highly competitive national competition, the New Landmark Library Award considered academic libraries where building projects were completed between 2012 and 2015. Five winners, including Cabell Library, were chosen by a panel of judges with knowledge of both libraries and architecture. The redesigned Cabell Library opened in December 2015.

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Three pieces from VCU Libraries’ collections to be displayed at the new National Museum of African American History and Culture

This postcard of Sixth Mount Zion Church is from VCU Libraries’ Rarely Seen Richmond digital collection of postcards of vintage Richmond postcards. The church was saved from demolition in the 1950s when construction of Interstate 95 cut a swath through Jackson Ward, effectively bifurcating a historically African American neighborhood in Richmond.

This postcard of Sixth Mount Zion Church is from VCU Libraries’ Rarely Seen Richmond digital collection of postcards of vintage Richmond postcards. The church was saved from demolition in the 1950s when construction of Interstate 95 cut a swath through Jackson Ward, effectively bifurcating a historically African American neighborhood in Richmond.

Two digitized photographs and a digitized postcard from VCU Libraries’ Special Collections and Archives will be featured in inaugural exhibitions at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, which is slated to open Sept. 24 on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

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Digital collection of wildflower photography is a ‘time capsule’ from the early days of the James River Park System

Richmond environmentalist and James River advocate Newton Ancarrow took thousands of photos of wildflowers along the James River, including these shots of Grape Hyacinth, Blood Root and Rocket Larkspur.

Richmond environmentalist and James River advocate Newton Ancarrow took thousands of photos of wildflowers along the James River, including these shots of Grape Hyacinth, Blood Root and Rocket Larkspur.

Between 1968 and 1971, Richmond environmentalist and James River advocate Newton Ancarrow snapped thousands of photographs of wildflowers, documenting more than 400 species, as he walked along the banks of the James, searching for evidence of illegal sewage dumping into the river.

Ancarrow, who is perhaps best remembered today for his namesake, the James River Park System’s easternmost waterfront park area and boat launch, Ancarrow’s Landing, used his wildflower photos as part of a slideshow presentation he gave to Richmond garden clubs, women’s groups and civic organizations as part of his efforts to drum up community support for a cleaner James River.

The 354 wildflower photographs in that presentation, titled “Flower Show No. 2,” have been digitized by VCU Libraries and are being shared publicly for the first as an online digital collection, the Ancarrow Wildflower Digital Archive.

“These slides are special because they’re a snapshot in time at the very early beginnings of the James River Park System — before, during and maybe even a little bit after it was created,” said Anne Wright, director of outreach education for the VCU Rice Rivers Center and an assistant professor in the Department of Biology in the College of Humanities and Sciences. “So, as a time capsule, they’re very interesting.”

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Cabell Library’s new 400-square-foot outdoor screen to display art, animation, video, scholarly work

Photo by Julia Rendleman.

Photo by Julia Rendleman.

Virginia Commonwealth University’s James Branch Cabell Library is poised to debut its newly installed 400-square-foot outdoor screen that will showcase art, animation, video and information about scholarly work from throughout the VCU community.

The screen, which overlooks the Compass, is 21 feet wide by 24 feet tall, and is located above the main entrance of Cabell Library, which recently wrapped up a major expansion and renovation that added 93,000 square feet of new construction and 63,000 square feet of improvements to the existing Monroe Park Campus library.

The screen has been installed with the hope to intrigue, inspire and inform the tens of thousands of VCU community members who pass by daily.

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Student catalogs VCU Libraries’ collection of pre-1800 books, greatly enhancing their research value

Julian Neuhauser, a VCU English graduate student, has been cataloging VCU Libraries' collection of books published before 1800, greatly enhancing their research value and discoverability.

Julian Neuhauser, a VCU English graduate student, has been cataloging VCU Libraries’ collection of books published before 1800, greatly enhancing their research value and discoverability.

The stacks of books in Julian Neuhauser’s office in James Branch Cabell Library are very old and very rare. There is a tiny book, dating back to 1709, that is bound with tortoise shell. There is an early goatskin-bound copy of “A Dictionary of the English Language,” the original dictionary by Samuel Johnson. And there is a 1723 edition of “Daimonologia, or, A Treatise of Spirits,” an occult text from the personal library of Richmond fantasy author James Branch Cabell, namesake of the James Branch Cabell Library.

These rare books have long been available to researchers as part of VCU Libraries’ Special Collections and Archives, but now, thanks to the efforts of Neuhauser, a graduate student in the Department of English in the College of Humanities and Sciences, they are more accessible than ever before.

Over the past year, Neuhauser has been cataloging VCU Libraries’ trove of books published before 1800, allowing researchers to not only search by author, title and subject, but also now by a wide variety of material features.

“Especially with older books, one thing that’s interesting to book historians like me is the material aspects of the books,” Neuhauser said. “Now that we have opened up the catalog to be searched by material terms, you can, say, look for all of VCU Libraries’ books that have a certain type of paper, or that have a specific type of binding, or have gold tooling, or have gilt edges and things like that.”

For book historians, he said, studying the physical properties of books provides insight into the printing processes and bookselling industry of a period, which opens up new culturally significant literary readings.

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