A Guiding Light

Grace and strength helped Lucy Williams Hooper ’73 guide Randolph through coed transition.

Lucy Williams Hooper ’73 walks briskly on the brick-lined pathways at Randolph College, heading to one of her last meetings after 12 years as a member of the Board of Trustees.

LucyHooper“It thrills me to observe such a happy place,” she says, smiling warmly and greeting students as they pass. “To witness so many improvements, including the physical improvements, to see the beauty of the campus, to listen to these students talk about their classes and friends, it makes everything our community has endured worth it.”

She often thinks back to the day, six years ago, on September 6, 2006, when she sat among fellow Board members, many of whom were classmates and friends, as they made a decision that would change the course— and secure the future—of Randolph-Macon Woman’s College. It was a necessary decision that would anger some alumnae, students, and community members and result in protests and two lawsuits.

“The most difficult thing for me personally was affecting the lives of those young women who were on campus and who had made the conscious decision to attend a single-sex college,” Hooper said. “To pull the rug out from under them was gut-wrenching.”

After three years of a strategic planning process and months of research, discussion, and careful deliberation about options, Board members had come to understand that going coed was the best decision for the College.

“We knew with certainty that the College was not going to survive on the path we were on,” Hooper said. “Whether it was five years or 15 years, it wasn’t sustainable.”

An economics major and member of Phi Beta Kappa, Hooper attributes her ability to handle the challenges of board leadership and success in the financial world to the education she received at the College. “You may not appreciate it as a student, but it doesn’t take long once you are out in the world to understand how the liberal arts experience prepares you to perform and adapt in an ever-changing world,” she said.

After graduation, Hooper entered the banking industry and soon became the first female broker at Davenport & Company in Richmond, Virginia. Hooper now serves as an executive vice president and director of fixed income.

“I owe a lot to the College,” she said. Hooper has been an avid financial supporter and very generous with her time. After years volunteering for the Alumnae Association, Hooper began serving on the Board of Trustees in 2000 and became Board chair in 2007. It was not an enviable position, but it was one suited to Hooper’s personality and strength.

John E. Klein, president of Randolph, began his tenure in 2007, the first year of coeducation and Hooper’s first year as chair.

“We had a lot of difficult decisions to make in those first months at the very beginning of our relationship,” Klein said. “I immediately felt that Lucy was my partner, and we developed a wonderful working relationship.”

Hooper agreed. “John’s strength, expertise, and dedication to the College helped the institution weather the transition, and his leadership has put the College in a stronger position,”she said.

Hooper’s practical nature, combined with her genuine concern for others, helped her deal with the many controversies during her tenure. But it was her leadership ability that was key to helping move the College forward, Klein said. “There is evenness to her disposition,” he added. “I’ve described her as having an iron fist in a velvet glove. She is intuitive, capable, warm, and diplomatic, but, at the same time, she knows her mind and will take a firm stand when the situation calls for her to do so.”

Peter H. Dean, a trustee and husband of Sally Abrams Dean ’70, said Hooper took over leadership of the Board at a critical time. “We knew the road was going to be bumpy, and hard decisions would have to be made,” he said. “She did a remarkable job of keeping the Board focused on issues in a way that encouraged an informed debate, while making sure the debates remained constructive and ended in decisions that we could all support.”

Hooper expected the transition to be difficult. But she, like most everyone else, never anticipated the economic recession or the length of time it would take before the College won the lawsuits and made its way through the difficult transition. And while she steeled herself for anger and criticism, she found herself hurting for the alumnae, staff, faculty, and administration. “I came to care deeply for these people who were working as hard as they could for our College during very challenging times,” she said.

Hooper never regretted accepting the leadership position. “You do what you have to do,” she said. “When you accept a job, you do it as best you can for as long as it takes. Are you going to do everything perfectly? No, but you try to do your best. Did I cry? Yes, I did. But I never wanted to quit. I knew we were doing the right thing for the College.”

She read every letter and e-mail that she received. She traveled around the country. And she listened.

“I wanted to know what people were thinking,” Hooper said. “People deserve to have their voices heard.”

The College went through more than its share of change during her early tenure as Board chair. After the decision to go coed, the institution changed its name to Randolph College, was put on accreditation warning (which was later lifted) by SACS, named a new president, made a controversial but necessary decision to sell four pieces of artwork, prevailed after two years of legal disputes, and dealt with the financial ramifications of a global economic meltdown—all while trying to recruit students and build a new brand and reputation for Randolph College.

During all of this, Hooper carefully tried to balance the stress of her job, her commitment to Randolph, and her responsibilities to her husband, Gary, and son, Rand. “There just weren’t enough hours in the day,” she remembered. “I would wake up in the middle of the night to watch the trading in overseas markets and then stay awake worrying about the College and dreaming about the possibilities.”

Dean said Hooper’s best qualities helped her deal with the turmoil she faced every day. “She gave unstintingly of her time to support Randolph College in every way,” he said. “That included intellectual and moral support for the College administration in working through difficult issues. She was always willing to discuss problems, and to do so in public, even with those who were very opposed to some of the decisions. She never, ever, shirked the responsibilities that fell to her, but shouldered the burdens, and put up with some criticism with amazing spirit. That inspired others to give their best as well.”

Randolph’s Board of Trustees remained unified during the difficult challenges. “It was a true demonstration of how a good board works,” Hooper said. “Through discussion and debate, this group of individuals was able to work collectively and collaboratively, always with the best interests of the College as our top priority. I immensely admire the trustees with whom I served.”

Today, six years since the coed decision, Randolph College is seeing improvement on all fronts. Enrollment and giving have increased, major renovation projects have been funded, the College earned full reaccreditation from SACS, and the campus is filled with activity.

“When you’ve fought so hard for an institution, it becomes even more dear to you,” Hooper said. “Understanding everything this College has endured makes you want to see it soar. It deserves to do so.”

Katharine “Kitty” Stark Caldwell ’74 served on the Board alongside Hooper. “Lucy’s ability to balance all the different parts to keep the whole from spinning out of control was remarkable,” she said. “Everything she did was grounded in her belief in Randolph’s future and her undying love for the College. Lucy’s low-key management style took the focus off of herself and worked magic in bringing together different constituencies. That said, Lucy stood firm on what mattered. I do not know the source of her strength, but it helped sustain the board through tough times. The College’s emergence from those times is a testament to her leadership.”

Hooper believes her retirement from the Board comes at a good time. “We are not at the finish line, but we are in a far more stable position, and we can build on the work that has been accomplished.”

Lucy Hooper yearbook photoNearly 40 years ago, Hooper’s parents encouraged her to choose R-MWC. She never imagined the impact that decision would have on the rest of her life or the role she would play in the College’s future. “My dad loves to say that I came home from college after my first six weeks and told him I had found my place,” she said. “Coming to R-MWC really opened up the world to me. It was a gift.”

The experience of guiding Randolph through a difficult period and seeing it emerge stronger has only added to her feelings for her alma mater. “My life is far richer for having been a part of this,” Hooper said. “We are forever bound together by sharing this experience, and being a part of the College during a critical time in its history. It’s quite humbling.”