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Randolph College Remembers Dr. William F. Quillian, Jr.

A Lynchburg icon passed away early Tuesday morning, March 4, shortly before his 101st birthday.

William F. Quillian, Jr., the fifth president of Randolph-Macon Woman’s College, now Randolph College, and the institution’s longest-serving president, was a long-time supporter of the College, speaking at Commencement in 2010 and publishing Voices from R-MWC, a collection of essays about the College and his leadership. His presidency stretched from 1952 to 1978.

He and his wife, Margaret, came to Lynchburg in 1952 when Quillian began his tenure as president. His leadership brought dramatic change—to the campus and the world surrounding it. During Quillian’s 26-year presidency, he oversaw a major push for capital improvements, racial integration of the student body, the end of sororities, and the launch of the College’s flagship study abroad program, The World in Britain.

The endeared president and father of four was well-loved by alumnae and alumni, who remembered his devotion to students and the liberal arts. Approached by faculty planning the College’s first faculty and staff “Show” and asked to do something “out of character,” Quillian serenaded students with his rendition of “Minnie the Moocher.” He unknowingly began a new tradition—the president’s performance at Pumpkin Parade—after repeating the rendition at the request of students. Even after retirement, Quillian was known to break into song and dance.

Not all of Quillian’s memories were lighthearted. He and the board dealt with many of the same issues faced by the College today, including retention, diversity, fundraising, and changing student attitudes and needs.

Improvements at the College resulted, in part, from fundraising and development. “I always enjoyed fundraising, and I knew we needed to raise money,” Quillian said during an interview in 2010. “My father was a college president, and I watched him build a brand new campus five miles away from the existing campus.”

During Quillian’s tenure, the College expanded Lipscomb Library and built the Physical Education and Recreation Building (now known as the Randolph Athletics and Dance Center), the Houston Memorial Chapel, and the Leggett Building and Thoresen Theatre.

He was also instrumental in gaining financial support from a variety of foundations, including Ford, Kresge, and Dana.

At the same time philanthropy helped the College build its infrastructure, society was undergoing its own social transformation, including racial integration. For Quillian, resolving the potentially divisive issue began with a discussion among students.

“Every Wednesday, there was a required assembly. At one of them, I raised the question, ‘Suppose this College was to become integrated?'” he recalled. “It shocked them.”

The students kept the discussion alive. An essay in his book, Voices from R-MWC, recalled an editorial in the November 5, 1953 issue of the Sundial that concluded: “Think about the issue— it’s important for your future.”

In December 1960, the civil rights issues came to a head on campus and in the city when two R-MWC students—Mary Edith Bentley Abu-Saba ’61 and Rebecca Owen Van Dalen’61—were arrested for their part in what would become Lynchburg’s first lunch counter sit-in.

Quillian and the College’s business manager posted the students’ $1,000 bonds, and later, when the students were jailed, Quillian took the students their textbooks and homework. “It was interesting to see the jailers’ response when we visited,” Quillian said for an article in a Randolph publication marking the 50th anniversary of the protest. “They couldn’t turn us away, but they didn’t quite know how to deal with it. They seemed puzzled when we showed up bringing books.”

While supporting the students, Quillian also faced fallout on campus and in the community, losing several large financial supporters and trustees over the issue. “It was an important time,” he said in the article. “The lines were pretty well drawn in our community.”

Another contentious issue for Quillian was the abolition of sororities, which were established at the College during the 1890s. By the ’40s and ’50s, there were questions and concerns about the value of sororities and their impact on student life. Finally, and to much opposition, the Board of Trustees voted in 1960 for their elimination.

Leading the College through both positive and troublesome times, Quillian never backed down from a challenge or lost sight of why he loved the institution.

“Quillian’s impact on the College and Lynchburg was profound,” said Becky Morrison Dunn ’70, chair of Randolph’s Board of Trustees. “From taking food and assignments to Randolph-Macon students who were standing up so valiantly in the face of discrimination to setting a new course for the College by making dramatic capital improvements, his legacy lives on in Randolph College and in the many alumnae of R-MWC.”

During his 2010 Commencement address, Quillian recalled his decision to move from teaching to college administration. “…the considerations and values which led me to accept the presidency of this College are basically the same as those which made my experience as a teacher so satisfying,” he said. “This is the conviction that there are outcomes in the lives of persons of the kind of liberal education to which this institution is dedicated which are essential for the greatest personal satisfaction of an individual and also for the greater good of mankind.”

Quillian encouraged those graduates to follow in the footsteps of the thousands of graduates who have come before them. “I saw in this College a treasure made possible by the vision, the work and the support of many,” he said. “I saw an opportunity to build upon that treasure and, hopefully, to enhance it. You graduates likewise have come to a place made possible by that vision, that work, and the sacrifices of many—a place where many before you have experienced vita abundantior.

“This College is yours,” he added. “Love it and support it so that many after you may also experience vita abundantior—the life more abundant.”

Randolph College has honored Quillian and his commitment to the College in many ways, including a conference room named for him in the newly renovated Student Center. In celebration of his 100th birthday, alumnae and alumni also voted in 2013 to name Quillian as the first male honorary alumnus.

In an article in the College’s alumnae and alumni magazine, Quillian’s son, Bill Quillian III, said his father went about his work in a confident but humble manner, firmly giving his own views but listening to others as well. “He’s always been unafraid to do what he feels is right,” the younger Quillian said in the summer 2013 publication. “This has engendered a great deal of respect for him.”

Bradley W. Bateman, Randolph’s 10th president, said Quillian made sure that his own life modeled the College’s motto. “Dr. Quillian never stopped learning and never stopped teaching and giving back,” Bateman said. “I was not fortunate to know him well, but I have heard countless stories about his genuine compassion and love for this College. He was known for his energy, his exuberance, his warm smile, and those wonderful typewritten letters he regularly dispatched.”

Quillian’s legacy lives on at Randolph College, Bateman added. “You cannot come to Randolph without being impacted in some way by Bill’s leadership. We will forever be grateful for his unwavering support of this institution. And we join with his family in both mourning the passing of this fine man and celebrating the abundant life he lived with passion.”

Donations to Randolph College can be made in memory of Dr. Quillian at:


A special photo gallery is available: https://picasaweb.google.com/117081625183515324802/WilliamFQuillian?authuser=0&feat=directlink

To read about Quillian’s 100th birthday celebration, please see http://bulletin.randolphcollege.edu/2013/08/celebrating-100-years-william-f-quillian-jr/


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