Vice President for Student Life and Dean of Students Emeritus William Holt “Will” Terry ’54 died peacefully March 27.
During his long tenure as dean and up until his death, Terry shaped the Davidson College student experience on bedrock principles of service, leadership, honor and responsibility. He lived these principles in an era of significant change in the life of the college, including coeducation and increasing diversity. He was a champion of student government and the Honor Code, and his success in forging bonds with students was evidenced by the many alumni who kept in touch with “Will,” as he was known to all, long past their graduations and his official retirement in 1994.
“In his lifetime of leadership and in his half-century of dedication to Davidson, Will embodied the values of this place in his every interaction. His sharp wit, his keen insight, his empathy, and his generosity of spirit enabled Will to give himself over to nurturing promising young people,” said President Carol Quillen. “Generations of Davidson alumni lead lives of consequence because of his high expectations, his wisdom, and his singular hospitality.”
Student to Mentor
Terry’s relationship with the college began in 1950, when he arrived on campus as a freshman. He became a history major and served as president of the Eumenean Literary Society and assistant editor of Quips and Cranks, the college annual. He was a member of Sigma Phi Epsilon social fraternity, sat on the honorary fraternity council and was elected to Who’s Who in American Colleges and Universities, Tau Kappa Alpha and Omicron Delta Kappa.
After graduating from Davidson in 1954, Terry began work on his master of divinity degree at Union Theological Seminary in Richmond, Va. A year later he returned to Davidson as the secretary of Davidson College’s YMCA, which at the time served as the center of campus religious life. In 1958, he received his degree from Union and took a position as pastor of Acme Presbyterian Church in Riegelwood, N.C., before returning to Davidson as chaplain in 1962. He served as college chaplain until he was called to be pastor of Davidson College Presbyterian Church in 1966.
In 1971, President Samuel R. Spencer appointed Terry dean of students, the position he held until his retirement. He completed his doctor of ministry degree from Union Theological Seminary while dean, in 1986. At the time of his retirement, Terry was presented the Distinguished Alumnus Award for his service to Davidson and his community.
“Will was one of those rare people in the Davidson story whose presence epitomizes—and helps to shape—an era in the college’s life,” said President Emeritus John Kuykendall ’59.
“I knew him first as a valued friend and mentor during his year of service as YMCA secretary while I was a student. Then his service as chaplain, DCPC pastor and dean magnified his influence into the lives of Davidson students for more than three decades. He was counselor, friend, comforter, disciplinarian (when necessary) and advocate—always an advocate—for generations of us.”
Terry’s legacy continued in his emeritus years, in tireless work as the namesake, inspiration and director of the William Holt Terry Scholarship Program, established upon his retirement by grateful alumni. He had a stack of Terry Scholar applications for the class of 2019 on his bedstand at the time of his death.
The Terry Scholarship is one of Davidson College’s preeminent merit awards; its design acknowledges Terry’s belief that leaders are made, not born. The scholarship’s recipients form a cohort of students chosen for their potential for leadership and growth both on campus and in their careers and lives after Davidson. The scholarship program challenges and strengthens students—more than 80 and counting—through mentorship, networking, and unique opportunities to interact with established and recognized local and national leaders.
Terry regarded his scholars as a second family; indeed, much like a family, he hosted monthly dinners for the scholars at his home, occasions complete with a home cooked meal and invited speakers. For alumni scholars, he hosted biennial reunions in Davidson, and he involved them when interviewing scholarship applicants.
“Throughout my four years at Davidson, Dean Terry was my ‘home base,’” said Christie Mason ’10, who worked at Salzburg Global Seminar after Davidson and is currently in law school. “It was his house that I went to at the beginning of each semester for the kick-off meal. When classes, friends and commitments changed as I grew from a freshman to a senior, Dean Terry was still there with a quick, witty quip that was sure to leave me chuckling with the thought, ‘Did he just say that?’ And during my college growing pains, Dean Terry was there to counsel me. On my best days, Dean Terry was there to celebrate, laugh and toast a glass of something. Thus, in many ways, Will Terry was the foundation upon which my Davidson experience was built.”
“Will Terry taught us to believe in ourselves and to apply that belief to a life of consequence,” said Ken Krieg ’83, former U.S. Undersecretary of Defense. “We were to serve and to lead—each in our own way. The Terry Scholarship extends the process to the latest generation of Davidson students, from having supper together to the debates and the hearty laughs—as well as the occasional, well-timed, gentle reminders of who we could be.”
Board of Trustees Chairman John Chidsey ’83 said, “Davidson has lost one of our most dedicated and loyal supporters. Will Terry was a mentor and friend to countless Davidson students over the decades and had a profound impact on many of those lives. He immeasurably enriched my life and I will forever miss his wit, warmth and generous spirit, as will many others in the Davidson family.”
A memorial service to celebrate Terry’s life and contributions to Davidson was held May 2 at Davidson College Presbyterian Church.