Founders Day: Former Centre president Richard Morrill weaves a masterful tale of relationships
On Jan. 19, Richard L. Morrill, Centre’s 18th president (1982-88), delivered the keynote address at the College’s Founders Day ceremony.
Currently chancellor of the University of Richmond, in January of 2010 he was named president of the Teagle Foundation (a New York-based organization dedicated to providing intellectual leadership and financial support to strengthen undergraduate learning in the liberal arts and sciences).
Morrill chose “relationships” as the theme of his speech. He began by noting that two recent histories of the College stress its nature as “a place that is all about deep and enduring relationships—at Centre, we often use the metaphor of family to describe it, and it is more than a turn of phrase. Centre is family writ large.”
The former Centre president then noted the roles of family as illustrated by two earlier presidents: father and son John C. and William C. Young. In total, they guided the College for more than a third of a century, establishing and enhancing “an aristocracy of achievement and service” that began to take hold in the 1800s: “When Centre took form under John C. Young, it did so by disproportionately educating young men who came to weave leadership and service into their lives. Woodrow Wilson noticed, and we never let anyone forget for a minute what he said about the ‘men of distinction’ among Centre alumni.”
Later in the presentation, Morrill described another close relationship between two Centre presidents: himself and John Roush:
“In the fall of 1987, I had been nominated for the presidency at the University of Richmond. I had some contact on the phone and by mail with the chief of staff to the president at the University of Richmond, one Dr. John Roush, who encouraged my involvement. About two minutes after my arrival, I figured out that this man deserved even larger responsibilities, and I promoted him to vice-president. We could not have worked more closely or well together than we did for the next 10 years, at which point I decided to retire. Soon I had a call from Pierce Lively [life trustee of the College] asking if I had anyone to nominate to succeed President [Michael] Adams. I said, ‘Pierce, you will want to consider John Roush here at Richmond.’ Later, David Grissom, another of Centre’s leadership legends and chair of the board, called for a reference and I said, ‘David, let me sum this up. If you want a president who will become one of the most effective and beloved leaders in Centre history, you should hire John. He’s good as gold.’
“After almost 13 years of John Roush’s leadership, the record shows I was right. John has served longer than all but three other Centre presidents. He and you together have done nothing less than rebuild the campus and make Centre stronger than it has ever been.”
Near the end of his remarks, Morrill focused on the far-flung relationships and advantages that are evolving because of the College’s nationally heralded study abroad program:
“The steady beat of Centre’s powerful education will learn the new rhythms of a global age and offer new opportunities for students and faculty in the years ahead.”
He concluded by sounding the theme of unexpected victories and disproportionate achievement that was a hallmark of his presidency:
“A skeptic might ask, how can these possibilities for global learning and citizenship be forged at a small college in a small town in the middle of nowhere? The answer is that Centre always lights a path to somewhere and now everywhere. That light is crystal clear in the history of the College and in the relationships that it enables.”