Terry, William Holt: 1980-1989

William Holt Terry By the Decades

1950-19591960-1969, 1970-19791980-19891990-19992000-2015

Will Terry reconnecting with an alumnus at homecoming, Bill Giduz, November 11th, 2012

Will Terry reconnecting with an alumnus at homecoming

Rev. Will Terry entered the ‘80s having been affiliated with the college for thirty years. In addition to being the Dean of Students, he also led cooking classes in his home and, following his own four years as chaplain, played a role in vetting and supporting the succession of college chaplains. [1, 2] Throughout his time, he had become an increasingly important presence in the alumni network and figured prominently in the school’s day-to-day operations. 

As noted by alumnus David Waddill, ‘81,

“It was [originally] a white male institution. While Will was the dean and the chaplain, integration, effective full integration of the school took place. Women were admitted to campus for the first time. There probably wasn’t any opposition to that at the student level, but as the Dean of Students he would have been facing alumni, some of which were extremely unhappy about some of the decisions that were made.” [3]

Will and many other administrators continued to work throughout the decade to resolve conflicts that arose between the alumni’s cherished memory of the school and the realities of its current student body. [3]

During the ’80s, the college continued to change as the overall student body became more conservative; the international student population grew; coeducation further altered the male-to-female student ratio, and Davidson began to diversify its faculty. Will was obliged to stay in tune with the shifting needs of students and help them clarify the priorities they should have during this phase of their lives.

For instance, alcohol had become increasingly common on campus over the last two decades, a major shift compared to the zero-tolerance policy the school kept in his student days. However, drinking had come to be seen mostly as a mature activity that students might share with staff and faculty. In fact, fraternities “would invite different administrators or faculty members to cocktail parties. If it was a formal evening party, they’d come early and go ahead and leave,” according to David Waddill. [3] In his opinion, as a student, “it was extremely helpful. It created a lot of bonds and allows for a lot of sharing of wisdom . . . [everyone] gained some insight from those informal relations that they wouldn’t have otherwise gotten.” [3]

Dr. John Kuykendall, ‘59, recounts the role Will played in keeping students socially connected to staff and vigilant about their conduct:

“He realized that there were values and virtues that didn’t have to be subverted just because you started drinking beer and alcohol on Patterson Court. And I think he realized that the place for him to be was where that was being done and in that little window of time, that was not only legal, but that was helpful because the drinking age–not being raised to twenty-one [yet]–so anybody who came to Davidson virtually was eligible to drink a beer on Patterson Court and Will’s great gift was he and, thereby, members of his staff were on Patterson Court every weekend. And they were in the houses and if something was getting out of hand, the dean was right there and he saw it and he didn’t hesitate to say, “Hey, I need to see you in my office on Monday morning.” Dread words, you know, but they put a damper on excessive partying or other behavior like that.” [4]

When North Carolina raised the legal drinking age from 18 to 21 in 1986, Davidson faced the quandary of enforcement. Only about a quarter of the student body were eligible to legally drink, yet the administration anticipated that many more would continue to do so.

Richard Terry, ‘81 describes Will’s personal opinion of this situation:

“He really loved the fact that parents dropped off their kids and Davidson College got to have them for four years to make them critical thinkers and independent folks. In his later years as dean, parents were so much more involved and compliance and policy and law, and the drinking age changed. He became very frustrated because he believed the way things were before the drinking age changed was a healthier, better way to live and to grow and to learn. If it had been left up to him, then he wouldn’t have enforced underage drinking.” [5]

Although alcohol policy had not been a major concern for the administration before, it became the greatest challenge of the decade. Energy once spent on trying to nurture students as they become mature, independent adults and on bridging the social disparity between students, staff, and faculty was redirected. Students instead focused on hiding under-aged drinking, which widened the social rift between students and administrators. Will’s previous presence at Patterson Court parties now became an impossibility, so his influence and concern for students manifested in other ways. [1]

Other major changes came as a result of administrative change. President Sam Spencer, ‘40, retired in 1984, and John Kuykendall, assumed his place. [6] Kuykendall states of Will’s relationship to the president’s office:

“I think he and President Spencer must have worked together very, very well. I think he always felt like he was an embarrassment to every president he worked with and, you know, he’d say, ‘Ugh, I’ve gotten you into trouble again,’ or something like that. And that directness of which we spoke earlier sometimes ruffled feathers, but I think he and Sam were very, very close to each other throughout the rest of Sam’s life.” [4]

William Terry at Family Weekend

William Terry

Will, who believed that the college always had the president it needed for the times, found a solid friend in President Kuykendall. [4] By the time Kuykendall became college president, the Dean of Students’ office functioned very differently from the office Will and Kuykendall had known as students. When asked about returning to Davidson College as its president and working with Dean Terry, Kuykendall explains,

“When I first came here, I was just kind of overwhelmed with his peripheral vision in putting together an appropriate student life organization. I had no idea that he had those kinds of administrative skills and, of course, it’s much different now than it once was thirty years ago when I came here . . . Will knew what was needed in every one of those areas and he also knew when it wasn’t working . . . He ran a very tight ship. And he ran a relatively happy ship. Everybody in Student Life worked well with him and he had an incredible capacity to stay in touch with everybody he was working with. So that’s one side of who he was and that just amazed me.” [4]

Will was also part of the Principal Administrative Staff (P.A.S.), a group of six top-tier administrators who reported to Kuykendall and coordinated to resolve any situation and any institutional inadequacy imaginable. [4] As part of this group, and as a general spokesperson on students’ behalf, he occasionally disagreed with Davidson’s faculty. Kuykendall describes this interaction:

“And, you know, he didn’t have a PhD, he wasn’t a teacher, he didn’t have inclination to want to be, but they had to know that he was going to stand toe-to-toe with them and he would, in some instances, be telling them what to do. The same thing was true of colleagues in the administration, the same thing was true of a series of presidents who worked with him, the same thing was true for the trustees of the college.” [4]

Will Terry with attendees of the Campaign for Davidson, eventually called A Quiet Resolve, September 1991.

Will Terry with attendees of the Campaign for Davidson

Will’s tenacity to fight for what he thought the institution’s students needed was well-known. In a 1989 video promoting a capital campaign raising funds for the college endowment, “Davidson: A Quiet Resolve,” successful alumni mention Will repeatedly as one of the people on campus who encouraged them to become their best selves. [7] Notably, they employ his name to describe the “sense of family” that Davidson College offered, a sentiment Will believed in strongly and did his best to put into practice. [7]

His name and personality became well-known to parents as well. [4, 1] Kuykendall portrays the yearly ritual that made this so:

“I remember when I first came back here to work in 1984, he told me that when parents came for orientation, at the last gathering of parents before they were to leave, say goodbye, get off campus–which he would tell them to do in no uncertain terms or they’d have to pay tuition–he said, “I tell them that if they wait until they are in the parking lot at Belk and saying farewell to their son and daughter and they say, ‘Your mother and I have decided we’re going to get a divorce,’ don’t worry about what’s going to happen because it’s going to be an absolute tragedy and you will have caused it’’ . . . And it was unforgettable. I mean, you can find parents who have students who entered Davidson in the early 1980s and one of the things they’ll remember about Davidson is Will Terry’s lecture to them about their responsibilities as parents to these people who are going to be students at Davidson. Now, you know, that takes a little bit of cheek–boldness–to be able to do that to people.” [4]

Will Terry grinning in the rain at the college's Sesquincentennial Celebration, 1987.

Will Terry grinning in the rain at the college’s Sesquincentennial Celebration

This daring helped make him so popular among students; he was willing to take risks as well as make people laugh even at tense moments. Given the unfortunate contexts he saw countless students in as a disciplinary figure, diffusing a difficult situation with humor was indeed a necessary gift.

Perhaps it should be no surprise that he made such an impression on the larger Davidson community, given what the school meant to him. He once said of Davidson: “It certainly has meant more in my life than any other single factor except my family.” [8]

Will did not live near his relatives, however, which made it difficult to confide in them about his day-to-day challenges. He found that routine support among close friends who could empathize with his wholesale commitment to the school and community. Kuykendall says of this camaraderie, “Just about everybody had else who works for Davidson has a family member or more close at hand with whom they can consult and he didn’t. Davidson was his family.” [4]

As Will gained more experience in his role as Dean of Students, the institution continued to change.  In addition to changes in student demographics (with rising but still small international student populations as well as lingering adjustments to coeducation) and student culture with the drinking age increasing), another shift came as the college began working to recruit faculty of color. For years, black students had been requesting the inclusion of black faculty on the grounds that they needed someone who would “understand where we’re coming from,” and this request was finally answered in the early ‘80s. [9] By 1984, Davidson College’s faculty included four African-American members. [For more information, please visit: http://library.davidson.edu/archives/Eng101/Integration/Faculty%20Diversity.htm]

Will Terry’s full response to the alumnus 1971

Will Terry’s full response to the alumnus 1971

With these and other changes, the Davidson Will Terry stewarded through the 1980s certainly wasn’t the Davidson he and his friends had attended as young men. He had written previously to one alumni:

“In many ways, I wish I could it the way it was when I was here. It often infuriates me when students do not appreciate the things here that I did appreciate. It is a fact that social and student attitudes change, and the things you and I appreciated our children may not want at all.” [8]

Yet, he held out hope that some students would want and appreciate some of the same things he had. This was apparent from his hand in creating and facilitating the Tate Scholarship–also known as the Ministerial Challenge Scholarship–which annually awarded one or two students $7,500 towards one year at seminary, and a matching gift from the seminary. [10]

While serving as Dean of Students, Will also received his Doctor of Ministry from Union Theological Seminary of Richmond in 1986, the self-same school where he had received his Masters. [11] It is unclear why he waited to complete his studies, but he had continued to take courses on the side for a number of years until he earned his doctorate at age 56. [11]

Alumni Relations’ entry on the credentials accumulated over Will Terry’s career

Alumni Relations’ entry on the credentials accumulated over Will Terry’s career

At that age, friends note, he began to reflect on his life and career so far. To be certain, his life at Davidson as a student was not completely different from the Davidson he remained devoted to in 1989. However, his administrative positions in the institution necessarily involved accepting great changes to his original vision of the school. He chose to better the reality rather than chase after the long past. That took inestimable courage and, indeed, “a great deal of human understanding.” [4]

One of his greatest personal challenges as an administrator was the shifting relationship between parents and the college. Richard Terry describes this change:

“When I came back [as the Director of Residence Life] in ‘89, that was the very beginnings of significantly increased parent involvement. You don’t have to get far past ‘89 where the electronic age hit where we were no longer isolated . . . It wasn’t helping people grow up.” [5] 

Parents both wanted to be more involved and had the means to do so. They were able to stay in touch with their children electronically and could respond negatively to college events with equal rapidity. Students were no longer truly separate from parents, a situation which did not accord with Will’s view of the function and blessing of a college career.

In addition to the many cultural and social changes Davidson had experienced in the decades since Will graduated, the ‘80s also brought extensive physical changes to the campus. Irwin, Akers, and Knox Residence Halls opened successively from 1981 forward, speaking to increased enrollment. [12, 13, 14] Vail Commons, Davidson’s largest ever and most upscale dining facility, was built that same year. [15] In 1988, construction was completed on the first two senior apartments of Martin Court. [16] Finally, the beloved Johnston Gym was replaced by Baker Sports Complex in 1989. [17]

Then, later that year, Hurricane Hugo “[swept] through North Carolina, causing extensive damage to campus, including the loss of 231 trees.” [18] Davidson had incrementally altered its appearance from Will’s student days over the last four decades. However, with Hurricane Hugo, many changes came at once, rendering Davidson’s landscape a little unfamiliar to Will. He reportedly remained a jogger well into his sixties and it is hard not to imagine him in his early morning jog, surveying the physical and institutional changes of the campus he knew so well.


  1. Leland Park’s interview.
  2. Rob Spach’s interview.
  3. David Waddill’s interview.
  4. John Kuykendall’s interview.
  5. Richard Terry’s interview.
  6. College History Timeline. “1984: John Wells Kuykendall Becomes President.” Encyclopedia. 2015. Davidson College Archives, Davidson College, NC. 26 July 2015. Web.
  7. VanderKloot Film & Television. “Davidson: A Quiet Resolve.” Atlanta, Georgia: 1989. Videotape Collection. Davidson College Archives, Davidson College, NC.
  8. Terry, Will. “Dear Dr. Farabow.” Alumni Letters. Folder 3. Davidson College Archives, Davidson College, NC. 30 April 1971.
  9. Grimes, Casey. “Integration at Davidson College: The African-American Response to Integration.” Davidson College Archives, Davidson College, NC. Aug. 2015. Web. (library.davidson.edu/archives/acs/integration/caseys_page.htm)
  10. Davidson Journal. “Ministerial Challenge Scholarship Taps Young Leaders.” Davidson College Archives, Davidson College, NC. Spring 1999.
  11. Alumni Relations. “Quips & Cranks – Class of 1954 – 50th.” Will Terry. RG 5/4.5.
  12. “Mary Irwin Belk Hall.” Davidson College Campus Buildings, Encyclopedia. 2015. Davidson College Archives, Davidson College, NC. 26 Sept. 2015. Web.
  13. “Akers Hall.” Davidson College Campus Buildings, Encyclopedia. 2015. Davidson College Archives, Davidson College, NC. 26 Sept. 2015. Web.
  14. “Knox Hall.” Davidson College Campus Buildings, Encyclopedia. 2015. Davidson College Archives, Davidson College, NC. 26 Sept. 2015. Web.
  15. College History Timeline. “1980: Vail Commons Built.” Encyclopedia. 2015. Davidson College Archives, Davidson College, NC. 26 Sept. 2015. Web.
  16. College History Timeline. “1988: Senior Apartments Constructed.” Encyclopedia. 2015. Davidson College Archives, Davidson College, NC. 26 Sept. 2015. Web.
  17. “Knobloch Campus Center.” Davidson College Campus Buildings, Encyclopedia. 2015. Davidson College Archives, Davidson College, NC. 26 Sept. 2015. Web.
  18. College History Timeline. “1989: Hurricane Hugo Causes Damage.” Encyclopedia. 2015. Davidson College Archives, Davidson College, NC. 26 July 2015. Web.

Author: Eleanor Yarboro

Date: 6 October 2015

Cite as: Yarboro Eleanor. “William Holt Terry, 1980-1989,” Davidson Encyclopedia, 6 October 2014 <https://digitalprojects.davidson.edu/omeka/s/college-archives-davidson-encyclopedia/page/terry-william-holt-1980-1989>

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