Terry, William Holt: 1990-1999

William Holt Terry By the Decades

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

A close-up of Will Terry during his later years as Dean of Students, Bill Giduz, 1980s.

Will Terry Close-up

As Davidson College entered the ‘90s, the accumulation of changes over the previous four decades were bearing down on it full-force. Will Terry had adjusted to these changes on a personal and institutional level, but new opportunities and corresponding challenges just kept coming.

Richard Terry, ‘81, a friend and colleague of Will’s, describes Davidson’s sudden and intense recognition during this era:

“In the ‘90s was we really went from being a sleepy, little, locally well-known, regionally kind of well-known, and nationally unknown place to one of the top ten liberal arts colleges in the country.” [1]

Between 1995 and 1997, Davidson’s ranking had risen from 21st to 8th. The increased recognition of Davidson’s excellence must have been gratifying to a man who had devoted his life to the institution, to the man who was said to embody it. As Richard Terry explains,

“For many students, you wanted to be known by Will and you wanted to have that relationship with him where when you saw him anywhere, he’d know you by name and you could chat him up about anything. I think that was really sought after by folks. He really was Davidson.” [1]

At the same time, gaining national status put increased pressure on Davidson College to compete with and, perhaps, more closely resemble liberal arts college practices at other top-tier institutions even as the college maintained its own traditions.

Dean Will Terry Gives Commencement Speech

Dean Will Terry Gives Commencement Speech

At that time, incoming first-years’ initial introduction to him would have been during his speech at orientation; the second introduction would have been at a school dance. In addition to his many formal duties to Davidson College, Will Terry took it upon himself to call square dancing during first-year orientation. [1, 2] Square dancing “was kind of a passion for Will” and he aimed to share it, as a form of introductory rite. [2, 3]

The students participating in that dance, however, began to look, speak, and act differently year by year. Richard Terry describes the transformation he witnessed–not just in terms of the changes, but in how the changes themselves arrived:

“Beginning when I came back [to work at the college in 1989], which is of course the last 5 years that Will was here, the change curve was just extraordinary. Diversity, the campus looking different, this whole business of parental involvement. Diversity took some time, but, you know, it’s an accelerated curve . . . The place didn’t look different when I came back 10 years later. But 10 years after that when you got to 2000, particularly when you got to ‘05–dramatic.” [1]

Among these manifold changes were increased awareness of eating disorders and sexual assault on campus, as well as new perspectives on drug abuse and alcohol abuse. [1, 4] Dean Terry was no stranger to institutional change, but he had already adapted so much and the pace of change seemed to be accelerating.

In response to the changing climate for higher education in general and Davidson in particular, Will hired and helped create departments for professionals whose expertise lay in elements of student life outside his purview. One example of this was Nance Longworth’s arrival on campus in the fall of 1992. Nance was hired to support and protect the interests of students with learning disabilities, such as ADHD.

Similarly, Will helped Georgia Ringle, MPH, create opportunities for a robust sex education for students. [4] Prior to her instatement as resident Health Educator, Will kept a bowl of condoms on his desk for a time, worried that students would have limited access to them otherwise. [4] In David Waddill’s words, “Will seemed to always make it happen.” He excelled at connecting people with the resources they needed and he was especially good at assisting people who wanted to become resources to benefit others.

Meanwhile, Will continued to provide crucial support to students. David Waddill, ‘81, details one of the pillars of his administrative style:

“It always seemed like one of his observations of life was that college students were just going to naturally stumble, falter, and then sometimes utterly fail. He made it a mission to plant himself in a spot, to be there, to help pick up those pieces and help students get back on their way. Unlike for many people that were trying to deal with this over and over again, he never grew tired or frustrated with the blunders, antics, or in some cases the outright stupidity that he would have seen many of us stumbling through. That was always to me something that was so special about Will and helped make him so effective in that role.” [5]

This was one philosophy that endured throughout his career; it was also one of the spiritual aspects of his vocation that could be misread as simple patience. After a long career at Davidson, Will’s enduring support and understanding for the person who struggles to do well and do right had become a hallmark of his style, as had his easy conversation.

Will Terry Chatting with Student

Will Terry Chatting with Student

According to Richard Terry, “He had an ease about how he engaged folks that was really kind of remarkable.” [1] His ease sometimes led to very memorable interactions. David Waddill recounts one of his favorite stories about Will Terry:

“He was having real trouble with a particular male student . . . this student’s father could not see the position of the college and why the son’s infraction was such a problem . . . At the end of the year, Will wrote a letter . . . Essentially, he said to the father, ‘I am happy to report that your son has shown tremendous maturity and personal growth this semester as he has worked through the problems and the issues that he needed to face. I am sorry I cannot say the same for you.’ Sincerely yours, Will Terry.” [5]

Will’s proactive maturation as an administrator gave him confidence that others could mature, too. In the case of the student mentioned above, as noted, the student did indeed mature.  

As the decade advanced, however, parent-college relations changed and, according to Richard Terry:

“He felt kind of hemmed in . . . Here he was, a very traditional guy in a lot of ways, but he didn’t like rules. He wanted to do things because they were right, not because the rule says you have to do it a certain way.” [1]

For all his lack of affection for the rules, he did love the institution that was making them. At the age of 62, he remained an ardent school supporter. Years of unparalleled performance in a high stress-level job had earned him great respect and paved the way, as many people have noted, for a happy retirement. By the fall of 1993, Will had announced that the 1993-1994 academic year would be his last as Dean of Students. Richard Terry describes the timeliness of this decision:

“He was at an age where he was ready to retire and enjoy life and cook and entertain and drink good wine and visit and travel and all that, but when he left, he was happy to be rid of stuff that, I think, five years earlier wasn’t even an issue. In a sense, the end of his era was a beginning of a new era in all of higher ed.” [1]

A cover story on Will Terry's retirement in the Davidson Journal.

Cover Story from Davidson Journal on Dean Terry

Will Terry retired in May of 1994, signing off with many fond goodbyes and a celebratory “roast” on the steps of Chambers. [6] Hundreds of students, faculty, and staff feasted on Chambers Lawn while students bade their goodbyes to Will into a microphone, mostly in the form affectionate ridicule and embarrassing stories. [6] Each speech, however, devolved into praise for his forty-four-year career. [6] When Will Terry himself was given the opportunity to speak, he surprisingly discussed failure at length. [6]

Given his pedagogic philosophy, he possibly looked back on his own career–which most would consider highly successful–and remembered the blunders, but his reservoir of experience meant he had been able to avoid making the same mistake too many times. Perhaps that is what Will Terry meant when he stated in his goodbye speech, “I do not think I have made any lasting contributions to this college.” [6] He had internalized the transformations his profession required of him as an administrator, but did not fully see the extent to which he had transformed the school.

Richard Terry posits his impression of Will’s response to the fanfare about his retirement:

“He enjoyed it and he didn’t seem humbled by it. I think he was. But he didn’t spend a lot of time saying, ‘Aw, shucks, you guys should never do anything like this for me.’ I think it fit his personality and it was an important thing to do for the college. You gotta hope you always have personalities like that in your history with longevity and influence, and who you can celebrate. And every time you do that, what you’re really celebrating is, ‘Who are we? Who do we claim to be? Who do we aspire to be?’ You’re saying these are people who got as close to that as they could, or helped take us there.” [1]

Following the farewell party, Will was presented with was presented the Distinguished Alumnus Award and the college announced its intention to found a scholarship in his honor. [7] The concept for the William Holt Terry Scholarship grew out of conversations between notable alumni and college officials.  As David Waddill explains:

“I was a part of a small group that was getting together as Will’s retirement was approaching. We were talking amongst ourselves that it would be nice to–given Will’s significance in our lives and the prominent, decisive role he played at the college in creating good outcomes for so many of us–it would be nice to come up with a program that both honored Will and put his good skills to further use.” [5]

Terry Scholarship Write-up in Campus Chronicle

"Waddill '81 Gives $600,000 to Terry Scholarship" Write-up in Campus Chronicle

At its inception in 1994, the scholarship gifted two members of the incoming class with $25,000–renewable throughout their time at Davidson–and one $1,500 summer stipend. [8] Will was the program’s namesake as well as its director. [7, 8]

In addition to financial support, the scholarship became a leadership development program focused on exposing students to knowledgeable people with varied points of view and from different career paths. [5] In David Waddill’s words,

“It sort of coalesced around the idea of Will inviting friends of his, friends of the college, past graduates of the college, whatever, prominent people . . . that somehow had a tie to the college or Will or maybe one of the participating students for dinner. It became approximately once a month. It would be a good sort of round table discussion.” [5]

A few years later Will decided to formalize the Terry Fellows Program, thereby increasing the number of students who could benefit from interacting with visiting speakers, without adding undue financial strain to the existing program. [5] [9] Two Terry Fellows were selected from the rising junior class and were annually awarded $750 [9] In David Waddill’s words, “The addition of the formal fellows program has in hindsight been a program that’s every bit as powerful.” [5]

David Waddill notes of another crucial aspect of the program:

“The program has regularly and repeatedly brought back former students and friends of the college, say from the ‘50s, ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s, to get together with students from the ‘90s, 2000’s, the ‘10s. Initially the bond and the connection here was Will and the college, but that quickly broadened to other areas . . . It’s been a nice way to help bring generations of Davidsonians together in a sort of ongoing and meaningful way.” [5]

Through this program, Will was able to bring together many students he had known over the last four decades and connect students into contact with people that helped Terry Scholars learn about different professions, and helped them get jobs, in fact.

Will Terry speaking with a Terry Scholar student outside in 2008.

Will Terry Talking with a Terry Scholar

However, some would have argued that the person they were luckiest to meet through the program was Will himself. David Waddill describes personal connection as one of the greatest benefits of the program:

“This group had a tremendous gift and a tremendous advantage in life in that they got to know Will. They got to know each other and they got to know a lot of other Davidsonians, some quite well. They understand that they are a part of something bigger than themselves.” [5]

Richard Terry describes it as, “an incredible program, talk about a living memorial.” [1] As a counterpoint to his continued presence in the lives of a few students, however, Will did not involve himself in day to day college operations after retirement. As Richard Terry notes,

“Will was very careful, as he should have been, to be scarce after he retired . . . He physically was not around much at all, because he knew enough to understand that he had been there so long that it was already going to be a difficult transition . . . One of the most commendable things he did was to say, ‘I’m going to disappear for a while.’” [1]

Perhaps what made it so commendable was the fact that it had to have been difficult. Having spent almost the entirety of his adult life at the institution, Will settled for living in the town itself instead. Will made an effort to stay out of college business, feeling that his involvement could create complications for him and his successors. [1, 2, 5]

Terry Scholarship Brochure, 2012

Terry Scholarship Brochure, 2012

Yet the Terry Scholars and Fellows helped provide Will the kind of connection he had always prized throughout his career, one of mentoring, fellowship, and conversation. Richard Terry reasons, “because he wasn’t ever present on campus, that was his new school. That was his new student body.” [1]

Beyond the Terry Scholarship and Fellow Program, however, Will continued to be a very busy man. As Dr. Leland Park, ‘63, observed, “preaching got him to know everybody in town” years prior to his retirement. [2] His retirement was an opportunity to reconnect with old friends, interests, and communities.

Will attended scores of reunions and often, the alumni he might have missed there, he saw when he officiated their weddings and baptisms. [10, 11] His friend and fellow theologian Dr. T. Hartley Hall, ‘51, describes this dynamic,

“The thing that is so interesting about Will is that he probably married more people and baptized more babies than any minister of any church would ever get to do . . . There isn’t a church anywhere that’s got fifteen hundred people of that age group, turning out 500 a year getting married. I had a fairly good size church in Nashville about 1,800 communicants. That’s not counting children. I would have 25, 30 weddings a year. That’s more than I wanted . . . But he had easily that many every year, easily. Probably a great many more.” [11]

Will presided over many of these ceremonies during his time as Dean of Students as well as during his retirement.

Dr. John Kuykendall, ‘59, describes another aspect of Will’s transition into retirement,

“He wanted to be himself for awhile. And he was. And of course, in his retirement, as you already know, he had two or three incredibly good runs as interim pastor here or there and people in those places still just love him dearly.” [12]

For all that he had merged his spiritual calling and with the deanship in vitalizing, beneficial ways, Will found great pleasure in preaching and practicing overtly as a theologian again. He occasionally taught Sunday school, but was more regularly an interim pastor at church in Lincolnton, Charleston, and Greensboro, to name a few places. [11, 12, 13] Hartley Hall explained that, for this role, Will was a “preacher in residence for a week or two. You’re required to go up there and give a talk every day and preach on Sunday.” [8]

Overall, Will Terry’s retirement was full of activities that he had not been able to pursue in large part as dean of students. As Leland Park notes, “The best preparation for retirement is having gone to a liberal arts college, because you’re interested in everything.” [2] For Will, “everything” included tending to his personal garden and staying in touch with a truly unbelievable number of alumni. [1, 2]

For when he wanted to get out of town, according to Leland Park, “Will just loved going to Chautauqua”–an annual lecture series and educational event in New York. [2] If he was feeling more adventurous, he would plan a trip with “one of his travelling buddies,” and chief among them was friend and alumni Hartley Hall, 51:

“We’d been to Russia twice, and Ukraine, and Turkey, and Greece, and I don’t know where all else. The Caribbean. Through Europe. We did a lot of traveling . . . Will had always wanted to stand at the spot on the Acropolis where Paul stood and preached to Athenians. So we did that . . . Yalta . . . the Black Sea . . . We traveled all over.” [11]

These travels brought Will back to countries he had originally visited just after college. Hall recounts that once, “either during seminary or right after, Will rode a motorcycle all through Europe. Somewhere in there, he traveled all over Europe by himself on a motorcycle.” [11]

When he was home, however, his house seldom contained just himself. Leland Park states that “his entertaining was a big feature for him.” [2]  More to the point, Kuykendall proclaims that, “all of the Terry Scholars and many, many other people just used [his house] as headquarters when they came to Davidson.” [12] And, even at the end of the decade, most Davidsonians still referred to Will as ‘Dean Terry’ or ‘D.T.’ for short, even those who had never had him as a Dean of Students. [13]


  1. Richard Terry’s interview.
  2. Leland Park’s interview
  3. “Dean Terry – Submaster – STAT: Square Dance.” Videotape Collection. Davidson College Archives, Davidson College, NC. August 27, 1993.
  4. Georgia Ringle’s interview.
  5. David Waddill’s interview.
  6. “Will Terry Candids Tape #1.” Spring Semester, 1994. Videotape Collection. Davidson College Archives, Davidson College, NC.
  7. Davidson College. “College Mourns Passing of William Holt Terry ’54, 1931-2015.” News Detail. 27 Mar. 2015. 7 July 2015. Web.
  8. Davidson College. “Special Competition Scholarships: William Holt Terry Scholarship.” Admission & Financial Aid: Scholarships. 30 August 2015. Web.
  9. Davidson College. “William Holt Terry Scholarship.”
  10. Loyce Davis and Joyce Hight’s interview.
  11. Hartley Hall’s interview.
  12. Kuykendall’s interview.
  13. Minor, Doug. “College Mourns Passing of William Holt Terry ’54, 1932-2015.” 27 Mar. 2015. In Memoriam. Davidson College. 14 July 2015.

Author: Eleanor Yarboro

Date: 6 October 2015

Cite as: Yarboro Eleanor. “William Holt Terry, 1990-1999,” Davidson Encyclopedia, 6 October 2014 <https://digitalprojects.davidson.edu/omeka/s/college-archives-davidson-encyclopedia/page/terry-william-holt-1990-1999>

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