February 27, 2024

Bill Crawley: A Great (UMW) Life

What do the Beach Boys, Sandra Day O’Connor, and Tiger Woods have in common? They’re all subjects of this season’s William B. Crawley Great Lives lecture series, which kicks off next Tuesday, Jan. 21. The lectures, which have been bringing Pulitzer Prize winners and bestselling authors to campus since 2004, quickly burst through the seams of their original 200-capacity Monroe Hall venue, landing in Dodd Auditorium, which seats more than 1,000.

Bill Crawley

Bill Crawley

Speaking of “great lives” at Mary Washington, the series’ creator and namesake is certainly one. Hired as a professor of history in 1970 (that’s a half-century ago!) at age 25, he walked onto Double Drive alongside Mary Washington’s first male students.

It’s impossible to capture in just a few paragraphs the difference Crawley has made at Mary Washington. He wrote the book – quite literally – on UMW. Copies of the cornerstone work, University of Mary Washington: A Centennial History, 1908 to 2008, are bookmarked and dog-eared on desks from the Alumni Executive Center to Eagle Village.

But perhaps he’s best known for his flair in the classroom – though retired, he still teaches his Great Lives course each spring – and the mark he’s made on generations of students, like Laurie Mansell Reich ’79, who established the William B. Crawley scholarship in his honor. Together with wife Terrie Young Crawley ’77, he’s hosted hordes of undergrads at both informal cookouts and formal receptions; chaired the $75 million Centennial Capital Campaign; and won the Washington Medallion for service to the University.

Crawley also has received UMW’s prestigious Simpson and Mary Pinschmidt awards. Like the Great Lives series he created, the honors signal his unending commitment to Mary Washington.

“I have never taught anywhere else,” Crawley said, “nor wanted to.”

Q: What makes Great Lives so successful?
A: High-quality speakers and a wide variety of topics that appeal to a broad audience. Fundamental is the private financial support we’ve received, beginning with the creator of the original program endowment, John Chappell [whose wife, the late Carmen Culpeper Chappell, graduated from Mary Washington in 1959]. His continuing generosity, along with donations from area businesses and individuals, has enabled the program to be open to the public for free. There’s also the dedication of our Great Lives “team,” particularly Ali Hieber and Doug Noble.

Q: What have you most enjoyed about your career?
A: It’s what every faculty member would tell you – interaction with students. We have my classes over to our home most semesters, and our annual pre-grad ball party became a valued tradition.

Q: What accomplishments are you most proud of?
A: Starting the Historic Preservation program, developing the initial First-Year Seminar course, and creating the Great Lives series.

Q: What would people be surprised to learn about you?
A: My undergraduate degree was in Latin, not history. I grew up on a tobacco farm and may be the only faculty member who has ever milked a cow. Also, I was a pitcher on my high school baseball team. I barely weighed 100 pounds. I clearly wasn’t going far athletically, unless I grew considerably – which I didn’t.

Q: How do you spend your free time?
A: Gardening, photography, and travel with Terrie, as well as time at our second home off the Chesapeake Bay in Kilmarnock.