June 25, 2022

Anna Billingsley: Just Write

Anna Billingsley was fresh out of graduate school when she got the call that would shape her career. The reporter who phoned from the Evening Herald was writing a story on her mother, a longtime educator who had just passed away.

Associate Vice President for University Relations Anna Billingsley

Associate Vice President for University Relations Anna Billingsley

“It was a strange sensation, the whole process of being interviewed,” Billingsley said. “I just remember thinking, ‘they are not asking the right questions.’ ”

After that, the writing was on the wall.

She’d spend the next several years working at newspapers in South Carolina, Norfolk, Richmond and Fredericksburg, finding the words to tell others’ stories the way she thought they ought to be told. But, sensing the future of daily print, she turned to the classroom, teaching journalism at the University of Richmond and Mary Washington.

A full-time administrator at UMW since 2004, Billingsley – who holds a bachelor’s degree in English from the College of William & Mary and a master’s in journalism from American University – now serves as associate vice president for University Relations. As head of marketing, publications, media and public relations, design services and web, her duties are dizzying. But one in particular – sending campus reminders and updates – has made her a star in the eyes of the students.

“You are more than your emails; you are an icon!” one student wrote on a banner for Billingsley, who will retire next week.

Said another: “My inbox won’t be the same without you.”

And another: “Thanks, Queen!”

Q: What do you love about working at UMW?
A: I tell people that I’m in the ideal location. There’s a post office, library, cafeteria and exercise facility all within walking distance That could be on any college campus, but there’s something special about UMW that I can’t really pinpoint.

Q: What’s a typical day like on the job?
A: What a crazy question! I might communicate with administration about messages that need to go out, talk to Chief Hall about potential controversies on campus, handle Freedom of Information Act requests. I never know what to expect. That’s why I love my job. It’s just always, always, always moving.

Q: What’s it like to be the main messenger for thousands of people across campus?
A: At first it was daunting, and I would really hesitate before I hit SEND. Now it’s just part of my routine. Of course, I’ve made mistakes, and that can be humiliating. I just take the good with the bad.

Dean of Student Life Cedric Rucker, who will retire in June, stands with Associate Vice President for University Relations Anna Billingsley, who will retire next week. Faculty and staff celebrated Billingsley's retirement this week.

Dean of Student Life Cedric Rucker, who will retire in June, stands with Associate Vice President for University Relations Anna Billingsley, who will retire next week. Faculty and staff celebrated Billingsley’s retirement this week.

Q: What do you make of students’ infatuation with you?
A: I don’t really know why that’s happened. It mystifies me. I’m just the messenger, but sometimes I try to interject personality into the text. I think the students think, ‘Gosh, there’s an administrator who has a sense of humor.’

Q: What’s most fulfilling about your job?
A: When I hear from parents or students, or faculty or staff members, who say ‘thank you.’ Realizing I’m in a position to help people.

Q: What’s most challenging?
A: Trying to craft messages that express or convey sensitive issues.

Q: What would people be most surprised to learn about you?
A: I have a passion for writing obituaries. I have a side business called The Last Word. I even have business cards.

Q: Any mottos you live by?
A: Just write!