For Terry Scholars, Legacy of Leadership Lives On

Back porches are built for friendship–they are the perfect places to share a drink, ponder the future and cultivate relationships. On William Holt Terry's back porch, lives were changed–and that legacy lives on in the William Holt Terry Scholarship Program.

The Terry Program scholars form a cohort of students chosen for their potential for leadership and growth both on campus and in their careers and lives after Davidson. The former vice president for student life and dean of students (and class of 1954 alumnus) worked tirelessly in his emeritus years as the director of the program.

Known as Dean Terry, or "DT," to the 100-plus Terry Program alumni, Terry pulled no punches and offered honest, no-bones-about-it advice.

Chris Clunie '06, a member of the Terry Program family, recalls Terry's advice to "meet people who need to be met, and speak to people who need to be spoken to."

"He knew what drove us, knew our weaknesses and knew our passions, and he could evaluate us as people," said Clunie. "He embodied the spirit of the program–teaching and learning, individualism and camaraderie, talking and contemplation."

Clunie, who works today as the director of international basketball operations for the National Basketball Association, appreciated the time spent together at the monthly suppers at Terry's home.

"The dinners were powerful," he said. "We learned about things that had an impact on us then, and things that would have an impact on us later in life."

Giving His All

Terry's contributions to Davidson and selfless generosity continued after he died in 2015. The college has received more than $5 million from his estate, bringing his total contributions to the Terry Program to more than $6 million.

This fall, two incoming Terry Scholars will receive full tuition scholarships, support that has not reached this level in years.

"From the moment I arrived, Will welcomed me–New York born and not an alumna–with his characteristic generosity and warmth," said President Carol Quillen. "He took, on faith, that I could understand and nurture the place that he loved and to which he had dedicated his life. Will's most enduring legacy is the Terry Scholars Program. In our time together, I saw how important this program and the community it creates were to him. I also saw how the Terry Scholars Program speaks to our primary purpose and exemplifies what makes Davidson special. Will's extraordinary gifts have forever strengthened our ability to enroll some of the most talented, creative young leaders in the world."

Generational Glue

David Waddill '81 led the launch of the Terry Program during Will's lifetime. He grew close to Terry as a student and became a personal friend throughout the rest of Terry's life.

Waddill said there was a magic about the man that's hard to describe.

"He never said this to me, but it appeared that his life revolved around the understanding that college students would stumble, falter and sometimes fail," said Waddill. "He planted himself in a spot to help people pick up those pieces and get back on their way. He never seemed to get tired or frustrated with the blunders or antics or, sometimes, the stupidity. For those who got to know him, he was a very safe, very supportive friend."

Waddill also credits Terry for serving as the college's "generational glue," as he brought together people from all walks of life.

"It's hard for older alumni to appreciate how Davidson is changing, in the same way it's hard for today's students to appreciate how Davidson was years ago," Waddill said. "When I was a student and alumni would come back from two decades before, he could run a meeting and get us using the same language."

More Than a Mentor

The financial support offered through the Terry Program has made it possible for students to achieve their goals and realize their dreams, but the value of the program far exceeds the financial benefits.

Dax Cross '98, one of the first two Terry Scholars and now the CEO of Revenue Analytics, Inc., was impressed by "DT's genuine interest in people... reflected in his almost encyclopedic knowledge of others."

Cross admits he didn't always work to achieve his best as a student, and he often felt adrift. At a time in his life when he needed guidance the most, Terry was there.

"I thought about everything from ministry to medicine to law," said Cross, who settled on the latter. "He was great–very frank, blunt–and he wasn't afraid to laugh in your face if something was a bad idea. But the thing is, he was usually right."

When Cross thinks of Terry today, he pictures him "holding court on the back porch" where his students always reserved his chair.

Tiffany Hollis '04 agrees Terry had the right advice for any occasion. Just a child herself, Hollis helped raise her siblings while her mother worked numerous jobs to make ends meet. As an undergraduate, she held three jobs so she could send money to her family, all the while maintaining a B average. Now a doctoral degree candidate, she has enjoyed a career helping disadvantaged populations.

Hollis considers DT family.

"He encouraged me to get my master's; my mom never finished high school, so I wasn't sure," she said. "But I did it, and I went back to his house to write my master's thesis–in a little room in the back, overlooking his garden. I found a sense of refuge. There was tea in the kitchen, and he just let me write."

As a first year student at Davidson, Hollis said she was defensive and angry–within the Terry Program, she found her compass.

"He encouraged me to use my differences to create similarities with other students in the program," she said. "Not having a father figure and then losing my granddad–I looked up to DT as so much more than a mentor or someone to talk to. He'll be in the dedication pages of my dissertation, for sure."

A Lasting Legacy

In his last days, Terry hand-picked Chris Alexander to lead the program into the future. While some worried the program could not survive its namesake, Terry knew Alexander was the person for the job. The Dean Rusk director and political science professor brings a different personality and approach, but the suppers and mentoring continue.

"For many people, Will Terry was Davidson," said Alexander. "To have someone who occupied that kind of place in the identity of this college ask me to take this on was incredibly moving and powerful. I think our most fundamental similarity is a deep investment in relationships with students, and we both see this not as a scholarship program but as a family."

Terry created an environment that welcomed laughter, disagreement and fellowship over food. Alexander's commitment to those values is evident through the success of the past two years. At monthly suppers in his home, Alexander has welcomed guest speakers including Ann Clark '80, superintendent of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools; Malcolm Graham, former North Carolina state senator and brother to a Charleston church shooting victim; and Hugh McColl, former chairman and CEO of Bank of America. Month after month, students learn from national leaders and from each other.

"I didn't get into this business to be an administrator," said Alexander. "There were people who transformed my world in college, and I wanted to play that role for other students. These kinds of conversations and experiences will really put gas in your tank and remind you that what we do is so important."

In a video interview before his 80th birthday celebration, Terry said about the program, "This is my legacy to the place I love most in the world."

And what a legacy it is, too.

Read the story written at the time of Terry's passing.

Danielle Strickland




  • April 26, 2017