Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Bill Quillian: We've Lost One of the Good Ones

Me (from left), Elliot Schewel, Betsy Gehman and Bill at one of our lunches.
My dear old friend Bill Quillian died this morning and even though Bill had a rich and full one century of life, this comes as sudden, sad and surprising news. I thought that if the powers that be were ever going to make an exception and let one of us live forever, it would be Bill. They gave him 100 years, though, and many of us benefitted from that.

I met Bill, the longest-serving president of Randolph-Macon Woman's College in Lynchburg and former executive director of the Greater Lynchburg Community Trust, a few years ago when either Elliot Schewel or Betsy Gehman--I forget which--invited him to meet with us for our monthly lunch. We had a group of writers--not a writers group--and thinkers who met at Isabella's in Lynchburg to chat. It was always intelligent conversation, especially when the oldest members of the group--Bill, Elliot and Betsy--had the floor. All have/had lived exceptional lives of accomplishment, had incredibly bright and functional minds and were born storytellers.

Here's Bill's obit from the Lynchburg News & Advance, written well by Amy Trent.

Bill, who would occasionally nod off during lunch, once told the story of his Yale Divinity School dean father in law who was working on a modern translation of the Bible with an important committee in the early 1950s. The committee toured the country and one of the stops was in Lynchburg. The committee members wanted to discuss the changes to the Bible that had been used to that point--the King James version--and outside the meeting place paced a lone protester, carrying a sign: the young minister Jerry Falwell.

Bill led Randolph-Macon from 1952-1978 and through the 1960s' unrest without building up any scabs.An easy and courtly man with a lovely Southern accent, he was immensely respected by everybody who knew him.  During the 1960s, R-MWC students, like students everywhere, protested, demanded and led, something I could see him approving with a knowing smile.

Late in life, he once told me that he was having difficulty with his faith (he was an ordained minister). He wrote a lot about it and I think he finally settled it in his mind. I won't venture to guess his conclusion, but my guess is that Bill was right, whatever he decided.

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