Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos is reputed to have said, “Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.” What people say about this year’s Christine Richard Award recipient when he is not in the room is invariably a statement like, “What a good man!” or, “What a great guy!” Nouns like “leader” and “character” and “gentleman” often follow, as do adjectives like “kind” and “humble” and “selfless.” What also follow are statements along the lines of, “What a wonderful family!” If you know him at all, you will not be surprised that this year’s Christine Richard Award recipient is Bob Wills.
The Christine Ray Richard Outstanding Service Award is given annually in honor of Christine Richard for her lifetime of devotion to Randolph School. The honoree is not an alumnus or a student, but someone who, like Christine, spent 15 or more years in the service of Randolph School.
As we honor Bob, we are so pleased to welcome members of that wonderful family: Bob’s wife, Kathy; two of his children, Caroline and Jim, Randolph class of 2006; and members of Bob’s adopted family, Joyce Griffin and Dana and Jay Town, are all here with us
Bob became an official member of our community in 1991, when his oldest son, Edward '04, joined Randolph for Kindergarten. Bob and Kathy quickly jumped in to support every aspect of school life, and Bob joined the Board of Trustees for the first time in 1994. He was part of a group of visionaries who saw the importance of looking to the future for Randolph, and it is his signature that was on the purchase papers for the Garth Road campus in 1998. Many of you may not even realize that this land was purchased over 10 years before we completed the construction of the Nichols, Shields-Jones, and Thurber buildings. From the beginning, Bob’s commitment was to all Randolph students and to ensuring that the breadth and depth of our program offerings were commensurate to our aspirations as a leading independent school in the Southeast.
When Bob joined the Randolph board in 1994, he brought a wealth of expertise. His father had founded a private school in South Carolina, and this exposure helped him not only understand the advantages of a private school education, but also the various elements of operating a school, from working with trustees, to fundraising, to meeting the everyday needs of faculty and students. Bob also appreciated the value of Randolph to the Huntsville community in educating tomorrow’s leaders and in recruiting and developing leaders in our region.
Bob served as chair of Randolph’s Board from 1998 to 2000, and when his Board term ended in 2001, he got to really enjoy the School, as a proud parent, following his children’s many activities. With three active and engaged student leaders, there was no shortage of opportunity for Bob to be at Randolph. And he was here not only to cheer on his own children, but to support their friends and all the younger students who came behind them. Whether cheering at a swim meet, a soccer game, or a football game, or shaking the hands of kindergartners when they entered their classrooms, Bob has been an encourager of Randolph students and a model of integrity and humble service for decades.
Linda Bryant has worked closely with Bob throughout his time at Randolph. She offered these words about Bob and his love of the School:
There’s something about working closely with someone year after year that allows you to know his character. Bob has always worked incredibly hard for the School and has done more than we could ever understand or appreciate. His humility and servant leadership have always been present, but more importantly, Bob’s unwavering love for Randolph has been consistent throughout the decades that I have known him.
In 1994, Bob personally oversaw the construction of the upper school building on Drake (now the 7/8 administrative building), which was on schedule and under budget due to his commitment. Fourteen years later, Bob was in a similar leadership role when we added 145,000 square feet for a new upper school campus on Garth. For more than 18 months, his oversight included weekly on-site 7 a.m. meetings in the construction trailer to review drawings and closely monitor progress. We are enjoying this space now due to Bob’s leadership.
There was a time 18 years ago when we were between leaders. Bob was the board chair and quietly, carefully came each week to help us find our way. He never expected anything in return. It was not about his children or him. It was about protecting, serving and advancing Randolph. More than anything, Bob is a true friend, the kind you could call any time for any reason.
You will not see his name on any building, but his devotion and support of the School is undeniable.
Everything we are and everything we have is because of the generosity and commitment of men and women like Bob Wills.
It’s hard to believe that almost 10 more years have passed since these buildings were built, and even more since Bob’s children graduated from Randolph. Yet on a given Friday night in the fall, you may find Bob standing along the fence, watching today’s Raiders play football, visiting with friends, and seeking out faculty and administrators to reconnect and thank them for all that they do. Bob loves Randolph.
We asked his children to share why they think Bob has such a great and on-going affection for the School. Edward '04, offers these thoughts:
Randolph means so much to my dad because it’s a community. It’s a combination of teachers, administrators, coaches, and families, all there for the betterment of the children. While academics are certainly held in high regard, Randolph is much more. All students learn to have high expectations in the classroom and constantly be motivated. They are taught right from wrong. They learn to compete on and off the field. They become well-rounded individuals and learn a sense of themselves. My dad loves Randolph because each child finds a place within this community. It makes each child a better person during their formative years – and Randolph did exactly that for his children. We are all forever grateful for what Randolph provided to us, and this is exactly why my dad continues to be so involved.
Jim '06 offered these reflections:
Dad has always believed in the importance of education. At the forefront of his love for Randolph is the strong academic curriculum. I recall that Dad was heavily involved in bringing IBM laptops to the School, which was a big deal at the time.
Dad loves the concept of a smaller school with a lower student to teacher ratio. He has always believed this provides the best environment for learning, relationships, and leadership. He loves the sense of community that Randolph creates. He loves the Senior/Kindergarten buddy program and the opportunity for students to be involved in multiple extracurricular activities and to develop in areas outside of the classroom.
Dad was involved in the School when we were very young. I remember touring the new high school on the Drake campus – now the middle school – while it was under construction to ensure the project was going smoothly. I also remember going with Dad to walk around the Jones farm where the new high school is now. He would tell us about the vision to build a new high school campus with state of the art facilities for education, athletics and the arts. It was kind of hard to believe at the time!
Caroline '06 shared these thoughts:
Dad will tell anyone that life is all about relationships: relationships built among family, friends and community. Randolph is a direct representation of that belief. Dad is passionate about the connection students at Randolph have with their peers of all ages, their coaches, their teachers, and the staff at the School.
We all know that Dad thrives on supporting children, and any time adults and young adults, as in the Kindergarten Buddy program, have an opportunity to influence children, Dad feels they make their greatest impact in life.
You are never alone as a member of this community. Dad hopes that everyone can graduate from Randolph with the understanding that the relationships we develop in life make us who we are. Thank you, Randolph, for allowing your students to see that value.
In 2016, I invited Bob to be the guest speaker at our Cum Laude induction, where he offered our Upper School students good advice, challenging and encouraging them. He shared his understanding about what makes Randolph truly special, including these words that speak to his character, his emphasis on the importance of gratitude, and his commitment to people and community:
Where you are today did not happen overnight … hard work, dedication and strong leadership (and some luck) have made this institution. Simply put, you cannot appreciate anything unless you were there to see the challenges and hurdles the leaders faced. As we all know, the facility is just that, a facility; it is what goes on inside each classroom, the teachers, the coaches, the administration, the custodians, the people who maintain the buildings and the landscape, along with you, the students – essentially just one large family – one that comes together for the betterment of all – not about just you or me but about us. That’s what makes this school unique.
The Christine Ray Richard Outstanding Service Award is just one small way that we say thank you to Bob and others who have given so much to Randolph students, past, present and future. Ours is a better school and community for Bob’s commitment and giving spirit – and I am a better head of school for having come to know Bob through many breakfasts and lunches and email exchanges with him, and for having gained perspective from him on what matters most in schools and in life.
As we conclude today, and as you leave to spend what I hope is a wonderful holiday season with your families, it is good to be reminded of Bob’s commitment to relationships, and, in particular, to his own family. Thank you, Bob, for modeling this every day. Your example shines bright.