President Greer: a legacy in a life

Featured Image: Dr. Greer stands with his wife, Fann Dewar, during a campus event in 2014. Aoifa Branco | Marlin Chronicle

Former Virginia Wesleyan President William Thomas “Billy” Greer, Jr. passed away peacefully on Aug. 30, while at his home in Asheville, N.C. He was 81 years old.

In the words of Dr. Terry Lindvall, the C.S. Lewis endowed chair in Communication and Christian Thought, Greer was a “storyteller,” who always “brought people into his world.” Now, it is our turn to remember VWU’s former president through telling his story and bringing the community back into his world.

In 1992, Greer became president of Virginia Wesleyan College, and he served the community for 23 years. Greer, his wife Fann Dewar and their three children, William, Robert and David, became part of the campus community.

According to the obituary published by Groce Funeral Home, Greer loved using backyard grilling events as a fundraising opportunity, which contributed to his image as a president connected to the people.

Dr. Craig Wansink, professor of Religious Studies and director of the Robert Nusbaum Center, reflected on his pig roasting events and his use of “colloquial” language. “He loved using backwoods expressions, like referring to something as being ‘smooth as a gravy sandwich,’” Wansink said.

Greer also made a legacy for himself through his ability to grow the school and its opportunities. Wansink remembers Greer’s presidency as “a fruitful time,” especially in his initial years.

VWU’s campus will always hold memories of the fruitfulness of Greer’s actions. The name Greer will forever be engraved in the Greer Environmental Sciences building on campus, which was built after Greer’s retirement in 2015. In addition, Greer was integral in building the Batten Student Center in 2002 and creating the Robert Nusbaum Center.

“President Greer embraced Bob Nusbaum’s ideas for a ‘Center for the Study of Religious Freedom,’” Wansink said, “that would come to result in an endowed directorship for the Center, an endowed professorship in Judaic studies and another in communication and Christian thought.”

Lindvall, as the endowed chair for communication and Christian thought, recalls how Greer was “helpful and encouraging” as Lindvall moved to the VWU community. In true VWU spirit, Lindvall said Greer “explained the pitfalls, dangers and delights” of the position when Lindvall was asked to join the faculty.

Throughout his time at VWU, Greer was a cheerleader, especially of the school’s athletics. During basketball games, he would “[make the crowd] part of the team” with his enthusiasm and cheering, Lindvall said.

Dr. Kathy Merlock Jackson, professor of Media and Communication, echoes Lindvall’s warm memories of Greer being an enthusiastic community member. “Dr. Greer inspired the campus through his example,” Jackson said. “He radiated optimism and enthusiasm and built a community of people who felt they could make a difference.”

Jackson spoke of having many stories of Greer that showed his care for the community and the people around him.

“When I directed the Ethics Bowl team, Billy asked me to let him know if there were team members who could not afford professional clothes to look their best for competition,” Jackson said. “On a couple occasions, he sent team members to his own menswear store and bought each a suit, two shirts, a tie, and even new shoes and socks!”

This, like many stories, sticks with people as yet another example of Greer’s care for people. “Years later, they would still recall Billy’s kindness and generosity,” Jackson said about her Ethics Bowl team.

Greer was more than just a community member or a leader. He was a legacy of both, one that will always remain in our campus memories.

“Billy Greer built a community. He valued people and taught people to value others. Under his leadership, we worked together to achieve common goals,” Jackson said.

A memorial service will be held on Oct. 14 at 10 a.m. at Christ and St. Luke’s Church in Norfolk, Va. In addition, a celebration of life will be held at VWU later that day. In lieu of flowers, the family asked that memorial donations be made to the William Thomas Greer, Jr. scholarship fund at VWU.


By Rhian Tramontana