Warren Wilson College alumnus now chairman of the board of trusteesMay 10, 2016
Standing in a pool of water inside of the Hermann N. Morse Science Hall, 18-year-old William “Bill” Christy contemplated his first few months as a Warren Wilson College student. It was the second building he accidentally flooded as a new member of the student Plumbing Crew, but despite his predicament, he knew the College was the right place for him. A little more than 40 years later, he would retell the story as he accepted the chairmanship of the Warren Wilson College Board of Trustees.
It was 1974. Longtime dean and former Work Program leader Henry Jensen was ending his tenure at the College. Reuben “Ben” Holden was in his fourth year as president, and the world was changing. Christy, a mountain boy who spent most of his life in Haw Creek, North Carolina, arrived in the neighboring town of Swannanoa fresh off graduation from A.C. Reynolds High School.
“I always thought I would go to [UNC-]Chapel Hill, but I read about Warren Wilson College and decided it was the right fit for me,” Christy said. “It was the setting, the Work Program and the abundance of international students that appealed to me.”
Assigned to the Plumbing Crew as a freshman, Christy recalls being sent to repair a urinal in, what was then known as, the Bannerman Lecture Hall and quickly learning a critical lesson. “Do not disassemble a device under pressure without turning the water off,” he said. After his second attempt in another building with similar results, the College knew Bill Christy had arrived.
While it was a memorable event, it was a blip on a successful collegiate career of achievement through academics and applied learning. Up until his graduation in 1979, Christy worked toward a degree in English. A member of the cross country team as well as the boiler room and sports information crews, among others, his most memorable role came in his final semester.
“The Work Program director left in December of my senior year,” Christy said. “President Holden came to me and asked if I would be the interim director over the next semester. I said, ‘Yes.’”
Even though he was a student, Christy ran the Work Program—overseeing work supervisors and handling student crew assignments. He also orchestrated trips to sister work colleges, including Blackburn College and Berea College.
“That kind of an experience endears you to a place,” he said.
Armed with his Warren Wilson degree in English, he moved to Durham, North Carolina, and earned a Master of Arts in Teaching-English from UNC-Chapel Hill in 1983. After three years in the area public schools, he earned a law degree from North Carolina Central University School of Law and a Master of Laws in taxation from the University of Florida.
Crediting Warren Wilson College with giving him his work ethic, Christy opened a private practice, which specialized in tax, probate and real estate matters. By 1995, his brother encouraged him to connect with attorney Dick Stone. The pair formed the Black Mountain-based Stone & Christy in 1996.
“Law, like a lot of professions, is about dealing with human beings,” he said. “The legal part of it is often the least important thing going on. I learned a lot about interacting with people at Warren Wilson College.”
As an undergrad, Christy said, he was instilled with the idea and importance of service and community engagement. Volunteering for many boards and organizations over the years, he was asked to return to the College and be part of the board of trustees in 2010.
Six years later, as the newly elected board chairman, Christy finds himself in a similar position to his first arrival on the campus in 1974. A longtime leader of the Work Program, Dean of Work Ian Robertson, is retiring. President Steven L. Solnick is in his fourth year as president, and the world is changing.
“Nothing is static,” Christy said. “As an alum, the only thing you’re thinking about is the way it used to be. But, nothing is static. Honor and treasure what it was, and help make the College what it is to be. The College is a living organism; it’s constantly changing.”
One thing that hasn’t changed: the marriage between academics, work and community engagement is still a primary focus. For Christy, he believes the path forward for Warren Wilson College is built on two words: innovation and determination.
“It’s what we need now and always,” he said. “My hope for this College is that it will prosper. We will see our way to grow and figure out how to be sustainable in the ever changing and competitive environment of American higher education. We have a great story to tell. The setting is unmatched. The people are dedicated and unbelievable. That’s really what Warren Wilson College has to offer.”