2005 Distinguished Citizen of the Year
Award Acceptance Speech
by Dr. William R. Harvey
Newport News, Virginia
Saturday, January 14, 2006 @ 6:00 P.M.
Thank you Gordon for that wonderful introduction. Thank you also for your personal and professional friendship throughout the years. To members of my family who are present; faculty, staff, and students from Hampton University; friends, ladies and gentlemen, thank you for sharing this event with us.
To Mr. Hoey, Chairman Witt, and the members of the Peninsula Chamber of Commerce, I am honored and humbled to be the 2005 recipient of the Distinguished Citizen Award. I join a long line of distinguished men and women who have received this honor. It has been my good fortune to have known each and every one of the recipients since you started this honor in 1981.
You should know that a great number of the past honorees have served as mentors, role models, supporters, and confidants of mine. Because of time limitations, I will only mention a few. It is important, however, that young professionals, students and others know that they did not get where they are by themselves. All of us got where we are today because we stood on the shoulders of others who paved the way for us to use our talents and energies to do what we do best. That certainly was my case.
I look at your first recipient, Frank Blechman who won this award in 1981. As a young President in 1978, I served on the Board of United Virginia Bank with Mr. Blechman. After one of our Board meeting, Frank asked me casually, how things were going. I told him that there were many challenges, both short and long-term. As an example, I indicated that the crane that took the coal off the barge at our steam plant was broken and because of Hampton's precarious financial situation at that time, I had no idea where I could get the money to replace it. The crane was important because it was used to unload the coal which provided steam and hot water to the dormitories and cafeteria for the students. Frank pondered for a minute and told me to call him that afternoon. I made the call about 4:00 o'clock and Frank informed me that he had arranged for Lockwood Brothers to deliver a used crane to the campus the next day. I asked about the cost and he told me that it was already taken care of. That's the kind of person that Frank was. The crane was exceedingly important, but the lesson that was reinforced was perhaps more important. That lesson was to help others if you can. Be of service to somebody. Other recipients, Caleb West, Dick Bagley, Herb Bateman, Ann Kilgore, Ed Joseph, Walter Segaloff, McKinley Price and D. I. Rosser, just to name a few, have provided enormous guidance and support to me and Hampton during the 28-years that we have lived here. A couple of those outstanding individuals must be singled out even more.
Gordon Gentry is one of those. I have known Gordon as a banker, Trustee, friend, and public servant. He has provided wise council—financial and otherwise—to a great number of persons for a great number of years. His tireless service to others serves as an excellent role model for all of us to emulate. He is respected and loved by many, but no one any more so than my wife and me.
What can one say about Herb Kelly, other than thank you? Herb is the embodiment of community responsibility and service. His passion for the law is only matched by his passion for service. There are so many examples that I could give to illustrate this point, but I will mention only two. One morning Herb called me and indicated that he was thinking about representing Allen Iverson who then was a high school student who had gotten into some legal trouble. He asked me what I thought and I told him it was a good idea. I am sure that he had talked to others, including members of his firm, but the fact is that Herb did represent Allen pro bono, or free of charge. Herb, I think it is safe to say that you can now send him a bill. He has enough money to pay his debt.
Another time Herb called me one Monday morning and said that he saw me being interviewed on television during half-time of a game between Hampton and Norfolk State. The game was on the previous Saturday evening and I had gone to the game with just a sweater, slacks, and had not shaved during that day. Herb told me that my interview went well, but he thought that when I was on public display like that, I should be better attired. Herb, I want you to know that it is indeed a rare occasion that I go to any ball games without having a suit and tie on. On the few occasions when I do not, I always think about the verbal spanking that you gave me that day. Again, I say thank you for that woodshed moment!
It is within that backdrop that I gratefully accept this award. As is the case with the receipt of any honor or award, the recipient is acutely aware of the fact that few accomplishments are achieved alone. This is certainly true of my work at Hampton and in the community. My wife of 39-years has been a solid rock of support and strength for me and our three children. Without her, my life would not have the equilibrium in which to function properly. I tell people all the time that she is the straw that stirs my drink. Therefore, she must certainly share in this award. At Hampton, I could not do what I do, or as much as I do, if it were not for my staff, my colleagues on the faculty and in the administration. It has long been my belief that collective competence is better than individual competence. Therefore, it is the team approach among these groups which ignites the creative juices for all of us. They, too, must share in this award. I also share this award with my students—past, present, and future. Much of what I do is for them. Without a doubt, I share it with my children—Kelly, Chris, Leslie—whom I am extremely proud of, and daughter-in-law Valerie, along with our two grandchildren—Taylor and Gabrielle. They are the reason for my being. Taylor, thank you for wanting to come out and see Pa Pa receive his award tonight. I share it also with my little sister who is here tonight, and my deceased mother and father—who were simply the best. For without their guidance, love, devotion, and sacrifice, I would not be where I am today.
Finally, I thank God for His many bountiful blessings and for His steadying hand on my life. If God is with us, who can be against us.
And yet, in the beauty of this gathering, and the glory of the occasion, we know that there are many challenges which lie ahead. There are critical times ahead for our world, our nation, and our peninsula. We have challenges of health, safety, business ethics, education—K-12 and higher education—planned growth, transportation gridlock, and crime.
What is needed from all of us is responsible leadership. Leadership which embodies integrity, honesty, fairness, courage, respect for oneself and others, decency, dignity, responsibility and service. And in my judgment, the greatest of these is service.
If anyone really wants to be a leader,
If anyone really wants to be great,
If anyone really wants to be a person of honor,
They must do as Jesus says,
They must serve others.
Perhaps the greatest love that I have outside of my immediate family, is serving others. I have been fortunate in my life because I have been given the Power To Serve. Think about it. Think of the joy, thrill, and exhilaration of providing leadership and combating ignorance, disease, and misery. Think of the joy of taking raw coal and making it into a polished diamond, as thousands of Hampton graduates have become in the 28-years that I have been President. Think of the thrill of providing a setting where faculty members can do important research on such things as breast cancer, hypertension, diabetes, and Alzheimer's, as faculty members at Hampton are doing as I speak. Think of the exhilaration at any institution having faculty members who have launched six weather satellites as atmospheric scientists at Hampton are doing today. Think of the exhilaration of developing a proton beam cancer treatment center which will ease human misery and save lives. And the list goes on.
I am blessed to have the power to serve. I am blessed to be in a position to make decisions for the good of humanity.
In that regard, I wish each of you to know that the course of my life thus far is the course that I intend for its future. This means than any examples of leadership—which I may have exhibited—I plan to continue. Able leadership is, in its purest form, a contribution to our community and to our society at large. It is that particular human trait, that as evidenced through the course of history, possesses the potential to right wrongs, ease human suffering, provide guidance and direction, uplift the downtrodden, speak out against wrong—even when it is not popular to do so, and ultimately change the course of the universe. To be recognized as an individual deserving of the kind of award presented to me this evening, humbles me in my self-reflection and fills me with extreme pride.
Peninsula Chamber of Commerce, your mission is to advocate and nurture the economic and business interests of the Virginia peninsula and the region. As an educator and businessman I stand ready to continue to assist you in the achievement of your endeavors.
Thank you again. Not only for your kind recognition of me, and of my small contributions to my fellow man, but also to your aspiring me along the continued course of my life.