Roommates to Rectors: A story of friendship and passion for W&M

  • Roommates to Rectors
    Roommates to Rectors
    Michael Powell '85 (right) and Todd Stottlemyer '85, who were freshman roommates at William & Mary, would develop a close friendship with each other and a deep bond with William & Mary that remains strong today. Both have also served W&M with distinction, and both have risen to the College's highest leadership role – as Rector of the Board of Visitors.
    Photo by Brian Whitson
  • Rector's robes
    Rector's robes
    Michael Powell served on the Board of Visitors from 2001 to 2009, including three years as Rector.
    Photo by Stephen Salpukas
  • Campus forum
    Campus forum
    Todd Stottlemyer was appointed to the Board in 2011 and was elected this past April as Rector. He is pictured here at a recent campus forum.
    Photo by Stephen Salpukas

It started on a sweltering day in August 1981.

An 18-year-old Michael Powell had just arrived on campus and was outside his new home on the third floor of Yates Hall. Powell had driven from Washington, D.C., to Williamsburg in his powder-blue Ford Pinto. With him was a large trunk his mother insisted he take to college – the kind big enough to “to hold at least two bodies in.”

“I pulled up to Yates with no ability whatsoever to get moved into my room,” said Powell, remembering when he first approached his freshman roommate, Todd Stottlemyer. “My first impression was ‘Boy, he’s big. He’s definitely the guy who is going to get that trunk up the stairs.’”

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Stottlemyer, a freshman offensive lineman for the Tribe football team, had arrived two weeks earlier for training camp. He was happy for two things: Two-a-day practices were over, and he was finally getting to meet the person who would live just a few feet from him over the next nine months.

Todd Stottlemyer in his Tribe football uniform“(Yates Hall) is where it started,” said Stottlemyer, adding that the two had written letters, the “Facebook of the day,” over the summer. “(Michael) is a great letter writer. We talked by phone that summer, too, so I felt like I knew him a little bit before we showed up. I was just really excited to meet my roommate and excited to start college. We hit it off very, very quickly.”

Powell ’85 and Stottlemyer ’85 would develop a close friendship with each other and a deep bond with William & Mary that remains strong today. Both have also served W&M with distinction, and both have risen to the College’s highest leadership role – as Rector, or chair, of the Board of Visitors.

A first for William & Mary

While the College’s archives don’t keep official records on the subject, Powell and Stottlemyer are believed to be the first pair of freshman roommates who have both gone on to serve as Rector.

When they were undergraduates, Powell and Stottlemyer admit, they didn’t know much about Rectors or the work of the Board of Visitors. Both say they never imagined they would serve the College in this leadership role. But, even as freshmen, they did know there was something special about W&M.

“I think we knew soon that we loved this place,” Powell said.  “That love gets bonded on this college campus early. It is not too hard to imagine that later in life you will be doing your best to get back to it.”

Added Stottlemyer, “I think my experience here was in those formative years. It was such a privilege to be here at William & Mary for four years and be part of the incredible history of this university, to sit here today and talk about our respective roles as Rector. There will be someone 200 years from now sitting in this position, and they’ll be talking about history and we’ll be part of that history.”

It’s not hard to imagine that Powell and Stottlemyer will be firmly entrenched in William & Mary’s history books. When it comes to their professional lives, both are among the College’s most well-known and successful alumni. Powell is the former chair of the Federal Communications Commission and current president of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association. Stottlemyer, a successful and respected chief executive in the technology sector, is currently chief executive officer of Acentia, a management and technology company with more than 1,000 employees. The Washington Business Journal recently named Stottlemyer to its "Power 100" list, which profiles the region's most influential business leaders.

Both are also among the most engaged leaders of the College community. Powell served on the Board of Visitors from 2001 to 2009, including three years as Rector. Stottlemyer was appointed to the Board in 2011 and was elected this past April as Rector.

ROTC cadet Michael Powell and his father, former Secretary of State Colin PowellThe two men attended rival high schools in Northern Virginia. Powell was at Lake Braddock and Stottlemyer at West Springfield. But the two didn’t know each other during high school. Powell laughs when he remembers his first thoughts about rooming with a football player.

“I said, ‘I got a football player for a roommate – what’s that going to be like?’” he said. “Of course, you come in with a stereotype. Todd very quickly smashed it, and I realized he was an amazing guy.”

Stottlemyer said the two teenagers, both government majors, quickly found they had a lot in common.

“Mike was an athlete as well and was ROTC in the Army and very interested in public policy,” he said. “We had some fun conversations, even as freshmen, about politics and the world.”

Both would later be initiated into prestigious honor societies while at William & Mary – Stottlemyer in Phi Beta Kappa and Powell in Omicron Delta Kappa.

The third roommate

During the 1981-82 academic year, room 337 at Yates Hall was pretty bare bones. There was a refrigerator, a stereo, two beds and two dressers. The walls were equally bare. Powell said he was not a poster guy, and Stottlemyer joked that “Sam Sadler (longtime vice president for student affairs) would have fined us $10 if we put anything on the walls that peeled off the paint.”

Michael and Jane Knott Powell in his Yates Hall roomBoth agree that Powell, the ROTC cadet, was the neater of the two. “That was me, the guy who had the iron,” he joked. “The football culture was different.”

They also had a third roommate. Powell’s wife, Jane Knott Powell, lived just down the hall. The two met early in the school year and became inseparable.

“Todd is owed both an apology and gratitude for his never-ending acceptance of that little girl coming into my room constantly, stealing out of our refrigerator, there all the time,” joked Powell. “Todd was always a great sport, and Jane was a good friend and fan of Todd’s as well.”

From one Rector to another

Today, the two men remain in touch despite busy lives with work and families. They live near each other in the Washington, D.C., area.  When Stottlemyer was elected Rector, one of his first phone calls was to Powell.

“We got together for a very, very long lunch, and I probably had a hundred questions,” Stottlemyer said.

Stottlemyer said he followed Powell’s time as Rector very closely as both friend and alumnus.

“The time when he was Rector was one of the most difficult times for the university because of the presidential transition,” Stottlemyer said, referring to former President Gene Nichol’s 2008 resignation following a brief but tumultuous time as president at the College. “I was watching from afar and just to watch how Michael handled the situation with such incredible leadership and grace was truly amazing.”

Powell said he warned Stottlemyer that serving as Rector was not a part-time assignment.

“We can talk romantically about the College, but it is a true living, breathing institution that has to be fed and clothed and housed and watered,” Powell said. “I learned as Rector that’s an amazing challenge, particularly with the kind of resource constraints we have. It takes a serious-minded person with strong organizational business leadership chops to handle those reigns. Todd has demonstrated that in numerous positions. I think the school is really in fantastic hands.”

A love of W&M

Both say their love of William & Mary also only has grown over time.

Powell said he and Jane feel immediately at home when they return to campus. He said the history of William & Mary’s campus and buildings serves as an anchor for them in a very fluid world.

“What’s not to love? William & Mary manages to blend everything that was worthy in the past with this excitement and enthusiasm for the future,” he said. “It somehow lives on this extraordinary line – not old but venerable.”

Both credit the work of faculty to prepare them for the future.

“I picked government (as a major) because I really had a sense of wanting to be a public servant,” Powell said. “The professors, all of them, took time with you one on one. I have been in government positions several times and some part of what I have learned here never failed to come back to me.”

Stottlemyer said he remains in touch with his professors in government, such as Joel Schwartz and John McGlennon, current chair of the department.

“They really made you think and that was probably the most important thing,” he said. “They broadened your horizon. How do you solve problems? How do you handle big issues? And, of course, one of the great things about William & Mary is you get to take courses in other areas. It was a great experience.”

In addition to serving as Rector and a member of the Board, Stottlemyer visits campus as a parent. His daughter, Caroline, is a sophomore at the College. Stottlemyer and his wife, Elaine, visit campus often in official and unofficial capacities. The more time he spends with students, the Rector said, the more he gets excited about William & Mary’s future.

“You see the future. You see hope. You see optimism and just the exceptional students,” he said. “They are excited about their ability to transform the world in their own way.

“To think you were a small part of that as a student and continue to be part of that as you see the next generation enjoy that special experience we had when we were on campus. William & Mary is timeless.”

Just like in college

Powell and Stottlemyer were roommates for just one year. They remained in touch during their undergraduate days but both developed new friends and interests. Their friendship rekindled following graduation and there are many common connections to their lives at W&M and off campus. Both are graduates of Georgetown Law and both live in the D.C. area. Both have demanding professional schedules and regular family obligations that come with being a father and husband.

The Rectors do their best to stay in touch.

When they do get together, Stottlemyer said, “It’s just like we’re back in college.”