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Caretaker of College tradition to retire after a lifetime of service

  • The Department of Louise
    The Department of Louise
    The Wren Building is known by many across campus as "The Department of Louise." The unofficial monicker casts a sense of not only the great care and affection longtime Historic Campus Director Louise Kale has had on the building, but also her impact and influence across campus.
    Photo by Stephen Salpukas

For many people whose lives have touched William & Mary, the Wren Building and Historic Campus are the College’s heart, embodying the history and traditions that so many hold dear. Keeping those traditions alive and those buildings running, however, takes a lot of work.

That’s where Louise Lambert Kale, executive director of William & Mary’s Historic Campus, comes in. Raised on the William & Mary campus in a family intimately associated with the College’s history, Kale has spent a lifetime in service to William & Mary. After nearly two decades of caring for the Historic Campus buildings and the people who pass through them, Kale plans to retire in August.

“Though not a card-carrying alumna of William & Mary, Louise Kale is a child of the College in every other meaningful respect,” said William & Mary President Taylor Reveley. “As the intrepid interpreter and faithful steward of our Historic Campus, she enjoys iconic status among us, just as do the Wren, the Brafferton and the President’s House. Louise’s knowledge of William & Mary’s storied past and her devotion to its explanation and preservation are simply extraordinary. Her contributions to our understanding of William & Mary and to the welfare of its venerable precincts have been enormous.”

Growing up on campus

Born in 1948 to J. Wilfred Lambert ’27, a noted professor and administrator who served as dean of students from 1945 until 1970, Kale grew up in college housing on Jamestown Road. Some of her earliest memories involve playing around the campus.

“I learned to play tennis on campus tennis courts—actually, Dean Woodbridge of the law school taught me to play tennis,” Kale recalled. “My brother and I ice-skated on Lake Matoaka and Crim Dell, which froze back then, and we took sleds down the hill behind Barrett Hall.”

Kale also witnessed several critical moments in the College’s history. For instance, when she was five years old, she saw the 1953 fire of the original Phi Beta Kappa Hall, which is today’s Ewell Hall.

“The fire started in the theatre wing, and my brother was allowed to go to the fire with my father. I could see the flames from my bedroom window in Pollard Park, and I had to stay home,” Kale said. “My brother got to hold the front doors of Phi Beta Kappa open for the firemen while they rescued the files of Phi Beta Kappa national.”

Already possessing a love for William & Mary that would direct her life’s work—and the tenacious spirit that would make it possible—Kale was not pleased at being unable to help.

“My brother, who was seven, had this very exciting job right up next to the firemen, and I had to stay home,” she said. “I have to tell you, my nose was bent out of joint for months after that!”

Kale went away to college, but by 1971, she was once again living in Williamsburg.

A life serving William & Mary

In 1975, Kale began work in William & Mary’s fine arts department helping to manage the College’s art collection, including many portraits of people instrumental in the College’s history, a position instrumental in setting the trajectory of Kale’s career at William & Mary.

“All of those portraits became part of the landscape of William & Mary because they introduced me to the post-Colonial history of the College,” Kale said.

She soon began working with the Muscarelle Museum of Art, where she served as registrar and ultimately building manager. In this role, Kale first caught the attention of then-President Timothy J. Sullivan '66, who was looking for someone to oversee the operation of the three Historic Campus buildings: the Wren Building, the Brafferton and the President’s House.

"Louise Kale is a William & Mary treasure," said Sullivan, who served as W&M's president from 1992 to 2005. "Few can know how much she has done to protect and enhance the architectural  crown jewels of the College. Louise's brilliant stewardship has also illuminated our understanding of William & Mary's early history and the power of its relevance not only for our time but for the future."

She began working on Historic Campus from her Wren Building office in 1995 and soon found the position to be quite diverse. In short, she takes care of the College’s colonial buildings and the people who use them. At her core, Kale is an advocate for the preservation of the three Historic Campus buildings as well as the colonial revival buildings that surround the Sunken Garden.

“I still walk into the Wren Building and think, oh my gosh! This is where my office is—am I not the luckiest girl in the world?” Kale said.

As she soon realized, however, there’s much more to managing Historic Campus than the buildings themselves.

“When I came to work in the Wren Building, I thought it was going to be me and the building, the two of us. I had no idea it would be about me and the people in the building,” Kale said.

Work with the people who pass through the Wren Building each day soon became one of Kale’s richest and most rewarding experiences.

“If I didn’t have strong relationships with Colonial Williamsburg and the College’s planning department and maintenance department, if I didn’t have an extremely valuable rolodex, I would not have achieved whatever measure of success I have achieved here. I may be at the center of it all, but I’m not the one person who’s carrying Historic Campus on her back,” she said.

Managing the ‘mothership’

While there are three colonial buildings on historic campus, the Wren Building is truly the College’s shining star.

“It’s the mothership,” Kale said. “The Wren Building is the flagship of a distinguished fleet of buildings. I can’t think of another building that even gets close to having the significance to the College family that the Wren Building does.”

The Wren Building’s importance to William & Mary became clear to Kale as she oversaw the building’s renovation from fall 1999 to spring 2001.

“When we framed up our contract with the general contractor for the project, we listed several dates when the College would need to have access to certain parts of the building during construction,” she said. “That allowed us to safely bring in the senior class to ring the bell and safely do the graduation walk-through. It really worked out well for us because the general contractor really came to understand the position of the Wren Building in the life of the College.”

Kale has enjoyed her work on Historic Campus because despite being “historic,” the oldest part of campus is still a dynamically changing place.

“The history of the College is still being written here,” she said.

While her time working at William & Mary is winding down, Kale is looking forward to a new project during her retirement.

“I’m writing a book on the development of William & Mary’s campus, focusing on the Sunken Garden precinct,” she said. “I’ve been working on it for several years in fits and starts, so I have a project that I’m deeply excited about. That helps me look forward and not look back.”

That said, Kale has a lot to look back on with pride—a lifetime of service to a College she loves dearly.

“I really feel like I have experienced almost every facet of the College of William & Mary on one level or another. There are very few parts of the College that I have not had some contact with in the last 19 years,” Kale said. “And that has been my greatest joy.”

A fund to provide support for research and interpretation of William & Mary's Historic Campus has been established in Kale's honor. Contributions to the Louise Lambert Kale Historic Campus Research Fund may be made by contacting University Advancement at (757) 221-1051 or, as of July 19, making a secure online credit card payment at impact.wm.edu/kale.