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Three receive Alumni Association’s top honor

  • Alumni Medallion
    Alumni Medallion
    (Left to right) Alumni Medallion recipients James Comey '82, LL.D. '08, Gary LeClair ’77 and Joyce House Shields ’64 pose for a photo with President Taylor Reveley.
    Photo by Skip Rowland

William & Mary is not just where James Comey ’82, LL.D. ’08, went to college.

"It is who I am, and I’m so grateful to be part of this wonderful family,” he said.

Comey expressed this sentiment as he accepted his Alumni Medallion Award, the highest honor given by the William & Mary Alumni Association, on Saturday in the College's Sadler Center. It was a sentiment echoed throughout the morning as the other two recipients, Gary LeClair ’77 and Joyce House Shields ’64, also lauded the College for shaping their respective futures.

Last September, Comey took over as the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. He previously served as the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York and served as United States Deputy Attorney General, where he was the second-highest ranking official in the United States Department of Justice. He was in the national spotlight when he challenged the White House over constitutional concerns related to domestic wiretapping. Now confirmed as FBI director, Comey has served at the will of two presidents of two different political parties.

He has remained closely connected to the university, speaking in 2003 and 2009 at Opening Convocation ceremonies and at the 2008 Charter Day ceremony, where he received an honorary doctor of laws degree. He also served on the Alumni Association’s Board of Directors from 2008-12, including serving as vice president from 2009-11.

“It took me a long time to realize William & Mary was not a place you went, it is who you are,” said Comey. “This is where I learned to think well, to care well, to learn to love. I became who I am here.

LeClair came to the College on a football scholarship, but after a number of knee injuries, he could no longer play.

“I’m very grateful that William & Mary gave me a scholarship. But I’m even more grateful they didn’t take it away … If they did I would’ve been on the next bus back home,” he said.

In 1988, LeClair founded LeClairRyan, a securities and venture capital legal boutique to address the special needs of entrepreneurs and venture capitalists. Since its founding, LeClairRyan has grown from two attorneys in one office in Richmond, Va., to 350 full-time attorneys (plus more than 100 contract attorneys) in 17 cities.

He has kept up his relationship with the College, serving on the board of visitors and as a chair for the William & Mary Athletic Foundation. A firm believer in community involvement, he has also established relationships in his community, serving on the board of directors and advisors of many nonprofit organizations.

“A debt is something that you can repay, and I suppose if I added up my gifts to William & Mary, it will equal the value of the scholarship they gave me,” said LeClair. “But a commitment is an attitude. William & Mary made a commitment to me and taught me how important it is in life to commit beyond repaying your debts.”

After graduating from William & Mary with a degree in psychology, Shields went on to become director of manpower and personnel research for the Army. She played an integral role in the management of a multi-year, multi-million dollar research program to modernize the Army’s selection and classification of enlisted personnel. Shields then went on to work for Hay Group, a world-wide management consulting firm, where she focused on meeting the needs of Fortune 500 companies and governments in organizational change, executive development and human resource planning.

With a successful career, Joyce did not forget the school that started it. She became involved with the College’s Lord Botetourt Auction and served as a trustee on the William & Mary Foundation Board. A much-valued member of the Mason School of Business Board of Trustees, Joyce has been instrumental in shaping the Mason School’s M.B.A. program, including the implementation of the Leadership Initiative.

“As I look back, it’s easy to see these green and gold threads that have had such an influence throughout my life … We developed life-long friends; friends over the four years who have now endured through 50 years of friendship. This was the most important gift that was given to me.”