William & Mary

W&M mourns the death of former president Tom Graves

  • Honoring Tom Graves:
    Honoring Tom Graves:  The William & Mary community mourns the death of Thomas A. Graves Jr., who served as the university’s 23rd president from 1971 to 1985.  Photo courtesy of University Libraries
  • Honoring Tom Graves:
    Honoring Tom Graves:  (From left) Graves talks with President Gerald Ford and Virginia Gov. John N. Dalton on the W&M campus in 1979. Ford was there to dedicate a plaque marking the 1976 debate held at W&M between him and Jimmy Carter.  Photo courtesy of University Libraries
  • Honoring Tom Graves:
    Honoring Tom Graves:  One of the hallmarks of Graves' presidency was his interaction with the student body at the President's House.  Photo courtesy of University Libraries
  • Honoring Tom Graves:
    Honoring Tom Graves:  A program from a 1984 “Evening at Mount Vernon” honoring Graves revealed that he brought an air of “casual comfort” to the university,  Photo courtesy of University Libraries
  • Honoring Tom Graves:
    Honoring Tom Graves:  At age 90, Graves fondly remembered his time at William & Mary, saying, “All the memories were happy. The best, of course, was walking across the campus. Seeing the buildings. Seeing the faculty. Seeing the students. Most important of all, I had a wonderful wife and a good time.”  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
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The William & Mary community mourns the death of Thomas A. Graves Jr., who served as the university’s 23rd president from 1971 to 1985. Graves died in Williamsburg, Virginia; he was 91.

“President Graves came to the Alma Mater of the Nation after a distinguished career at Harvard and Stanford,” said President Taylor Reveley. “William & Mary grew in every significant dimension under his leadership. In many ways, he charted the course and built the community that defines us today. William & Mary has lost one of its great leaders and steadfast friends. He will be deeply missed.”

{{youtube:medium:left|SOafAVRmOR8, Video shown at the 2015 Charter Day ceremony in honor of Graves}}

During his presidency, William & Mary launched its largest fundraising campaign to that date, raising more than $20 million in private gifts; W&M’s Virginia Institute of Marine Science was fully integrated into the university; the first language house on campus was established; the President’s House underwent a major renovation; and construction of a new William & Mary Law School building was completed.

A visitor once remarked to Graves that there was a Georgia O’Keeffe painting hanging, unprotected, on a wall on campus. This led him to wonder what other treasures were scattered across campus. To find out, he enlisted the aid of Miles Chappell of the art and art history department to conduct a survey to determine what artworks the university owned. The survey revealed that over nearly 300 years, William & Mary had amassed a sizeable collection of art and established the need for a museum to preserve and protect them.

Graves in 1980In 1983, following a major gift from benefactor Joseph L. Muscarelle ’27 and his wife, Margaret, the Muscarelle Museum of Art opened.

A program from a 1984 “Evening at Mount Vernon” honoring Graves revealed that he brought an air of “casual comfort” to the university, once roaming the campus wearing a “Derby Day” T-shirt, a startling change from his trademark bow ties. He regularly attended fraternity parties and made the President’s House a popular spot for meetings and social events. During his tenure, he welcomed such celebrities to campus as Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter, entertainment legend Pearl Bailey and Prince Charles, among others.

Sam Sadler ’64, M.Ed. ’71, the longtime vice president for student affairs, said community began to be something that defined William & Mary during the Graves presidency.

Tom Graves in 1993 with Anne Dobie Peebles '44, former W&M rector“I think what Tom did to build that sense of community —  to give us a sense of what an academic community in the contemporary world could and should be and then to take steps toward achieving that — was his great gift to William & Mary,” said Sadler, who retired in 2008 after working for six presidents at William & Mary. “His time here was special and his contribution was lasting."

Graves attended Yale University as an undergraduate, interrupting his studies after freshman year to serve with the U.S. Navy in World War II. After earning his bachelor’s degree in 1947, he went on to receive a master’s and doctorate from Harvard University.

Graves at the 2008 Homecoming gameGraves served on the faculty of Harvard’s business school from 1950 until 1960, when he moved to Switzerland to direct the IMEDE Management Development Institute. In 1964, he became the associate dean of Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business; he also served as the director of that university’s International Center for Advancement of Management Education. Graves returned to Harvard in 1967 to become the associate dean of the Graduate School of Business Administration and served in that role until his presidency at William & Mary began in 1971.

Graves and his wife, Zoë, in 2015 (photo by Stephen Salpukas)After William & Mary, Graves worked with the Winterthur Museum and Garden in Wilmington, Delaware, as its director, CEO and a member of its Board of Trustees. Later, he became the director of Wilmington’s Grand Opera House and a member of the MBNA America Bank Educational Board.

Graves, and his wife, Zoë, remained stalwart supporters of the College over the years following his departure from the presidency. The Thomas Ashley Graves, Jr. Award for Sustained Excellence in Teaching, presented every year at Commencement to a William & Mary faculty member, was named in his honor. Established in 1984, it was endowed by alumni and friends of the former president and first awarded in 1986.

Graves receives an honorary degree in 2015. (photo by Skip Rowland '83)In 1988, the Board of Visitors recognized Graves’ leadership and vision, bestowing upon him the title of President Emeritus. Tom and Zoë Graves served as Homecoming Grand Marshals in 1996, and Graves was named an honorary alumnus in 2002 in recognition of his continuing support of William & Mary. After retiring in 2004, he and Zoë moved back to Williamsburg. Graves received an honorary degree from William & Mary at the 2015 Charter Day ceremony.

Graves once remarked that “William & Mary … needs to be excellent in every area, and this means both inside the classroom and outside the classroom.”Memorial wreath at Graves' portrait in the Wren Building. Photo by Justin Thomas

Years later, at age 90, he fondly remembered his time at William & Mary. “All the memories were happy. The best, of course, was walking across the campus. Seeing the buildings. Seeing the faculty. Seeing the students. Most important of all, I had a wonderful wife and a good time.”

Anyone wishing to make a donation in honor of President Graves can support the Thomas Ashley Graves, Jr. Award for Sustained Excellence in Teaching endowment.