W&M Provost to Receive Thomas Jefferson Award

Gill CellIn 1965, when an aspiring—but then unemployed—historian submitted her first scholarly article to the William and Mary Quarterly, she had no reason to believe that a fruitful academic career might eventually lead to her being named to the board of the institute that published the magazine.

Much less likely was the possibility that the same instructor would be appointed to the faculty of the College of William and Mary, and serve the institution as provost during 10 of the most demanding but remarkable years of its history.

On Feb. 8, at the annual Charter Day ceremony, the College of William and Mary will have the opportunity to celebrate the happy circumstances that brought these events to past, as it awards Provost Gillian T. Cell the highest honor presented to members of the academic community: the Thomas Jefferson Award.

“It seems most appropriate that as Gillian Cell plans her retirement to the accolades of her grateful colleagues and students, that William and Mary would use this significant opportunity to recognize her endeavors on our behalf,” said President Timothy J. Sullivan. “Just like Jefferson, Gill has demonstrated firm leadership, steadfast integrity and a lifelong commitment to higher education; she is well deserving of this honor.”

Presented annually, the Thomas Jefferson Award stresses that the personal and professional character of the recipient should embody those qualities that Thomas Jefferson would have conceived as essential to the intellectual, social and political advancement of humanity. In fact, the certificate of award specifies that the recipient “exemplifies through his/her life, character and influence, the principles and ideals of Thomas Jefferson.”

“Being named the 2003 Thomas Jefferson Award winner is indeed a humbling experience. When I look back over the list of past winners, I find the names of so many women and men who have contributed much to the College that I feel a great sense of awe in knowing that my name will be among theirs,” said Cell. “I will always be grateful for the opportunities that William and Mary and this community have afforded me, above all for the privilege of working with President Sullivan over these last 10 years. His dedication to the College sets a high standard.”

Born in England, Cell earned her B.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Liverpool. She began her teaching career at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill in 1965, and was named professor of history in 1978. In 1985, she was appointed dean of UNC’s college of arts and sciences and general college, a post she held for six years. After serving as provost and professor of history at Lafayette College (Pennsylvania) from 1991 to 1993, she assumed the post of provost at William and Mary. One of Cell’s first tasks at the College was leading a group of faculty and administrators in developing an institutional strategic plan that has directed William and Mary’s development over the past decade.

“Most of us will remember Gill’s tenure as provost for the many academic achievements envisioned by the plan,” said Sullivan. “The clear focus on the liberal arts and sciences, innovations in undergraduate research, emphasis on graduate and professional programs and the effort to enhance the College’s research endeavors through outside funding were all opportunities she pursued with vigor.” The president went on to note that Charter Day will be the final occasion on which the provost will read from the Royal Charter from King William III and Queen Mary II that established the College in 1693.

“Over the past few Charter Days, many people have enjoyed hearing the historic document read in the manner in which it was intended, by someone who has mastered the ‘King’s English’ and speaks with a distinctive British accent. We will miss a great many things about our provost when she departs: her vision, her wisdom and her fortitude. But we will also miss her graceful reading of the Royal Charter,” said Sullivan.

In December 2002, Cell announced her retirement, which will become effective on July 1, 2003. Beginning on that date, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Geoffrey Feiss will serve as acting provost until a permanent replacement is selected.