William & Mary alumnus Bill Mims ’79, current Virginia Supreme Court Justice and former Virginia attorney general, senator and delegate, will speak at 5:15 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 26, at the university’s annual opening convocation ceremony welcoming students for the academic school year.
“It is quite wonderful that Justice Mims will welcome the newest members of the William & Mary family to campus,” President Taylor Reveley said. “He knows the college intimately and cares deeply about it. His words to our entering students will be especially meaningful, because Justice Mims has lived the life of service so integral to William & Mary.”
Traditionally at convocation, students new to the university process with Reveley through the Sir Christopher Wren Building from the Wren Yard to the Wren Courtyard to symbolize their entrance into a lineage of students that stretches back to 1693.
Mims joined that lineage in 1975 as an undergraduate at William & Mary, graduating four years later with a bachelor’s degree in history. He then spent a year as a graduate student in the government department and a year in the law school before transferring to George Washington University.
“They were six wonderful and generally happy years, and I will always consider myself to be part of the William & Mary community,” Mims said. He returns to campus frequently, including those times he is asked to speak to undergraduates and law classes. Mims is also known as an obsessive runner and each time he returns to campus he finds time to work out at the Student Recreation Center.
Mims hinted at what he’ll talk about when he welcomes students on the first day of classes. “The occasion does not call for excessive introspection, but what I want to say is essentially three be’s: Be curious, be realistic and be merciful.”
In some ways, Mims’ political career was presaged at William & Mary, when, as an undergraduate, he served as Student Assembly president.
“That whetted my appetite for my political involvement early in my professional career,” Mims said. “At the time there was an imbroglio regarding whether the stadium would be expanded to 30,000 seats or whether a new stadium would be built off campus so that William & Mary could compete in the same NCAA division as UVA and Virginia Tech.
“I was the point person for those who wanted William & Mary to remain at its present competitive plateau. It certainly taught me about being involved in a very public dispute.”
Mims is likely understating the effort. According to Swem Library’s Special Collection Zable Stadium Wiki, “Williamsburg residents, students, faculty, staff and alumni worked against the expansion, including forming an opposition group, the Amos Alonzo Stagg Society.
“The outcry included boycotts of classes, rallies, the protest song ‘Ode to Cary Field’ written by a student, a Save the Charter Day event, a lawsuit and other actions…
“The need for a larger stadium became a moot point after three years of discord when in December 1981 the NCAA lowered William & Mary from Division I-A to I-AA in football.”
Mims recalled that the battle’s time and effort took a toll on his grades. “When I was spending entirely too much time on student politics, the assistant to (former W&M) President Thomas Graves, Jim Kelly – the Michael Fox of a prior generation – gently but firmly reminded me that I was a student first.”
But he said it is Sam Sadler, retired vice president for student affairs, who he first thinks of in recalling his senior year. “To the extent I developed leadership qualities, a lot of it was because I was mentored by Sam Sadler, and he remains a cherished friend.”
Mims said when he graduated William & Mary, even when he graduated law school, he did not anticipate being a judge. He spent five years working as deputy legislative director to former U.S. Sen. Paul Trible (now president of Christopher Newport University) and as chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf.
He was elected to represent the 32nd District in Virginia’s House of Delegates in 1992, then to the Virginia Senate, representing the 33rd District, in 1998.
Beginning in 2006, he served three years as the chief deputy in the Attorney General’s Office and then completed Bob McDonnell’s term as attorney general after McDonnell stepped down to run for governor.
The following year, the General Assembly appointed Mims to the Virginia Supreme Court.
But he couldn’t have known that as a young student.“What I knew was that the day after graduation, I was supposed to work a shift at the King’s Arms Tavern. That was as far as my ambition went at the time.”