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Message on the passing of Gill Cell

President Taylor Reveley sent the following message to the campus community on Sept. 10, 2012 - Ed.

Dear Colleagues,

            With great sadness, I must report that Gillian Townsend Cell died at her home in Chapel Hill of ALS on September 7th.  Dr. Cell was William & Mary’s 3rd Provost, serving from 1993 to 2003, during the presidency of Tim Sullivan.  

            Gill was Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at UNC Chapel Hill before joining us.  She came to love William & Mary and was, herself, beloved and respected while among us.  Provost Cell did serious good for our university in many spheres but especially, perhaps, in strategic planning, the redirection of resources in the face of declining state support, and advances in information technology on campus.  Those who heard her read from the College’s Royal Charter during our annual Charter Day rites will never forget the melodious English tones and crystalline clarity with which Gill always celebrated the words of our creation.

            In 2003, Provost Cell was awarded the Thomas Jefferson Award, William & Mary’s highest honor for members of our academic community.  When announcing her retirement, President Sullivan captured the essence, saying  Gill had  “deep respect for the academic endeavor, a rigorous commitment to excellence, and a fierce, yet graceful, determination to succeed."

            Gill’s countless friends at William & Mary are grateful for her marvelous life.  She will be missed.    

            There will be a memorial service for Dr. Cell in Chapel Hill.  We do not yet know when.   An obituary from Chapel Hill is below.

Taylor Reveley


Gillian Townsend Cell, former Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at UNC Chapel Hill, died at home of ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) on September 7, 2012. She was 75.

Born near Liverpool, England, Gill graduated from the University of Liverpool with a PhD in History, studying with David Beers Quinn. She was expert in early British colonial expansion, publishing two books on the subject. She received an honorary doctorate from St. John’s University in Newfoundland.

She moved to North Carolina in 1962, when she married John “Jack” Cell, a professor of history at Duke University. In 1965, Gill was the first woman to be appointed to a tenure-track position in the UNC history department. Later she became the first woman chair of the department, and the first woman Dean. She also served the university as Affirmative Action Officer and Associate Dean of the Graduate School. Amongst her many accomplishments at UNC, she was particularly proud of founding the Program in the Humanities and Human Values. A professorship rewarding excellence in undergraduate teaching is named in her honor.

In 1992 Gill left UNC and in 1993 was appointed Provost of the College of William and Mary. She loved the college and her colleagues there, and with great wisdom and sympathy implemented a strategic plan reorganizing and redirecting college resources. Many at William and Mary will remember her reading of the College’s 1693 Charter every year on Charter Day.

Possessed of an incisive intelligence, a compassionate imagination, and a scrupulous integrity, Gill was beloved amongst her colleagues. She never made a promise she didn’t keep. If a faculty member undertook important research or good teaching, she worked tirelessly to support their efforts. She always remembered that the word “education” stems from the Latin for “to draw out and bring forth,” and she believed fiercely that public universities must and do draw out and bring forth that which is best in us.

When she retired from William and Mary in 2003, Gill returned to Chapel Hill to be near her community of friends from UNC. During her retirement, she served as President of the Fearrington Village Home Owners’ Association, President of the Fearrington Women’s Club, on re-accreditation committees of the American Bar Association, and as Chair of the UNC Program in the Humanities and Human Values.

Gill was both shy and witty, an elegant writer, a generous critic, a loyal friend. She loved the theatre, English poetry, symphonic and chamber music, lieder, and the songs of Johnny Cash as performed by her children.

Throughout her illness, Gill received loving care from her friends and neighbors and especially, her son Tom. She is survived by Tom; her other children Kate and John and their spouses Sean and Jessica; her grandchildren Will, Luka, Jonah, and India; brother-in-law Howard, and sisters-in-law Paula and Mary Linn. The family is planning a memorial service at UNC. Donations in lieu of flowers may be made to the Program in Humanities and Human Values at UNC.