While faculty and students represent the foundation of any great university, staff members like George "Guy" Brown are the mortar that holds the College of William & Mary together.
More than 160 long-time staffers -- whether here five years or 55 - will be honored on Friday at the College's annual Employee Appreciation Day. It's a small gesture the College makes to thank them for the day-to-day services they render that endear them to all who benefit from their efforts.
In the case of Brown, who has spent 55 years at the College, he has touched them at the most basic level: their stomachs. Brown, 72, is the lead evening chef at the Commons. There are nights when he feeds more people - 1,500 -- than were enrolled in the College when he began his career here in 1945. Who knows how many students have devoured his delicious signature entrée roast beef and mashed potatoes through the years?
"The way we've set up our dining services, the chef is no longer behind the scenes," said Larry Smith, director of dining services for the Commons. "Everything's done on-line, front and center, and there is tremendous interaction between the chef and the students. And I'll tell you what: the students absolutely love him."
How he maintains the superb quality for such vast numbers is equal parts pure diligence, hard work, and attention to detail. It hasn't gone unnoticed. Grateful diners will be pleased to learn that their favorite chef is receiving special recognition from W&M President Taylor Reveley at this year's Employee Appreciation Day.
"He's very, very creative as a chef, especially with our ‘theme' meals, and we have a lot of those," said Smith. "They could be based from France, Indonesia, Italy, China, anywhere, and Guy is very thorough in making sure the tastes are authentic."
Brown was still in high school when he began working in the kitchen at Trinkle Hall, the College's main cafeteria at the time. Two brothers already working at Trinkle taught him how to cook, and for three summers he honed those skills at a YMCA summer camp in New York.
In addition to his brothers, Brown met his wife, Gertrude, early in his career at W&M. she worked in what was then called the Wig Wam, now less colorfully known as the Marketplace.
No one questions Brown's culinary excellence, and no one apparently questions the iron fist with which he runs his kitchen.
"I keep a clean kitchen," he said several years ago. "If you mess it up, clean it up. Clean as you go. If you need something, just ask. Don't just come in and touch something without asking."
His attitude about his kitchen has opened him up to some ribbing among some of his female co-workers.
"They are always saying that I'm fussing," Brown admitted, though his chuckle reveals that most of it is done in jest.
Through it all, though, the people at William & Mary are the special ingredient for his long and successful career.
"Everybody asks me how I do it; it's the love around me," Brown said when he celebrated 50 years of service. "I have enjoyed it, especially working with the students. Feeding the students has been wonderful. I love them. I really do."
Brown isn't retiring yet, but when he does, W&M students will be in good hands. One of Brown's finest qualities, says Smith, is his ability to train young cooks.
"He is extremely tough with young chefs," Smith said. "He goes through all of the processes, the recipe formats. He teaches portions, different types of cooking methods, old and new recipes. He does it all, and he takes them with him. He is extremely rigid, extremely tough, but also tremendously funny and effective in guiding them."