Anne Dobie Peebles ’44, the first female rector at William & Mary and a tireless advocate for public education, died Thursday in Sussex County, just five days after her 90th birthday.
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A funeral service will be held Wednesday at the Petersburg Chapel of J.T. Morriss & Son Funeral Home and Cremation Service. Burial will be private.
“Anne Dobie Peebles was marvelous -- one of William & Mary’s most devoted alumnae, who contributed enormously to the good of the College,” said President Taylor Reveley. “I spoke with her by telephone a few weeks ago to tell her that the tree planted in her honor in the Wren Yard was flourishing and that she will always be one of William & Mary’s most cherished daughters.
“Her memory will certainly live on vibrantly at the College.”
Peebles died at her ancestral family farm, Dunlorra, which she left to attend the College. She majored in history and American government. After a brief stint as a teacher, Peebles embarked on a career featuring a wide array of committee appointments ranging from employment of the handicapped to the Virginia Educational Assistance Authority.
Peebles co-chaired Mills E. Godwin Jr.’s run for governor in 1965, helped U.S. Senator Harry F. Byrd Jr. win election races in 1966 and 1970, and was co-chairman of his successful last election race for the U.S. Senate in 1976.
She also helped John Dalton and Charles Robb win governorship races in 1977 and 1981, respectively.
“I guess you would call her a statesman behind the scenes,” niece Mary Dunn Conover told the Richmond Times-Dispatch. “She did not look for personal glory.”
In 1988, the General Assembly named her a Virginia Cultural Laureate for outstanding service to the commonwealth. Fifteen years later, the Library of Virginia honored her as a Virginia Woman in History.
Her most important service to the College began 15 years after graduation. From 1959-66, Peebles served on the Alumni Board of Directors, and in 1969 was awarded the Alumni Medallion for service and loyalty.
In 1974, Peebles began 13 years of service on the William & Mary Board of Visitors. In 1984, she took over as rector.
In 1988, the College awarded her an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters.
“We had more Board meetings under her than anyone in the history of the College,” said Jim Kelly, former assistant to the president and secretary to the Board of Visitors. He was a friend and associate of Peebles for more than 40 years. “She never hesitated to, as she put it, ‘call her boys together.’
“She believed in unanimity, and she got votes better than anyone I ever saw. I say this with certainty: A majority vote would not have been considered a victory by Anne Dobie Peebles.”
Peebles played a central role in the ascension of Paul Verkuil to the presidency of the College in 1985.
“She saw that Paul was the very best candidate we had,” Kelly said. “She was pleased that he was an alumnus, and she was very helpful to him as he established himself.”
Peebles’ political work served the College well in the halls of Richmond where, Kelly said, “she moved with great ease and acceptance.”
“I would not have dared undertake any project in Richmond without consulting her first,” Kelly said. “She knew whose ox you would be goring; who would be with you and who would be against you.
“The leadership of the Senate trusted her.”