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Remembering first Reves Center director James Bill

  • Celebrating the fruit of his labor
    Celebrating the fruit of his labor  James and Ann Bill enjoy the festivities at the 20th anniversary celebration of the Reves Center for International Studies in 2009.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
  • Honoring James Bill
    Honoring James Bill  Bill and President Taylor Reveley together at Charter Day 2012. Bill was awarded an honorary degree of doctor of humane letters.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
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James A. Bill, one of the world’s top scholars on Iran, professor emeritus of government and first director of the Reves Center for International Studies at William & Mary, died on Saturday, Nov. 21 at his home in Williamsburg. He was 76 years old.

“Jim Bill laid the foundation for powerful international studies at William & Mary, and his legacy lives on through the work of the Reves Center,” W&M President Taylor Reveley said. “A distinguished scholar of the Middle East, particularly Iran, he was also a marvelous teacher, described by one student as ‘the best ever.’

“Jim was a cherished colleague who will be greatly missed.”

Bill came to W&M in 1987 following a distinguished career as a professor of political science at the University of Texas. In 1989, he became the Wendy and Emery Reves Professor of International Studies and became the first director of the newly founded Reves Center for International Studies.

“The inauguration of the Reves Center for International Studies on April 15, 1989, was a milestone,” Bill said in a 2012 interview. “Bill Moyers, who gave the inaugural address, helped set the tone for the center. Wendy Reves, who provided the generous support for the new center, was also at the inaugural address.

“The establishment of the James A. Bill Study Abroad Scholarship Endowment (in 1992) was definitely a personal highlight.”

For more than a decade, Bill molded the Reves Center into one of the country’s leading undergraduate international studies programs. Today, the center coordinates many of the university’s international programs and activities. This includes playing a key role in oversight of study abroad programs, providing services for international students and scholars and supporting faculty international research.

“My personal goal was to ensure that every William & Mary student who wanted to study abroad had the opportunity to do so,” Bill said in 2012.

Bill was also known as an exceptional teacher at William & Mary. In 1992, the graduating international relations students voted to present him with an outstanding faculty award, which recognized a teacher who played an especially important role in their learning at the university.

“He was a great man, and his vision and commitment to international education made everything we do at the Reves Center today possible,” Vice Provost and present Director of the Reves Center Stephen Hanson said. “I feel humbled and honored to be following in his footsteps, and try every day to live up to the example he has set for us.”

Bill retired as director of the Reves Center in 1998 but remained active as a mentor, teacher and scholar in the government department. He continued to offer classes in Middle East politics and was instrumental in creating the university’s Middle Eastern Interdisciplinary Program. In 2004, Bill officially retired from W&M and was awarded emeritus status.

He was honored with an honorary doctorate of humane letters during William & Mary’s Charter Day ceremony on Feb. 3, 2012.

Bill authored or co-authored 10 books on Iran, including the highly acclaimed The Eagle and Lion, which explores the relationship between the United States and Iran from the 1940s through the Iranian revolution.

He was also asked to write the authorized biography of American diplomat George Ball. In 1998, he published George Ball: Behind the Scenes in U.S. Foreign Policy.

Bill graduated with his bachelor’s degree in foreign affairs and philosophy from Assumption College. He earned a master’s degree in political science from Penn State University, a master’s in politics and his Ph.D. in politics and Near East studies from Princeton.

Funeral arrangements are pending.

The James A. Bill International Study Abroad Scholarship was created in 1992 to provide assistance for students to study abroad based on both financial need and ability. Donations may be made by check to The College of William & Mary Foundation, Office of Gift Accounting. On the memo line add: James A. Bill Scholarship (1642).  Donations may also be made by credit card. Go online to To designate the fund, select “Other” and in the comment field put: James A. Bill International Study Abroad Scholarship (1642).