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Renee Peace’s service to biology department recognized with 2017 Duke Award

  • Duke Award winner
    Duke Award winner  Renee Peace, business manager for the biology department, is the 2017 recipient of the Charles and Virginia Duke Award given to an outstanding staff member.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
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Helping power the work of William & Mary biology students and faculty is a point of pride for Renee Peace, the department’s business manager.

For all of her many efforts, Peace has been awarded the 2017 Charles and Virginia Duke Award.

Established in 1997, the award is presented annually to a staff member for his or her outstanding service and dedication to the university. Award winners are recognized at the W&M Commencement ceremony and receive $5,000.

Working in biology for 36 years, Peace’s knowledge and experience make her the go-to person for not only departmental questions and needs but just about anything on campus, according to a letter supporting her nomination. Her ability to organize and manage so many details, while diplomatically dealing with myriad personalities, is marveled at.

Peace looks at it from the other side. She enjoys doing everything she can to help the students and faculty to succeed, and takes that as her personal responsibility.

Maintaining good relationships with everybody in her department, as well as outside of it and especially with students, is key to that, she said.

“I always say, if it weren’t for the students I probably wouldn’t be sitting here,” Peace said. “I’ve had a lot of nice students over the years that come back to visit and always stop by to say hello.”

She has also been known to get things done using her own sort of magic.

“I know a lot of people on campus in different offices, and I know who to call if situation comes up,” Peace said.

Her duties include administering the department budget, as well as handling the budgets for the research labs and more than 20 faculty members who receive funding from numerous governmental agencies and private organizations. Complying with the procedures, rules, regulations and record-keeping requirements for each of these different entities is crucial.

She tracks all the changes and new rules and regulations that need to be complied with in areas such as travel, procurement and accounts payable. Peace also is responsible for all of the communication and compliance that has to occur between her department and university administration.

Juggling all of the details includes many gentle reminders that head off potentially big problems.

“We state that we are an institution that is passionate about service and research,” stated Shanta Hinton, associate professor of biology. “Well, Renee passionately demonstrates her service and commitment to ensuring that we as a department and institution exceed these goals.”

She tries to prioritize needs as they come to her, and said good office staff support really helps her, pointing out that the job’s not always easy and she makes mistakes like everybody else.

Paul Heideman, a biology professor and former department chair, noted Peace’s deep respect for other people and her hard work to maintain respectful behavior among staff, faculty and students.

“She has high ethical standards and maintains high standards of quality work from staff,” Heideman wrote in an email. “She also cares deeply about giving people time and chances to learn and change. I know that she has been personally responsible for developing individuals to be productive in our work force who would otherwise have been let go.

“Ms. Peace helps people change and improve.”

Peace still lives in her hometown of Gloucester, where she graduated from Gloucester High School and attended Rappahannock Community College. She was hired at W&M in 1980 as a clerk typist B in biology before becoming program support coordinator and eventually business manager.

She has seen a lot of change, working from the era of electric typewriters through the adoption of computers to today’s Internet age.

A young man who used to give her rides from her car to the now-defunct Millington Hall regularly back in those early days became her husband — Shelfer Peace, utility serviceman foreman in athletics and 2002 Duke Award winner. Renee Peace has twin daughters, both of whom work in finance at state universities, and a stepson.

Outside of work, she enjoys exercising, yard work and spending quality time with family and friends.

Likewise at work, the people are what make it meaningful for her. She enjoys interacting with students, and her relationship with faculty, because, she said, you have to enjoy work because “you spend more time at work than you do at home.”

Behind that is how Peace’s support work frees faculty members to focus on their research, teaching and service, as pointed out in one of her nomination letters. She credits that to hard work and dedication.

“Because I really enjoy what I do,” Peace said.