Whenever the word “liaison” is used as a job description, it’s safe to assume that organizational skills are a must. Kathleen Morgan has more than most, and she began acquiring them during a difficult time in her life.
When Morgan was 15 years old, her mother suffered complications from a brain tumor. Her father, an engineer and former Marine, had to keep things going at home while occasionally taking his wife for out-of-town treatments.
“We were all teenagers or young adults, and he would leave notes all over the house — on the water heater, on the washer/dryer — to make sure everyone had the instructions they needed,” Morgan said. “Somehow, I think I’m still channeling my dad.
“I learned very quickly if you provide people with instructions, it’s easier to accomplish something and avoid things going awry. There’s a sense of control when things are clear.”
That has served Morgan well in her 35 years at William & Mary, and it’s helped her handle a bushel of responsibilities as associate director for faculty personnel services in Arts & Sciences. She knows the policies and procedures, and she can explain them to whoever needs to know.
Which is why she was chosen as this year’s winner of the Charles and Virginia Duke Award, which honors exemplary service to the university by someone who is not a student or instructional faculty member.
“Kathy Morgan knows her stuff. A lot of stuff,” a colleague wrote in support of her winning the award. “I cannot overstate how much I and my office and staff have relied regularly on her expertise and accumulated knowledge.”
Among her many responsibilities are managing interim, tenure and promotion reviews and Blackboard management at the dean’s level, overseeing dean’s office tasks related to recruitment and hiring of full-time faculty, and tracking requests and approvals for Scheduled Semester Research Leave, fellowships, family and medical leave.
The accomplishment Morgan is most proud of is the compilation of A&S-specific faculty recruitment and appointment resources that are available on the Arts & Sciences Resources for Faculty web site.
“I love being able to provide people with what they need to move to the next step,” Morgan said. “Part of that feeds into an innate sense of order in wanting to understand the process and then communicate that process to someone else.
“The enjoyment comes out of the sense of organization of having processes to explain things to people and provide them with what they need — no matter what the issue is.”
In one nomination letter, Morgan was described as “a professional in every sense of the word.” Yet Morgan laughs at how she lost any sense of the word when President Katherine A. Rowe called her in March to tell her she had won the Duke Award.
“I saw President Rowe’s name come up on my phone, and I thought it must be someone from her office calling with a question,” Morgan said. “To hear her voice on the other end was quite stunning.
“When she told me, I was completely flabbergasted. I think I said, ‘Get outta town!’ That probably wasn’t a cool thing to say to the president. Then I got all choked up, which wasn’t handling my control very well, but she was very gracious and kind.”
The award ceremony was scheduled for April and then initially moved to this fall because of COVID-19. With the pandemic still limiting on-campus events, Morgan will be celebrated in the spring of 2021.
Morgan was born in Baltimore, the fourth of five children (the only girl) to Joe and Michele Panchision. The family moved to Gloucester when she was 11.
Four years later, Michele, who had been living with a benign brain tumor for years, suffered complications that resulted in a coma-like state. She passed away during Morgan’s freshman year at Radford University.
Morgan graduated Radford in 1982 with a B.S. in psychology. A year later, she married her husband, Chris, who she had met while attending RU.
After spending three years in retail, Morgan was hired at W&M as an animal lab technician in the Psychology Department. During quiet time in the lab, she would help in the office by mostly doing word processing.
When an office manager position became available, Morgan assisted in the interim. When the hiring process stalled, and since she was essentially doing the job anyway, Morgan was encouraged to apply. She did and was hired in 1987.
In 2010, the Morgans’ daughter graduated from high school and their son from college. As the nest became empty, she saw an advertisement for an associate director position in the dean’s office for Arts & Sciences. She applied and, of course, was hired.
Morgan wanted a challenge, and she got one.
“It’s been 10 years now, and I keep waiting for something to slow down,” Morgan said. “A few years ago A&S facilitated 29 tenure-eligible faculty recruitments, although not all were filled. There’s always a high volume of work because of the large number of faculty.”
Away from work, Morgan and her husband (he’s a carpenter at W&M) — love to travel. That has included drives across the country to national parks and flights to Australia, New Zealand and Italy.
And, of course, they visit their kids — Philip is an engineer in Canton, Ohio; Rachel, who works in real estate, is married with a 21-month-old son in Hilton Head, S.C.
“I’m defined by my long history at William & Mary and now by being a grandmother,” Morgan said. “That’s been the best thing ever.”
Morgan loves gardening and took an environmental biology class in 2008. She calls herself “officially a tree hugger” with a focus on pollinator-friendly native plants.
She tries to read a different novel every week — Blake Crouch’s “Recursion” is her most recent, and she recommends anything by Nnedi Okorafor). She makes jewelry and hopes to resume volunteering in her community.
You could probably count on one hand, if not a few fingers, the number of employees who have served at William & Mary for more than 35 years. Morgan never expected it to be that long.
“Once I was here, I never seriously thought about leaving,” she said. “I had the benefit of moving within William & Mary, but I enjoy the community so much.
“I love what William & Mary stands for, which is excellence in higher education. And I love being a behind-the-scenes person supporting that effort.”