William & Mary

Alumna Abroad

A Q&A with Betty Suchar '65

Betty Suchar, copyright The Bath MagazineWhere were you born? What do you consider your hometown?

I was born in Newport News, Virginia as my father worked in the shipyard during the Second World War. Afterwards we moved to the Eastern Shore of Virginia near Cape Charles where I spent my childhood enjoying the water, wonderful seafood and freshly harvested potatoes, strawberries and more.

Why did you choose to attend William & Mary?

My father insisted that I apply to an in-state college plus two of my mother’s sisters had attended W&M and urged me to follow in their footsteps. Most Virginia colleges in the 1960’s were single sex and I was convinced that attending a co-ed institution would be more like the real world.

What was your major?

I majored in sociology, a favorite of the 1960’s, which enabled me to study the various changes occurring at the time.

Did you have a favorite course and/or professor while you were at W&M?

Virginia history was my real love and living in Williamsburg with all its connections to early American history seemed like a wonderful opportunity.

Do you have a favorite memory of your time at W&M?

Colonial Williamsburg presented all freshmen in 1961 with a free pass. The free access to all the attractions led to considerable exploration and inspiration.

How do you think your experience at W&M has affected your life and decisions you have made?

W&M gave me the encouragement to try things and fostered my natural curiosity. When I think of W&M, I think of the people I met there.

What career path(s) have you pursued? 

I took the Federal Government Management Examination and quite by accident was assigned to the Office of Education. This turned out to be a fantastic opportunity, as Lyndon B. Johnson had just introduced The Great Society programs designed to eliminate poverty and racial injustice by providing funding for higher education. I was involved from the beginning in the implementation of various student financial aid programs. This allowed me to subsequently work for the City University of New York and finally the College Entrance Examination Board where I became the Executive Director of the College Scholarship Service. 

Do you have any current projects/passions you would like to share?

After I moved to England in 1978, my husband and I opened an antiquarian book store in Bath and I began an exploration of books and publishing. While running the book store, we learned about the Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution a non-profit institution which now sponsors about 130 lectures each year. We both volunteered and it is now almost a fully time activity for me. [Suchar was elected Chair of Trustees/Directors in March.]

Do you have any advice for current students?

Having worked in a variety of areas, I have found that being able to express your ideas clearly and effectively is most useful. Also, don’t be afraid to ask for advice. I wish that I had tried harder to find various mentors on my way through life.

Is there any advice you wish you’d received?

I was generally independent and wish that I had become more involved in team projects. It is helpful to be a confident individual but being able to work well with others is something to cultivate and to value.

Do you think international experience as a student is helpful in future life and career? 

Definitely, however, I only traveled abroad after I had graduated with my William & Mary roommate, Kathie Weise Astor. We were like the ‘innocents abroad’ open to exploring all the differences, and in the 1960’s there were more differences. Plus, we had several very local experiences like the day we arrived in Munich and there were no room vacancies. In desperation, we accepted the offer of our taxi driver to sleep in his bed while he continued to drive. I also was invited to a home in Greece for several days which gave me an opportunity to see how this family lived and to learn something about politics as the father was a member of their legislature. Once settled in England, I found the real benefit of living abroad to be the perspective you gain about your home country. Seeing the world from another viewpoint allows you to make less biased judgements. 

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