2021 Honorary Alumnus
Dr. William Wade had just been informed that the police were looking for him. He’d recently graduated from the University of North Carolina and was residing in Chapel Hill. When the officers located Dr. Wade, they informed him that a Dr. Robert Liston from King College in Bristol, Tennessee had contacted them and wished to connect, and was going to give him a call at 6:30 that evening.
Dr. Wade had been looking for a job as a history professor and was sending out many letters and King was one of the schools that he had contacted. As a young student at Southwestern at Memphis college, Dr. Wade had walked into his first history class and the professor introduced himself to the class with a slideshow of different places and historical sites he had visited in his travels. This ignited within Dr. Wade’s imagination an interest in history and travel that would stay with him for a lifetime. He knew that he wanted to be a history professor and would earn his Bachelor’s and Master’s from Southwestern at Memphis before enrolling in North Carolina Chapel Hill for his Ph.D. After some time of not hearing anything back from King, he’d forgotten about the school, since before writing to them he hadn’t known much about the school and had never been to the Bristol area.
Looking back on it, Dr. Wade recalls, “Dr. Liston didn’t believe in writing letters.” Dr. Liston, the President at the time, was different in his approach to leadership. He was a hands-on type and would often call recruits personally or travel to meet in person to convince them that coming to King was the right decision. And he was extremely persuasive. It was in this manner that he was able to entice young scholars, like Dr. Wade, to accept faculty positions at the college and significantly enhanced the quality of the academics of King.
At 6:30 that evening, Dr. Wade was waiting by the phone when Dr. Liston called. And with his Alabama twang with a hint of old Europe, President Liston apprised him of his philosophy of where he saw the college-going. According to Dr. Wade’s wife Margaret, after they conversed for a while President Liston said, “You’re coming aren’t you?” And Dr. Wade agreed that King would be a great place to teach. When Dr. Wade first arrived at King, he said that he was “the” history teacher at the school. “I taught all the history classes,” he said. But Margaret indicated that this fits his personality and interests. “Teaching was his calling. He loved the broad expanse of history. And he was able to do it at King,” Margaret said.
He began his career teaching out of Bristol Hall. The year was 1952. “The structure is one of the older buildings on the campus. Dr. Liston put the main emphasis on education, not fancy buildings. I found the college very appealing,” Dr. Wade stated in an interview in the early 1980s. It wasn’t long before he built himself a reputation as a wonderful storyteller. And over the years it would become increasingly difficult to get a seat in his class. This talent wasn’t just used to inform and entertain his students, but it was who he was as a person. “My father was a magnificent storyteller and used to tell us stories at bedtime. He so good that you felt like you were there,” said his daughter and King alumna Anne Southerland. She talks specifically about one family trip they had planned, they were going to visit a plantation and Dr. Wade had told them such grand stories about the place with its ruins and past that when they finally arrived, his story about the location was so much more exciting than the actual place.
Dr. Wade was not only a storyteller, but he was a visionary and was active in many aspects of the school. In 1962, Dr. Wade would become the dean of the college. He would hold that title for the next fifteen years. Though he enjoyed being dean he said his first love was still teaching but “one can make either job fill the day or empty it.” Dr. Wade preferred to focus on history, both the history that he taught and the history surrounding the school. He was very interested in the history of the college.
King was central to his life and to that of his wife Margaret who has stood by his side along this journey of service and selflessness. One day Margaret and Dr. Wade attended a wedding in Cincinnati and visited a nearby Presbyterian Church to worship. Upon returning to campus, Dr. Wade penned a letter to the president explaining how King could establish a relationship with the church and recruit its students. “There is a four-lane highway straight to Cincinnati from Bristol,” he said. He was a student of fundraising opportunities and recognized the importance of nurturing relationships. Dr. Wade worked on building the budget, he was involved with Continuing Education programs including holding the position of Director of Institutional Research, and he directed the Elderhostel Program where his hard work and dedication were recognized. “You have established a tradition for excellent management and thoughtful direction which not only gratifies those who attend but establishes our reputation for high-quality programs,” the president at the time, Reverend Donald Mitchell said. Bill admired his co-workers and would often praise them and King for establishing an environment to work amongst so many people of high dedication and integrity. “I am surrounded by people who in their own particular and often quiet way witness to their faith and give of themselves without stinting.”
Creating an institution for students to truly grow was very important to Dr. Wade. “In most ways, the college is still an institution that tries to keep three things foremost. It’s still an academic college that really tries to prepare its students for whatever career they may choose. So many colleges are just glorified high schools, but I think King honestly makes an effort to prepare its students professionally,” Dr. Wade had told the Bristol Herald Courier.
Christianity had always been very important to Dr. Wade and King’s devotion to a Christian-focused culture what he believed made King stand out from so many other schools, “I can’t think of anything more important, more central to the very being and purpose of this college, than instilling in our students a vibrant sense of personal integrity that is grounded in Christian faith.”
He was an eloquent speaker and communicator and regularly shared his time to become involved in activities to benefit the school for example teaming up with faculty members over the summer to work on the college’s academic and student life programs. He became well-versed in pulling, analyzing, and sharing data from his new computer system. He was always learning, enthusiastic, and devoted to his students, co-workers, the King Community, and the world.
On March 12, 1985, in a letter to President Mitchell, Dr. Wade writes, “I enjoy being at King College, I love my teaching, and there is no place I would rather be.” That represents what King is all about and those that have worked here. There is no place I would rather be.
On May 31, 1998, Dr. Wade retired from teaching. His legacy at King can still be felt and his influence on so many lives has helped make this world a more vibrant and interesting place to live. You deserve every accolade and award that should be bestowed upon you.
Congratulations Dr. Bill Wade!