It is a remarkable thing to live 95 years. To make each of those years count – to have your life make a difference for thousands upon thousands of people across the world – is something much more.
When University of Mobile founding president and chancellor Dr. William K. Weaver Jr. died Jan. 13, 2014 at the age of 95, he left behind a unique legacy. Not everyone can say they have been a college president. Only one can – and did – say he was chosen as president of a college that had “no land, no buildings, no faculty, no students – and no problems.”
Where others saw piney woods barely accessible by paved road in north Mobile County, Dr. Weaver saw a college campus filled with students who grew in faith as they gained knowledge. With other Baptist and community leaders whose names are inscribed on buildings across campus, Weaver saw far into the future when graduates would be using their talents to serve God worldwide.
“Bill could see things uniquely,” said UMobile President Dr. Mark Foley during a memorial service Jan. 16 at First Baptist Church of Mobile. “I believe Jesus blessed Bill Weaver with an unusual ability to ‘see.’”
There was a story Dr. William K. Weaver Jr. loved to tell. It started off with a young preacher from Sylacauga, AL and a group of Baptists who thought it would be a good idea to start a college in the southern part of the state, where access to higher education was limited.
Along the way, the story of this man expanded into the story of a college. Following are excerpts from writings, speeches and interviews that Weaver gave throughout the years, as he told the story he loved so well.
‘You are the Man’
During an interview in 2011 marking the 50th anniversary of the University of Mobile, Weaver recounted the moment he and “B,” Annie Boyd Parker Weaver, made the decision that would chart the course for the rest of their lives.
“I had chaired the commission studying the possibility of starting a Baptist college in Mobile, and we recommended we do that. I came down to Mobile one day to look at possible sites. I went to the Battle House (where the study committee was meeting) and was standing outside when Mr. J.L. Bedsole said, ‘We want to talk with you.’
“I was telling him what we needed in a president, and out of the blue – it scared me to death – he said, ‘You are the man.’
“I had no background for it. When you stop and think about it, I can’t think they would have asked me to be president. I went home and talked to ’B’ about it, we prayed about it, and I said I would give it a try…”
Welcome to Mobile College
Weaver’s first speech to the first faculty was delivered Sept. 5, 1963. Along with a history of the founding of the school, which included details such as the amount of earth moved to grade the site and build a road (275 yards of dirt), Weaver welcomed the faculty and impressed upon them the purpose of Mobile College.
“It is with a deep sense of justifiable pride that I express a warm welcome to each of you as you join with us in the building of Mobile College. You have come to us from many places, and have varied backgrounds of experience and training. However, I find that we are joined together with a common commitment to the cause of Christian higher education…
“In the seal of our college, you will find the words, ‘The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.’ With this in mind, we are opening our school in the pursuit of truth which, because of our Christian conviction, should give to every student a deeper and more meaningful understanding of our God.”
On Resolving Conflict
Weaver’s ability to seek common ground in order for progress to be made was illustrated by a story he told about a “crisis” in the library, then housed in what is now Weaver Hall. The crisis retold reveals a close-knit college community who brought even minor issues to the president for a solution. That story was among many in a series of articles written in 2003 and 2004 for the Ram Report campus newsletter. His columns were reprinted in their entirety in the Spring 2012 issue of the University of Mobile Magazine and are online at umobilemagazine.com. More memories of the first 50 years of the school, including remembrances of the founding president, were recounted by alumni, faculty and staff in the Fall 2011 issue.
“During the first year a ‘major crisis’ arose in the library area. A separate thermostat had been installed for the library wing. The librarian was coldnatured, so she would turn the thermostat up, but very soon thereafter a student would turn it down. This continued to be a problem until I learned about it. I contacted the company which had installed the system and asked that they set the temperature at a comfortable setting and then disconnect the thermostat. This they did, and from that time forward everything was great. The librarian continued to turn it up and the students continued to turn it down. Though nothing actually changed, everyone seemed to be happy!”
It was impossible to walk away from an encounter with Weaver without being encouraged. He was smart, funny, and genuinely interested in the people around him. One commencement address he delivered sent graduates off with an admonition to “walk a little taller” and do more than “be content with just getting by.”
“Cumulative dreams of this graduating class inspired by years of intensive study will begin to make a difference in the communities in which you live and in the areas in which you work. You have dreams of advancing God’s kingdom on earth, of conquering disease and dispelling ignorance. You have dreams of dispensing justice and truth, of building great industries and godly homes, but dreams must inspire action.”
The Hand of God
Weaver announced his retirement and presented an eloquent letter to the Board of Trustees dated March 12, 1984. “One need merely to look at the glorious history of Mobile College to see the hand of God at work,” he wrote. Following are excerpts.
“Twenty-three years ago I was given the unusual opportunity and challenge of joining with others in the founding of a new four-year college. These have been years of successes and failures, frustrations and pleasure, and continuing progress toward our original goal. Today Mobile College is a well-established, accredited Christian college of liberal arts and sciences. While not all of even our original dreams have been reached, there is at least a sense of satisfaction in that which has taken place.
“When ‘B’ and I considered this opportunity, we agreed that if we measured up to the challenge, it would likely require the rest of our career years and all that we could give to this effort during those years. We have both sought to fulfill this commitment and have worked together as a team, each trying to complement the efforts of the other…
“It will not be possible either now or in the future to fully express the deep sense of gratitude ‘B’ and I feel for the encouragement and support provided to us through the years by you and others who have served as trustees of this college. Your dreams, your advice and your guidance are largely responsible for whatever good has taken place. Alabama Baptists have been most generous in their encouragement and support, always measuring up to their original commitment in the founding of Mobile College…. Through the years God has blessed us with a fine group of administrators, an outstanding faculty, and students that by any measurements far exceed the average found on a college campus.
“While I, in the words of Paul, have ‘planted,’ my successor will do the ‘watering.’ What an exciting future must be ahead for him and for this institution!…
“I have made mention of human support in the building of Mobile College, but we all must recognize that it is ‘God who giveth the increase.’ One need merely to look at the glorious history of Mobile College to see the hand of God at work. It has been true every day of the life of this institution. He has taken our weaknesses and given His strength. He has taken our efforts and enabled us to build a great school. He will continue to give ‘increase’ in the future. While I will retire from the office of president, you well know that my interest in this school will never wane.”
In announcing his retirement to the Mobile College family gathered in what is now Weaver Auditorium, the president praised the student body and spoke of his love for the college. “I dreamed a lot of things in these 23 years. You are a part of the fulfillment of those dreams…the student body of Mobile College has always been far above the average.
“Building Mobile College has been more than a dream. It’s been hard work and sacrifice on the part of a lot of people. The hand of God has been upon this institution from the very first day.
“I love Mobile College, because I’ve given it everything I had for 23 years. I want to say nobody could love this school like I do — you can’t measure people’s emotions, but I know nobody could love it more than I do.”
Weaver was a humble man – he was quick to praise others and certainly never missed an opportunity to talk about Mobile College. He reveled in relating the founding of “a Christian college built on Jewish land” donated by the Altmayer family of Mobile, taking joy in the appropriateness of the parallel to Christianity’s roots in the Jewish faith.
He deflected praise directed toward himself, turning it instead toward the college, its students and faculty, its supporters and, above all, God who made it all possible. It only takes the telling of a few stories – precious memories – to illustrate how truly special, how loved and admired, this man continues to be.
At the memorial service for the World War II veteran, civic leader and ordained pastor, retired Spring Hill Baptist Church pastor Dr. Drew J. Gunnells Jr. said Weaver was a mentor and friend, like a father to him in the ministry.
“He was a genuine friend, because he would tell me the truth,” Gunnells said. Weaver was a successful pastor at one of the state’s flagship Baptist churches before becoming Mobile College president.
“Bill had the intellectual abilities, the leadership skills, the knowledge of who Baptists were and where they needed to go. He was obviously the man to lead this new school in south Alabama,” Gunnells said. “He came to Mobile and immediately saw the importance of being a part of the community. If you’re going to build something in this place, you had to have the support of the community. He was a born leader, and we’re grateful for it.
“Every great institution is the length and shadow of some individual. The University of Mobile is the length and shadow of a man who placed his life in the beginning of it, and in the strengthening of it, and even after he retired, in the encouragement of it,” Gunnells said. As alumni learned of Weaver’s passing, they shared memories across social media.
Marsha Roberts Scarborough ’85 of Spanish Fort, AL, remembered, “During the 1983 Choir Tour, Dr. Weaver surprised us by flying to one of our appearances. I think we were singing in a church in Illinois that morning. He was always so supportive of the music programs at Mobile College, and we were honored to be part of his retirement ceremony in 1984. What a legacy!”
Hope Patterson Herren ’77 of Mobile recalled, “I used to just go in his office and sit and chat. He always had time for students.”
Leigh Ann Payne Akey ’84 of Mobile added, “Heaven has gained a godly man. I cherish memories made during his tenure at University of Mobile (Mobile College). My parents also enjoyed sending him bags of Sessions peanuts from Enterprise, my hometown.”
Weaver was “a greatly admired man” said Frank Reynolds ’73 of St. Elmo, AL. That sentiment was echoed in a telephone call to the college from UMobile supporter Dr. Ed White, a longtime friend of Weaver.
White, 90, said he was a student at Howard College (now Samford University) when Weaver was in one of his first jobs as director of religious activities. That was before Weaver married the love of his life, Annie Boyd “B” Parker.
White said Weaver worked tirelessly getting to know students in organizations across campus, and was “enormously impressive and entertaining to students at Howard College when I was there.”
A “forceful minister in the pulpit,” Weaver was “always a happy individual, gracious and kind,” White said.
“Dr. Weaver had an effervescent personality which endeared him to the faculty and staff of Mobile College. The students and faculty felt he was always approachable to listen to their career dreams and other problems they may have,” White recalled.
As a Christian, Weaver “walked the walk and talked the talk, and they were synonymous with him in every aspect of his life,” White said. “Whether in the pulpit or as the sitting president at the college, or an average citizen in the community, his influence was felt.”
Dr. Dwight Steedley, now chair of the College of Arts & Sciences, was a member of the first freshman class enrolled at Mobile College in 1963, and later served as a faculty member when Weaver was president.
When asked to select a Scripture to read at Weaver’s funeral, Steedley said the choice was obvious – Matthew 25:23 — “His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.”
“I think that (verse) epitomizes Dr. Weaver,” Steedley said. “That’s the way I’ll always remember him. For me, he was a role model. He was somebody I wanted to emulate, somebody you wanted to be like.”
Steedley said Weaver “never wore his religion on his sleeve – he didn’t have to. He didn’t have to tell anybody that he was a Christian; it was obvious he was.”
Dr. Hazel Petersen-Walter, retired faculty member and administrator, said Weaver was not afraid to make unpopular decisions, and he was a strong promoter of people who worked hard.
She joined the education faculty in 1967, rising to chair of the education division then academic dean for the entire college, and eventually became a vice president.
“You remember, back in the ’60s women were not put in administrative positions. When I was named chair of the division of education, my chair was one of the highest positions held by women in higher education in the state of Alabama,” Petersen-Walter recalled. When Weaver appointed her to the post of academic dean, there were no other female academic deans in Baptist colleges nationwide.
“He thought I was the right person for that position,” she said. “I remember a meeting I went to for the Baptist colleges. I went into the dean’s meeting, and one of the gentlemen said to me, ‘The ladies are meeting in another location; this is for the deans. I said, ‘I am a dean.’”
She said Weaver loved to see the college gain recognition, develop and grow. One way he assured that success was through his own appreciation for people and a desire to help them develop. He was active in the community and would nominate faculty and staff from the college to serve in leadership positions throughout Mobile.
“Dr. Weaver had a knack of relating one-on-one with people, bringing out the best in people and rewarding them in his own kind, gentle way, just by letting you know that he appreciated what you were doing. So you always wanted to bring your best to the president and your best to the institution and the very best to your programs,” she said.
Dr. Gene Perkins, a retired member of the original faculty, remembered Weaver as “a very optimistic individual. Once you met him, he never forgot you.”
The qualities that both Dr. and Mrs. Weaver exhibited during their lifetimes are embodied in the school’s two highest awards. Each year at graduation, a male and female student are selected by the entire faculty to receive the school’s top awards. The William K. Weaver Jr. Excellence Award and the Annie Boyd Parker Weaver Excellence Award are presented to graduates who exemplify the mission of the university and selection is based on scholarship, Christian character, leadership and service.
Will Dorminy, now a UMobile campus life coordinator, was the 2013 recipient of the award named for Dr. Weaver. Like most of the more than 1,600 students now enrolled, he had never met the university’s chancellor. What Dorminy knew of the founding president was by reputation and through his own experience as a student at the college Weaver devoted his life to building.
“I only heard Dr. Weaver referred to with utmost respect,” Dorminy said. Being selected for the award that bears the founding president’s name was a humbling experience.
“In April of my senior year in high school, when my father and I made our last visit to Mobile, he said to me that the University of Mobile would be a different place after my time here, and challenged me with those words. It became my goal to leave a legacy on this campus and seek to be intentional about change, first in my life and then in the world around me.
“Some days were more of a challenge to remember those words, but I believe my mark on this campus is found in the students and faculty I came in contact with who saw a genuine love for people and felt encouraged to do the same. In this way, I hope that I mirrored the giant who preceded me, Dr. William K. Weaver Jr. I am truly honored to be compared to him and I pray that we would see his legacy continued and that current and future students will leave a legacy of their own,” Dorminy said.
A Clear Vision
At the memorial service, Foley said the driving element in Weaver’s life was to be of service to God and to be directed by God in that service. The forum for that service was the founding and building of what became the University of Mobile.
After serving as a successful pastor of First Baptist Church of Sylacauga for a decade and leading the committee charged with exploring options for forming a Baptist college in Mobile, Weaver was chosen to be the founding president effective April 1, 1961.
The new college president’s first work day was on the afternoon of April 4, 1961, when the Mobile Register reported that he “simply hung up his hat in the college offices at 836 First National Bank Building and went to work.”
The first class of 181 freshmen enrolled in 1963, attending class and studying in the library in the only building on campus, now Weaver Hall. Weaver retired as president in 1984 and was named chancellor, a position he held until his death. Today the school has an enrollment of more than 1,600 students.
“I felt God’s leadership,” Weaver would say, “and saw a great opportunity here for a new Christian college.”
Foley said Weaver “could see through the protective layers of emotional dressing to identify a broken heart as a church pastor in Sylacauga or as a college president in Mobile, leaving that injured heart with a healing touch never to be forgotten.
“He could see through the organizational morass of a denominational committee or of a college faculty to find a clear path to an objective leading the various, and often contrary, opinions to a consensus with kindness and wisdom that became the trademark of his leadership.
“And, he could see through the pine forests and hills of a piece of property north of Mobile to understand that a college campus was there waiting to emerge and, once emerged, to be a launching point for thousands of graduates who would bring the culture of Christ into their various professions.”
Foley said the heavenly reunion of Bill and “B,” who passed away five years ago, must surely be sweet.
“I can just imagine “B” with a demure smile upon her lovely face and Bill with his broad, ready smile and a twinkle in his eyes as “B” looked him over and reached up to straighten his tie just so.
“And I can imaging “B” saying to him, ‘Oh Bill…come, let me show you. There is so much more for you
Dr. William K. Weaver Jr. was born in Oxford, AL, to William Kiser Weaver Sr. and Roberta Cooper Weaver. The family moved to Talladega a year later.
A 1936 graduate of Talladega High School, Weaver graduated in 1940 with a Bachelor of Arts from Howard College, now Samford University, and in 1943 with a Master of Theology from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He was awarded the honorary Doctor of Divinity from Samford University and the honorary Doctor of Law from University of Mobile.
He was ordained to the ministry by First Baptist Church of Talladega on March 1, 1942, and served as an associate in the Baptist Training Union Department of Kentucky, the first Director of Religious Activities at Howard College/Samford University, the Director of Baptist Student Work in Alabama, and pastor of First Baptist Church, Sylacauga, from 1950-1961, then was named founding president of Mobile College in 1961.
He served in World War II as a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy Chaplain Corps and was stationed on a blimp base in South Weymouth, MA; on the U.S. Kadashan Bay CVE 76, a small aircraft carrier, in the Pacific; and at the Naval Separation Center on Norman, OK.
Weaver was extensively involved in community service and was named Mobilian of the Year in 1983, an honor awarded annually since 1948 by the Civitan Club to some of the most influential leaders in the Mobile community. A Rotarian since 1950, he was president of Sylacauga Rotary Club and Rotary Club of Mobile. He served on the Board of Directors of the Rotary Club of Mobile, governor of District 688 Rotary International, the Board of Directors of Rotary Children’s Foundation and Board of Directors of Rotary Rehabilitation Center. He was the third member of the Rotary Club of Mobile to be named a Paul Harris Fellow, received the Rotary Club of Mobile “Rotarian of the Year Award” and Rotary District 6880 “Meritorius Achievement Award.”
Among numerous awards, he received the Mobile Register’s “M.O. Beale Scroll of Merit” seven times and the Distinguished Award from the Alabama Easter Seal Society in 1990.
Weaver served on the following denominational, educational and community boards: Chairman, Alabama Baptist State Executive Board; Chairman, Alabama Baptist Historical Commission; Deacon and Sunday School Teacher, First Baptist Church of Mobile; Chairman, Board of Directors, Baptist Oaks Retirement Center; Trustee, Alabama Association of Independent Colleges and Universities; Board of Directors, Council for Advancement of Small Colleges in America; Board of Trustees, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; President, Southern Baptist Association of Colleges and Universities; Chairman, Southern Baptist Education Commission; Chairman, Selection Committee, Bedsole Scholars Program; Chairman, Board of Directors and President, Community Chest and Council; United Way of Southwest Alabama Campaign Chairman 1983; Library Board, City of Mobile; Chairman, Advisory Committee America’s Junior Miss Pageant; Board of Directors, America’s Junior Miss Scholarship Foundation; Mobile Area Council, Boy Scouts of America; Mobile Chapter, American Red Cross; Mobile Museum Board; Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce; Chairman, Easter Seal Society; Advisory Board, Mobile Chapter Freedoms Foundation; Gordon Smith Center, Board of Directors; Steering Committee, Mobile United; First Dean of Leadership Mobile Program; President, Leadership Mobile; and Volunteer Mobile, Board of Directors.
He was preceded in death by his beloved wife “B,” Annie Boyd Parker Weaver, and a brother, Davis C. Weaver, M.D., and his parents.
He is survived by his daughter, Anne Weaver Davis and son-in-law Thomas H. Davis Jr.; three grandsons: Thomas H. “Trey” Davis III (Brooke), Campbell G. Davis, and Clayton C. Davis (Mary Ann); a great-granddaughter, Lucy Grey Davis; and siblings Ann Weaver Armstrong and Robert C. Weaver.
Memorial contributions may be made to the University of Mobile designated for the William K. Weaver Jr. Endowed Scholarship. Gifts may be made online at umobile.edu/give or by mail to: University of Mobile Development Office, 5735 College Parkway, Mobile, AL 36613.