“I could sing ‘The Spirit’ before I could sing the national anthem,” R.L. Terrell Williams ’74 recalls when asked why he never thought of attending any other college. “It was a part of my life all my life,” he says, thanks to his father, E.H. “Judge” Williams Jr. ’935, who took him to the Institute for football games and introduced him to brother rats and other alumni in the Richmond area.
Another big part of Williams’ life was baseball. He started when he was a young boy and played through high school. When he matriculated, however, his playing days seemed at an end. As a rat, he was a manager for the football team which meant that he had responsibilities in the spring that prevented him from trying out for the team. “I was missing baseball terribly,” he said. “So, during third class year, I spoke to the baseball coach about going out for the team. He was hardly enthusiastic, and, so, I thought maybe I’d have to let baseball go.”
But such was his love of the game that, the next year, he mounted a concerted effort to make the team. “I got very serious about it.” Williams stepped back from the football team and applied himself to getting into shape. Such was his determination that, if he had spare time in the evenings, he would change into gym dyke and run wind sprints in Cocke Hall.
His efforts bore the desired fruit, and he made the team. “It was great,” he said. “I was a starter all that year and the next year, as well. The team was made up of a great group of guys, and I had a good time.”
His pursuit of a spot on the team had other benefits. “My attitude changed about a lot of things. I stopped clowning around and getting demerits and penalty tours, and my grades improved.” According to Williams, by preparing for baseball, he had developed a discipline that he could channel into other aspects of his life. “I learned to focus on an objective, and I’ve been able to apply that through business school at William & Mary and a career as an insurance broker.”
It was at William & Mary that he met his wife, Sarah, a fellow business school student. As soon as they began dating, she was immersed in VMI life. “When I met his brother rats, they struck me as the craziest people I had ever met – and some of the best.” She also saw the effects of the VMI experience on Williams. “It was obvious that honor was an essential part of his life – and not just in the big things, but in everything, no matter how small.” Their marriage has been, as Sarah put it, “a life full of VMI.” They have attended all of his class reunions and football and basketball games. Fittingly, it was a visit to post less than two weeks before Christmas 2019 that inspired Mrs. Williams to make an unforgettable Christmas gift.
With some friends, they had stopped at VMI for a quick visit with Williams serving as tour guide. While their friends were taking in the sights, Sarah’s attention was focused on her husband. “You could see and feel his pride in and love for VMI. He became almost emotional at times.” It was on the trip home that she resolved to do something special for him at VMI.
She settled on the establishment of a baseball scholarship in her husband’s name, but she had no idea how to proceed. “So, I just called the VMI Alumni Agencies and told them what I wanted to do.” She was soon talking to Andrew C. Deal ’12, VMI Keydet Club vice president, who played baseball as a cadet. In short order, she was talking with Charles Plageman ’90, major gift officer, and had worked out the scholarship’s details, including its purpose – to support the baseball team – and its funding. “The process was very clear,” she recalls, “and the people were great.” Sarah also wanted to have a memorandum of understanding establishing the R.L. Terrell Williams ’74 Baseball Scholarship to give her husband on Christmas morning. “It was, I admit, short notice, but the Agencies came through.” The document, housed in a handsome case, was in her hands Dec. 23, and it was the final gift that Williams received on Christmas Day.
His reaction? “It was a total surprise!” recalled Williams. “I was thrilled. It was the best Christmas present I’ve ever received.”
Asked why she had directed the scholarship to VMI baseball, Sarah answered, “Terrell is passionate about baseball. When he was working in New York, his company had tickets to Yankee Stadium. When I’d visit, we’d go to a game, and he would explain its intricacies to me. Plus, he loved being a baseball player at VMI, and I knew he’d love being reconnected to VMI baseball.” She also stressed the scholarship’s effects on cadets. “We want young men to have the same opportunity that Terrell had at VMI: Getting a great education – and education is a game changer – and realizing the benefits of being involved in athletics – self-discipline, teamwork, focus, self-confidence – all of which they then apply to their careers and their families.”
“What anyone who plays sports at the NCAA or club sport level gets out of doing so is huge,” Williams said. “You work as a team, depending on other people as they depend on you, and build camaraderie. You set goals and then you achieve them. You get to travel and broaden your horizons a bit. It rounds out an education. That was my experience at VMI, and we want others to have it, too.”
“I am so grateful to Sarah for doing this,” he continued. “I am looking forward to watching the cadet who receives this scholarship go through the system, and I can’t wait for the Keydet Club scholarship dinner when I’ll get to meet him. I lived a life full of VMI, and this is an exclamation point on it.”
Scott Belliveau '83 Communications Officer - Executive Projects
The communications officer supports the strategy for all communications, including web content, public relations messages and collateral pieces in order to articulate and promote the mission of the VMI Alumni Agencies and promote philanthropy among varied constituencies.
Christian Heilman Director of Digital Content
The director of digital content is responsible for creating original video and multimedia materials, as well as developing and editing web and digital content. The manager is responsible for platform coordination and troubleshooting, to include the VMI Alumni Agencies’ primary websites, digital newsletter and other digital platforms.