William McGill ’57
Degrees: B.A., history; M.A. and Ph.D. in history from Harvard; L.H.D.
from Lebanon Valley College
Job Title: Retired from Lebanon Valley College in 1988 as senior vice president and dean of the faculty emeritus
Favorite Trinity Memory: It occurred on the steps of the Chapel the first Sunday I was on campus. I walked over from my room in what was then called “New Dorm.” Arriving there, I met another first-year who was pacing back and forth in front of the steps. He informed me that the Chapel was locked. It quickly dawned on both of us that this was the Sunday that Standard Time had resumed. Thus, partners in folly, we struck up a conversation. He was Ward Curran and, like myself, he was an Illinois Scholar and a St. Louis Cardinals fan. Sophomore year we roomed together, we ended up in the same fraternity, and actually both majored in history, though he switched to economics to great effect. Though contacts have been intermittent over the years, he was my first acquaintance at Trinity. We have remained friends.
Reporter: How did you come to possess the collection of books on John
McGill: In the late 1980s I began collecting the works of R. S. Thomas, a Welsh poet and priest, one of the great English language poets of the 20th century. He had also written some prose, including a book, Mountains, which I acquired. The illustrator was John Piper. I was struck by the strength of the connection between Thomas’ language and Piper’s images. Not long after that, my wife and I went to London. We learned that the Imperial War Museum was having an exhibit of Piper’s works. It was stunning, ranging from his painting of the ruins of Coventry Cathedral the day after the devastating air raid that destroyed much of the city, to images of the stained glass window in the New Coventry Cathedral, which Piper designed. This led to side trips to Coventry and to Chichester, where he had designed a tapestry for the cathedral… and then to my collecting books he illustrated, things that he wrote, and things written about him.
Reporter: How do you think this collection will enhance the Watkinson?
McGill: I think it is a rich addition to the British studies materials, and because of its variety it strengthens the resources in a number of areas (not only art, but literature, music, and history).
Reporter: What will the collection bring to the students?
McGill: It will enrich what is available for students pursuing various topics and should increase the variety of topics in which research can be done. Piper’s connections with the Sitwell family, John Betjeman, and Benjamin Britten contribute both to a better understanding of him and of them. With Henry Moore, Graham Sutherland, and Josef Epstein, he was one of the giants of mid-20th-century British art. The Shell Guide Series are still valuable guides for travel, even though they are dated. I would even hope that some students would simply be refreshed for pursuing other tasks by leafing through some of the materials, seeing the world with a different eye.
Reporter: How did Trinity inform your career as an academic
McGill: As I reflect on my experience at Trinity, I am struck by the fact that while I had a number of good faculty, the four from whom I felt I learned the most and whose classes I enjoyed the most were Samuel French Morse, Norton Downs, Philip Bankwitz, and Kenneth Walter Cameron. They were all very different in personality and style. I have no idea what their relationships with the dean were, but when I came to Lebanon Valley College, I came with the view that while there were managerial responsibilities attached to the position, the central function was to be an enabler. It was my duty to help as many of the individual faculty to be the best they could be as teachers.
Reporter: Why make this gift to Trinity?
McGill: I have spent almost my entire professional career at four small liberal arts college. Two of them still rank high in my affections: Alma and LVC. One result is that I have tended to be more generous in my monetary gifts to them than to Trinity, and I felt I had some making up to do. Additionally, Trinity has the Watkinson Special Collections Library. Having met the director, Richard Ring, I felt assured that these wonderful works, which I have gathered, will be wisely cared for.