H-SC President, 1992-2000
In the down days of July 1992 the Board shocked itself by finding an able and willing President tilling his garden on an ancestral farm near Rice, just twelve miles away. Moreover, his ancestry continues an unbroken connection to the College's origins; for Samuel Vaughan Wilson is a great-great-great-great grandson of founding Trustee Nathaniel Venable, whose descendants and their in-laws have been on the Board (and on the faculty and in the student body) since 1775. At the top of his high-school class, in 1940 he was ready to enter Hampden-Sydney; but, inspired by Churchill's oratory, he fibbed about his age and enlisted in the army as a private. Grim combat duty with Merrill's Marauders in Southeast Asia was followed by a brilliant career in military intelligence, during which he attended graduate school at Columbia and became fluent in Russian. He rose to Lieutenant General, finishing his service as Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency and Deputy Director of the CIA. He retired to Rice in 1977, received the College's LL.D. in 1979, and began teaching courses on national security in 1981; at the 1992 Commencement the Senior Class presented him its faculty appreciation award. Though 68, he refused the caretaker role of an acting president and became the oldest man ever elected President. On his first day he set the tone by inspecting every room in every College building; in his first address he fixed the focus: the uncompromised cultivation of the student-faculty enterprise. Then, astonishingly visible and efficiently energetic, he orchestrated a program that touched every facet of the operation: buildings and grounds, admissions, faculty recruitment, student life, athletics, and the endowment (his announced goal in 1992 was $100 million; by Summer 2000 it reached $120 million). And throughout the eight years he taught a Sunday School class for students and missed few home athletic events. Perhaps "General Sam" sensed Nathaniel Venable beholding the unheard-of prosperity from Slate Hill plantation's old office, where the College was organized, which he could see through his office window. Elected President Emeritus in 2000, he continues faculty service as the Wheat Professor of Leadership; at his last Commencement he received the B.A. that he had forgone the opportunity to earn.