Presented By Martha Allman
Office of Admissions
Wake Forest University
June 22, 2001
I come today to celebrate Bill Starling on behalf of the extended “office family.” Many of us here today worked with Bill in Admissions and Financial Aid over these past 43 years. Our hearts are full. He was our boss, our colleague, our mentor, our dear and colorful friend. He was larger than life, a sustainer of the spirit of Wake Forest.
We have all learned so much from Bill Starling. Where do we begin?
For starters he taught us to appreciate eastern North Carolina barbeque and sweet iced tea in a styrofoam cup—or multiple styrofoam cups—and to take lunch very, very seriously. He appreciated fine dining, Mountain Fried Chicken, Bell Brothers, Hog’s Wild. His favorite deli meat was tongue (how appropriate for one who spun such long and good tales.)
We learned that golf is not a game but a way of life and that each shot should be savored so that it can be slowly and painstakingly recounted back at the office. We learned that Wake Forest golfers are not mere mortals and that when they call on the phone or send golf clubs as gifts through the mail, unabated joy ensues. We learned that competition is a fine thing, especially if it is with oneself.
We learned from Bill how to function in the midst of unbelievable clutter. Bill’s office is, of course, legendary. In 1983 when we celebrated Bill’s 25th admissions anniversary year with a roast, we moved his desk to the East Lounge of Reynolda Hall for the celebration. When the desk was hoisted, an interview card fell out dated September 26, 1965. Which brings me to the most famous “Bill’s office story.” A number of years ago, when the admissions office was in Reynolda Hall, following an on-campus rock concert, Bill was awakened in the middle of the night by a call from University police. “Mr. Starling we have some bad news. A brick was thrown through your office window tonight and the perpetrator subsequently ransacked your office.” When he arrived on the scene moments later, Bill surveyed the office and with an air of relief reported that no—everything was just as he had left it earlier in the day. Amazingly there was a system—he knew where the important stuff was.
Perhaps Bill’s greatest lesson to us was that work and play should flow together. He integrated work into play and play into work so that they were all part of a seamless love of life. He had a great deal of fun. He loved Wake Forest and his job here so passionately, he often remarked that if the University quit paying him, he would do it for free. He interviewed thousands of students and read thousands of admissions and scholarship applications but he never forgot that these were unique individuals full of potential—their parents’ precious treasures. He read their files carefully, meticulously, the last one of the day the same as the first. His mind was brilliant, he loved to gently grill students on political issues or books that they had read. When an hour was allocated for a student interview, he always spent two or maybe more but emerged with a clear understanding of a student’s match to Wake Forest. He truly enjoyed probing young minds and knew that native intelligence had to be married to character, maturity and potential. From these marathon interviews, the students emerged understanding the very essence of Wake Forest. Bill Starling was that essence. His memory was phenomenal, his curiousity keen, his clear thinking and ability to cut to the core of an issue, renowned.
Bill taught us to be ever trustworthy. He prided himself on being a clever horse trader but his integrity never faltered. He was the confidant of many who sought his counsel on matters professional and personal. His advice was wise and valued and we always knew our secrets were safe.
We learned from Bill to think before speaking and to weigh all the facts and then weigh them a second time after they had been given a little while to season. He was deliberate and measured, but gently understanding of the passion and exuberance of youth.
A few years ago when my child was facing a difficult illness, Bill said to me,”I’ll pray for you—no that won’t do any good, I’ll have Elinor pray for you and THAT will make a difference.” He was warm and humble and kind and we always knew that he loved us and was proud of us—those of us who left the nest for other endeavors and those who stayed behind.
Bill now joins the great men and women of Wake Forest history. A Wake Forest Legend. From him we have learned much. We will miss him every day and see him, smoky and gruff, the green plastic raincoat draped over his shoulder or standing on the Admissions Office stoop smoking a cigarette chiding us for being late to work. And, when we hit a straight down the middle drive or eat fine barbeque, interview a student, read a file or package an award we will thank him for what he taught us and WE WILL, INDEED, CARRY THE TORCH.
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