A life of green and gold

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April 25, 2008

3:48 AM

Sam Sadler ’64 is the College’s everyman.

He has excelled in many fields during his career in Williamsburg, and he has the awards and certificates on his wall to prove it. Somehow, though, the item that stands out most in his office is a greeting card featuring the visage of noted green eggs and ham enthusiast Sam-I-Am.

When Sadler meets with a student, be it the president of the Student Assembly or just a writer for The Flat Hat, he doesn’t put on an air of administrative authority. He’s just Sam. And even though Sadler graduated in 1964, students still find ways to relate to him.

Sadler has spent 44 of the last 48 years at the College, and he cherishes the relationships he has built with students. The kind of rapport he has with students now was uncommon when he came to campus as a student in the fall of 1960.

“It was before the protest era, and we took a lot of things for granted,” Sadler said. “They had a lot of parietal rules. There was this whole notion of controlling students rather than nurturing them. It was all about student responsibilities, not student rights.”

Despite the restrictions on campus, Sadler enjoyed his four years as a student and stayed very active in campus activities. He was head cheerleader, charter president of Alpha Phi Omega, a member of Pi Lambda Phi (a social fraternity) and Pi Delta Epsilon (the Society for Collegiate Journalists), and chair of the social events committee, a position through which he helped re-establish an event called Spring Finals Weekend or, as students today know it, the King and Queen Ball. Sadler also held several positions at The Flat Hat, sang in the choir and was selected as a member of Omicron Delta Kappa, a leadership honor society.

“I was involved in just about everything,” he said. “My mother used to say I should major in out-of-class activities.” Sadler chose government instead.

Between activities and studying, he managed to meet two people who would become important figures in his life. The first was a freshman from Ohio who was to live on the hall for which Sadler was an orientation aide. Sadler waited outside Hunt Hall for the last student in his group to arrive.

“I remember being hungry; I wanted to get lunch,” Sadler said. “Finally this car from Ohio came up and out came Timothy J. Sullivan.”

Even though he was late on move-in day, Sullivan ’66 went on to become the 25th president of the College, someone with whom Sadler would work very closely later in life.

The second special student whom Sadler met during his undergraduate days went on to become his wife.

“I met Mary Liz through a mutual friend,” Sadler said. “She was a year behind me, and we dated through college. We got engaged during the summer after my senior year and got married in the Wren Chapel the day after she graduated in 1965.”

If there’s any doubt that the two were meant to be, one need only look to their names: William Samuel and Mary Liz.

After graduation, the newly married couple spent a year in North Carolina before moving to Portland, Ore., where Sam worked in the public health sector. One day in 1967, Sam received a wedding invitation in the mail from a college friend.

“I had lost track of him, so I called him up to congratulate him, forgetting that it was 3 a.m. where he was living. He had taken a job at the College, but had recently resigned. He knew I was interested in working in higher education, so he had put my name in as a possible replacement. Three days later, Dean Hunt called and offered me the job.”

Sadler always knew he wanted to help college students for a living.

“There were people here when I was a student that challenged me, opened doors and created opportunities,” he said. “I was a different person when I graduated, and I was very aware of that. If I could help another young person in their formative years, that would be the most satisfying thing I could do.”

So Sadler moved back across the country to take a job as assistant dean of admissions. Gradually, he worked his way up from acting dean of men in 1970 to dean of men in 1971 to dean of students in 1973 to dean of Student Affairs in 1983. Along the way, he managed to earn his master of educational administration degree from the College in 1971. He finally assumed his current post — vice president for Student Affairs — in 1989.

“My whole experience here has been so serendipitous,” Sadler said. “Whenever I thought I had done all I thought I could, another opportunity came along.”

Now, after 41 years as an administrator, he is retiring to spend more time with his family.

“It is time for me to repay my wife and family with more of my time,” Sadler wrote in an e-mail to the Parents Committee after announcing his decision. “They have not had as much of that as they deserved over the years. Truth be told, it is their sacrifice that has made what I do possible.”

Now, looking back, Sadler finds it hard to pick out one favorite moment. “There are so many,” he said. “I just get floods of images trying to pick one.”

He eventually picked a memory that encapsulated his love for the College:

“The last year that Margaret Thatcher was our chancellor, it was a perfect spring day, and the graduates were walking over to William and Mary Hall where they were going to hear from arguably the most powerful woman leader of the 20th century. It just hit me how great this university had become — the affiliation with a great world leader, the beauty of campus, all wrapped up in one moment. I just have this incredible pride to have been associated with it for so long. It’s been a very special journey. I wouldn’t have traded it for anything, except more time with my family.”

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