The College will bid farewell this spring to Steve Birrell, vice president for Alumni Relations and Development, who will retire at the end of the fiscal year. He has worked for the College for 21 years since graduating in 1964.
Birrell said he has witnessed the College grow and develop over the past five decades, from a school that was primarily all white and male with fraternities and compulsory chapel to a school that is both ethnically and geographically diverse.
Birrell identified his two primary accomplishments at the College as being part of the Williams Campaign, which began in the summer of 2000 and concluded on December 31, and coining the term “second endowment,” which symbolizes “the accumulation of the extraordinary affection, respect, gratitude, generosity and love that Williams alumni feel for the College,” he said. He believes that it is important to specify the difference between the financial endowment and the second endowment, which is not monetary but “in many respects equally as valuable.”
After graduating from the College, Birrell worked to train teachers. He set up the University of New Hampshire’s teacher education program and in his last two years there ran its corporate and foundation fundraising program. He returned to Williams in 1984 to work as an officer for the Third Century fundraising campaign.
From 1991 to 1995, Birrell did suffer four “dark years,” as colleague Lewis Fisher joked, working at Amherst as the director of Alumni Relations, Development, and Public Affairs. Birrell said that the job “offered him a significant professional challenge,” which he was not positive he would be offered the chance to have at Williams. However, in 1995 he was offered the job of vice president for Alumni Relations and Development at Williams and returned to his beloved college, where he has worked for the past 14 years. “Fortunately for all of us he escaped from [his work at Amherst] unscathed and Williams has benefited ever since,” Fisher said.
“While all members of the Williams family feel affection for their College, there are varying levels of devotion and commitment,” said Brooks Foehl, director of Alumni Relations and secretary of the Society of Alumni. “Steve’s career at Williams has not only been tremendously successful, it [also] represents the highest level of service one can make to [his] alma mater.”
Looking back on his time at the College, Birrell described it as “a truly remarkable place.”
“[Williams] has evolved and even transformed itself so dramatically and so positively in the nearly 50 years since I entered in 1960,” he said. “It was a really good place in 1960, but it is such a better place now.”
He believes that one of the most significant challenges now “is to move Williams forward so that this diverse community becomes a truly inclusive community and that that sense of inclusion spreads to the alumni body as well as the undergrad college.”
After observing and helping the College evolve for over 50 years, Birrell will retire at the end of this year to stay with his wife in Williamstown and have more time for children, grandchildren, travel and volunteer activities such as working on the development committee of the North Adams Regional Hospital.
“Thinking back, it is with some satisfaction and even gratitude that Williams has been such a central part of my entire life,” Birrell said.