FEELING BLUE (continued)


. . . dean of admissions, and the athletic director, worked on budgets and schedules, served as our accreditation liaison officer, authored accreditation documents, led institutional research, developed trustee reports, and overseen our off-campus programs. He's played virtually every position in the field.”

No sooner did we settle into our conversation than a group of faculty and staff filled out the open end of the table. They had come, as they did once a week, to discuss the five planks over enchiladas. It was impossible not to let them jump into our exchange. Thomas grabbed extra napkins to make more notes.

“Bill has always had the ‘Wright Stuff,'" Rick Pointer noted, adjusting his Mets cap as he spoke. “It’s a combination of measured good sense, wise counsel, personal humility, dedicated service, and unflagging love and loyalty to the college's mission. If Westmont has flourished over the past generation, Bill has played no small part in making that happen."

"Baseball needs people who know and remember the past," Thomas observed, "not just today's stats." "Bill IS our institutional memory,” Lisa DeBoer quickly assured him. “Thinking of Westmont without Bill reminds me of all those sci-fi scenarios where the contents of someone's brain is downloaded into a computer! Perhaps we need to get Wayne Iba and Don Patterson working on this. What will we do without him?” “Of course, we have no idea how we're going to survive without the vast amount of information in Bill's head,” Patti Hunter admitted. “Whether it's the origin of a policy or an explanation for why we do something the way we do, Bill can almost always tell you when the practice began, whose idea it was, whether or not it was controversial at the time, and what kind of financial implication it has had on the college. He can crunch the numbers, see the budget big picture, motivate and inspire the people who work with him, put any current question or controversy in its institutional and historical context, and keep accreditors satisfied.”

“That’s no small achievement,” Tom Knecht stated. “Admittedly there are some tough jobs in this world—Chipotle food tester, Bobby Knight's anger management coach, and faculty vice chair come to mind. But nothing compares to the back-breaking work of being lead author of the WASC Report. Bill Wright faced this Herculean task with courage, skill, and aplomb: he deftly navigated the labyrinthine requirements, mastered the mystifying language of acronyms, and corralled a wayward faculty.”

Thomas admitted that the Dodgers' head office had hired a young staff, many of whom needed mentoring. Michelle Hardley promptly spoke to the matter: “Bill is pretty much the ideal boss,” she remarked. “He gives me the space to freely make my own decisions and recognizes that the ‘way he did things in his day’ may not apply to the current situations. He has the perfect blend of authority and camaraderie. I am ever grateful for his calm presence, his quick wit, and his sometimes-awkward comments. He is a dear soul and I will deeply miss him when he leaves.”

“I have loved working with Bill as much as anyone at the college,” Chris Hoeckley stated. “He’s a tough critic during program development, but a great advocate when the hard questions have been asked and answered. I’ll miss his selfless and courageous leadership. I think we all will.” “Yes, Bill has been a true partner in our work together on various committees and projects,” Doug Jones stated, and Cynthia Toms echoed that sentiment: “I am also very grateful for Bill’s willingness to gently guide me and others through budgets and program projects. With his scrutiny, he catches even the smallest detail and insight. I never feel comfortable stamping a final approval on numbers until they have gone under Bill’s watchful eye. He gives sound advice, support for initiatives, and even a perfect cup of brewed Starbucks each morning for the entire office by 8:30 a.m.”

By this time Jesse Covington, dressed to teach in his favorite Atlanta Braves jacket, wandered into the room, and when he overhead the conversation he walked over to add his own thoughts. “Working closely with Bill was one of the real pleasures of preparing to lead Westmont's Europe Semester,” he stated. "Even after we left on the trip, Bill would periodically email us on Fridays (our usual meeting day during the preparation months) just to touch base, see how we were, and say that he missed our regular meetings. In addition to his great administrative gifts and sense of humor, I am particularly grateful for Bill's commitment and loyalty to those working on projects within his purview. On a number of occasions I've been grateful that Bill ‘had my back’ or that of someone else in a similar position. My favorite e-mail from Bill was a three-word, all-caps message that he sent to me in Paris while I was leading Westmont's Europe Semester. Apparently I'd replied to an e-mail of his at an hour that he deemed too late in Europe, so he simply wrote: ‘GO TO BED!’”

As our hour ventured toward a close, Thomas moved quickly to make his pitch. “Simply put, we are ready to offer a trade,” he said, folding his napkins of notes and sliding them inside his jacket. “We’ll take Wright for the rest of the semester and give you Clayton Kershaw and a player to be named later.”

I paused for a moment, weighing the proposal. Then I met a sidelong glance from Rob Ruiz, his stare a clear caution against an early concession. So I thanked Thomas for coming, handed him my Westmont card, and started gently toward the exit. “You’ve got my number,” I said as I rose to leave. “Call me when you are ready to make a more serious offer.”