Will Doffermyre Houston Remarks

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Will Doffermyre, Economics ’02 and Law ‘06, is the Chair of the Economics Engagement Committee. He is an attorney with Williams and Connolly and lives in Washington, DC with his wife Bessie and son William. On February 1, 2012, Will spoke at a lunch in Houston, TX, about his support of the Excellence in Economics Campaign. The following are his remarks from the event:

Will Doffermyre, Economics ’02 and Law ‘06, is the Chair of the Economics Engagement Committee. He is an attorney with Williams and Connolly and lives in Washington, DC with his wife Bessie and son William. On February 1, 2012, Will spoke at a lunch in Houston, TX, about his support of the Excellence in Economics Campaign. The following are his remarks from the event:


“Good afternoon. My name is Will Doffermyre. I am one of Mr. Elzinga’s former students. One of the 40,000.

When the UVa folks asked that I say a few words here, I was of two minds. On the one hand, who wants to stand up in front of a bunch of unfamiliar faces and ask for money? On the other hand, this is about Mr. Elzinga – and I can think of nothing that would be easier to speak about from the heart than the impact that Professor Elzinga had on my experience at UVa.

The fact of the matter is that I don’t know why people choose to give back to their schools. And I have never before stood up and asked a group of people to give money to anything. All I can do is tell you why I’m supporting this effort: I love the University of Virginia. I love the grounds, I love the architecture, I love the philosophy of the school, I love everything that I learned while I was there, and I love the many lifelong friends that I made.

I love what UVa gave me. And I think it’s incumbent on me to do what I can to make sure that the next class – the next generation of Wahoos – has as great of an experience at UVa as I did. That’s what this campaign represents. For me personally – and I’m sure for many people in this room – my experience at UVa would not have been the same without Professor Elzinga.

So, rather than bore you with a discussion about the financial needs of the college or the future goals of the economics department, I’m just going to tell you about this professor that had such an impact on my time at UVa.

I met Mr. Elzinga my first year. He actually called me the very first week of school, but I didn’t end up meeting him until months later. As I’m sure many of you do, I have the clearest recollection of my first few days at Virginia. We were inundated by all sorts of student groups trying to get our attention right off the bat. Nowadays it may be email or Twitter or Facebook, but back then you would have a red blinking light on your dorm room landline and a slew of voice messages from various groups. I still remember checking my voicemail on that first Thursday or Friday when I got an unexpected message.

It was Professor Elzinga. I think the first message was actually a fraternity inviting me to some sort of slip-and-slide keg party in Mad Bowl. And then there was a message from this professor, Mr. Elzinga. He invited me to come by to his Pavilion on the lawn to meet him and some other first year students. I remember him saying that his wife Terry had cooked up some brownies.

I honestly had no idea who Professor Elzinga was. And this was my first Friday at college. The fraternity guys were already on their way to take me over to Madison bowl. So I picked up the phone and called Mr. Elzinga and politely declined the brownie invitation. I say “politely,” but I actually recall telling him on the phone that “brownies on a Friday” night really didn’t sound like “my sort of thing…”

If I were Mr. Elzinga, I never would have called me back. But he didn’t give up on me. I don’t recall exactly when we met up, but I know that by then I had learned who he was. My dad told me that “this guy who invited me for brownies” was his economics professor way back when. I think he also said something like “this isn’t just any old professor – he is certainly the most prolific (and probably the most beloved) professor in the history of the University.” What I remember most clearly is my father saying that Mr. Elzinga had more of an impact and positive influence on his life than any other professor at UVa. Knowing that my dad lost his father during his college years, this spoke volumes to me then. And still does now.

Anyway, like I said, I don’t recall exactly how Mr. Elzinga tracked me down. But eventually I was sitting near the back row of his Econ 201 class and was a regular guest in his Pavilion – Pavilion IV on the lawn – for either coffee or tea or student gatherings or what have you.

Perhaps the most significant impact that professor Elzinga had was my third year, when he invited me and three of my closest friends to have coffee in his pavilion every Thursday morning at 8 am. We didn’t have any agenda really. We just talked about what was going on around grounds. What challenges we were facing in the classroom and down on Rugby Road. We talked about family and friends. And we would discuss our faith in God.

Anyone who knows Mr. Elzinga knows about his remarkable Christian faith. But what you might not know, unless you’ve been in a setting like those Thursday mornings in his Pavilion, is Ken’s true gift of revealing his faith through his example of patience and kindness. He was always quick to listen, and very slow to speak. He never pushed his view of religion or his view of faith on anyone. I’m sure in his heart-of-hearts, he sometimes wanted to scream about the things he heard us say on those Thursday mornings. But he never did. He would mostly just listen to us. And every now and then he’d join in the conversation to provide some subtle insights. Sometimes what he said related to God. But more often it was simply insights about life from an adult. Some wisdom from a professor. Or just some advice from a good friend.

I still cherish those Thursday mornings in Pavilion IV. The time and energy that Mr. Elzinga devoted to me during those years is largely why I’ve devoted my efforts to this campaign.

What’s so incredible is that my experience is far from unique. This was – and still is – the norm with Mr. Elzinga. Virtually every phone call that I have made – every conversation I’ve had about this campaign – has confirmed that Mr. Elzinga was this way with so many of his students. And he especially was during those ten years that he lived on the lawn.

Did you know that Ken and his wife Terry were actually scheduled to move off the Lawn in 1997, the year before I arrived at UVa. But when their five years were up, unbeknownst to them, a group of students petitioned the Board of Visitors to make a special exception. Because Mr. Elzinga used his pavilion in exactly the way that Mr. Jefferson intended the pavilions to be used, it was completely senseless to let him leave. The Board of Visitors didn’t blink an eye. They gave the Elzingas five more years on the lawn.

When his second five years were up, the students again didn’t want to let him go; but Mr. Elzinga humbly declined another term, not wanting to appear to be above the rules. Instead, he told his students and the Board of Visitors – “if you feel so strongly about this, what you ought to do is find another college professor who will use this pavilion for the benefit of the students – use it the way Mr. Jefferson intended these Pavilions to be used.” And that’s exactly what they did. When Mr. Elzinga moved out, Professor Larry Sabato moved into Pavilion IV.

I hear that Mr. Sabato has been a good steward of what I will always call “Mr. Elzinga’s Pavilion.” But, let’s be honest, he had some really big shoes to fill.

Did you know that Mr. Elzinga has invited every single one of his students – every year – to Thanksgiving dinner at his house? Remember, were talking about 40,000 students. My sweet wife would kill me if I did that . . . .

How about this? Mr. Elzinga has never missed a class in his 40 years of teaching. I actually didn’t know that until recently, and I asked Mr. Elzinga how that was remotely possible, considering the high profile antitrust cases that he works on. Being a lawyer, I know how inflexible Judges are to personal conflicts. Ken said “no – it’s pretty simple. I tell the Judge that I have class and can’t make it to Court. They usually listen.” And then he smiled and said: “If I have to tell them that I’ve never missed a class before, that always get’s their attention.”

Not only does he never miss a class, but Mr. Elzinga has always arranged his schedule so that any of his students can stick around after class and ask questions as long as they want. In his 40 years of teaching, Professor Elzinga has never said “sorry, I’ve got to run.” It’s truly incredible.

Speaking of “having to run…” I’m getting short on time. So I’ll just return to where I started. I guess it just comes down to the old saying that: “To whom much is given, much is required.” The University has given me a lot. And Mr. Elzinga, especially.

Did I have some fundamental conversion from slip-and-slide keg parties to “Friday night brownies” as a result of Mr. Elzinga’s influence? No. There is nothing real concrete that I can point you to. But I have no doubt that my time with Mr. Elzinga, especially those Thursday mornings in Pavilion IV, put me in a slightly better, and more mature, mindset when my friends and I cut loose for our big weekends on grounds. If nothing else, I’m certain that during those very formative years of my life, I avoided making some big mistakes and poor decisions, on account of Ken’s positive influence.

In a letter I wrote Ken just after I graduated, I explained then what I’m getting at now by reference to the part of the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus says: “We are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, it can’t be made salty again. And it is no longer good for anything.” I told Mr. Elzinga in that letter, as if he didn’t know, that I may not have lived up to everything that I could have while I was in college. I may have lost my good senses and virtues from time to time. But, because of him, I felt that I didn’t completely lose my saltiness . . . . I am still – and forever will be – grateful to Ken for that.

So that is why I’m supporting this campaign. To honor and thank Professor Elzinga, and to help ensure that UVa will be able to recruit the Ken Elzingas of the next generation.

And I don’t think you need to have had as close of a relationship with Ken as I did to know how important professors like him are to the future of UVa. Putting all of his extra-curriculars aside, everyone here who took his Econ 201 class knows how special of a professor Ken was in the classroom. I’ve had numerous conversations with people that I’ve reached out to during this campaign who say: “I’m going to support this campaign. Mr. Elzinga doesn’t know me, but I took his Econ 201 class and I love him. I don’t know why, but I really love that man.” I think there was just something special about his class and how he taught it. And even if you never stepped foot in his office, the fact that his door was always open meant so much. Everyone I talk to tells me that professors like Mr. Elzinga are what made UVa so special. I couldn’t agree more.

So… Whether Mr. Elzinga had a positive impact on your experience at UVa – or the experience of your brother or sister, son or daughter, friend or loved one . . . . Or if you had other UVa professors that – like Professor Elzinga – went way above and beyond for the benefit of their students . . . . And if you believe that professors like Ken are critical to UVa’s future, I ask that you please support our campaign. Please join in our celebration of the legacy of Professor Elzinga and other professors like him. Please join in our excitement for – and commitment to – the future of the University of Virginia.

Andy, please tell your father-in-law, Mr. Nau, thank you for hosting this wonderful event. Thank you Gene, Allison and Wayne for all of your hard work putting this campaign together. And, most importantly, thank you and God bless you Professor Elzinga.”