After 32 years in Virginia’s General Assembly, Jim Dillard is going back to college.
The longtime educator and delegate from Virginia’s 41st House District resigned from the General Assembly on Sept. 1 to serve on the Board of Visitors at the College of William & Mary. He took up his new position Sept. 2. Dillard, who grew up in Colonial Williamsburg and graduated from the college in 1959 along with his wife Joyce Woods Butt, said his decision stemmed from "a deep and abiding love of William & Mary."
"It's an outstanding group of people on the board at this time, who will work together to keep William & Mary a top-flight university," he said.
Dillard had already decided not to run for reelection, but he would have served as delegate until the end of this year when the newly elected delegate would take over.
Dillard's former chief of staff David Marsden (D) and Michael Golden (R) are vying to succeed Dillard in the House of Delegates. On Monday, Oct. 3, Dillard announced that he was officially endorsing Marsden in the Nov. 8 election.
WITH HIS service on the Board of Visitors, Dillard follows in the tradition of his grandfather, the first James Hardy Dillard, who in 1918 became rector of the college. His grandfather’s term as rector lasted 22 years, the longest in the college’s history, said Jim Dillard.
While at William & Mary, Dillard commuted to school from the house he grew up in. The house, built in 1706, sat just behind the Courthouse in the middle of Colonial Williamsburg. It belonged to Archibald Blair, an apothecary whose brother, Bishop James Blair, was the first president of Dillard’s alma mater.
Applying to college was different in Dillard’s day than it is now, he said. "I had reasonably good to bad grades [in high school] depending on whether it was French or government," said Dillard. French was not his strong suit, but he excelled in government.
When he first applied to William & Mary, said Dillard, the college had open admission, and all students needed was a high school degree. But during the course of his freshman year, said Dillard, the class of 600 slimmed down to 300. By his sophomore year, he said, 200 students remained in the class.
The former delegate majored in history, but took mostly political science classes near the end of his college career. When Dillard came back to William & Mary after serving two years in the U.S. Navy, he knew he wanted to be a teacher.
Thus began a long career in education. Dillard taught in Fairfax County schools for 20 years, among them Lee High School in Springfield, Hayfield Secondary School in Alexandria, and the Area III Administrative Office, where he was resource teacher and principal. The subjects he taught reflected his expertise: geography, government and civics.
WHILE IN the General Assembly, Dillard chaired the House Education Committee as well as the Appropriations Subcommittee for Elementary and Secondary Education. He served on the board of the Fairfax Education Association and the Virginia Education Association, and won "Child Advocate of the Year" award from the Virginia State PTA.
"[The appointment] was the only thing I ever asked a governor for in 32 years of serving on the Assembly," said Dillard. "Gov. Warner knew how much I wanted this."
"[Dillard] has decades of experience in education and in the General Assembly," said Suzann Matthews, a fellow William & Mary graduate and Board of Visitors member who lives in McLean. "How could you not love that background?"
Dillard’s background brings a great deal to the Board of Visitors, said Matthews. Dillard understands how the college fits into the larger public education experience in Virginia, she said, and he also has the perspective of a teacher.
"It’s wonderful for us, because we have a lot of businesspersons and lawyers, but not teachers," said Matthews. Dillard is "tailored" for the position, she said.
"He is a great friend of higher education," said William Walker, vice president of university relations at William & Mary. "We could think of no one better suited to the Board of Visitors."
The Board of Visitors will begin working with the college's new president, Gene Nichol, said Matthews. This year, they will also focus on a restructuring agreement with the state that gives state colleges such as William & Mary more self-determination, said Matthews.
"[Dillard's] great understanding of how the state and the General Assembly works will be a great help to us, especially as we go through the restructuring process," said Walker.
One of Dillard’s main interests regarding education is changing the No Child Left Behind laws or taking Virginia out of the program entirely, he said. He worked on the No Child Left Behind Task Force, a role he felt "enthusiastic" about and will continue to support, he said.
"He has been an alum for so long, and knows so many people," said Matthews. "He's an outstanding model for a lot of alums in service and giving back."
One of Dillard’s best memories of his years at William & Mary was a political science professor named Chuck Foster who taught courses on the U.S. Congress and on Virginia’s General Assembly. Foster took his students on field trips to Washington, D.C. and Richmond, said Dillard, and got him interested in politics.
"[Foster] gave me an insight that many people, when they first go to Assembly, don’t have," said Dillard. "Professor Foster was one of the people that most influenced my life. The biggest legacy I have is from William & Mary."