Farewell to Dr. Peggy A. Stock
Westminster College's Fifteenth President
By Anne Macdonald
Her aspiration from the start was for Westminster to be the first choice for the students and the best choice for the students.
In April 1995, fourteen members of Westminster's presidential search committee flanked a large oval table. They were waiting to interview the next candidate. After a steady stream of dark suits, the red dress first caught their attention. Yet something else unwaveringly held their attention as this candidate took over the room for the next two hours. They soon realized they were face-to-face with 100-proof Peggy Stock. "Call me Peggy," she said.
The college had finally overcome some bad financial times; by 1995, it had been in the black for 12 years. The board wanted it to stay that way. They were looking for someone who matched the caution of their mood. Instead, the woman in the red dress turned their thoughts to "what could be."
Peggy saw the college as a "wonderful jewel that needed polishing." The board soon became convinced that her particular skills set fit the college's need they saw a "can do" president. The vote was unanimous. Peggy was on her way to becoming the fifteenth president of Westminster College and the first female college president in the state of Utah.
You don't change anything during your first 90 days so goes the old adage. Yet after six days, Peggy confronted the board at a retreat saying, "We have a number of issues to deal with, and we can take a year to get to know each other or close the door, roll up our sleeves, and start. The board, God bless 'em, said 'close the door.'" In 90 days she and the board changed the bylaws and articles of incorporation for the college. Instead of representational trusteeship, they set criteria of "time, treasure, and talent."
"Though this was against the advice of college advisors, it proved very successful," said Executive Vice President Steve Morgan. "The board lined up behind her in a way that they had never done before under any president. They became very focused on what was good for Westminster."
But Peggy was doing more than just making changes she was instilling a vision in all at Westminster. Her aspiration from the start was for Westminster to be the first choice for the students and the best choice for the students.
A residential village became a large part of that vision. The three residence halls that now surround the green on the south side of campus brought not only residential students to campus, but all the energy and enthusiasm that accompanies 500 resident undergraduates.
Raising visibility and creating an identity for Westminster College also became a priority. Peggy's strong personal leadership and energetic advocacy brought about a different perception of Westminster. She became a sought-after speaker whose style informed and entertained her audience. A storyteller, conveyer of a good joke, and master of just the right quotation, her speaking popularity mushroomed the requests poured in. Talking to one audience about making difficult decisions, she quoted Robert Orben who said, "I know deep down that the whole world is not against me. Some of the smaller countries are actually neutral."
In her first two years alone, she delivered 69 speeches. During that whirlwind speaking circuit, she convinced many that Westminster was a jewel in their midst that they failed to recognize. And it was not just external constituencies.
"Her greatest accomplishment was having the whole college community realize what a great college we are," said Ginger Giovale, chair of the Westminster College Board of Trustees. "Peggy convinced everyone, and this affected all aspects of the college. The successful fund-raising couldn't have happened without this transformation of attitude." But perception and visibility were not the only shifting priorities under Peggy's tenure.
In 2001, Utah Business Magazine named Westminster College one of the top five companies to work for in Utah. "I think a lot of the credit goes to Peggy. She felt very strongly about benefits and equity in salaries. She conducted salary surveys with peer colleges and slated $976,379 over five years to ensure equity," said Morgan.
"I think the most satisfying accomplishment for me, internally, is the salary adjustments. I know it made a difference in faculty's and staff's lives," said Peggy. "Their salaries are better, their benefits are better, and the facilities are better. I feel good about that."
In June 2001 Peggy reluctantly announced her retirement. She cited nagging health problems and a desire to spend more time with her husband, Bob, and her family. A year's notice not only gave the college enough time to find a new president it also offered Peggy an opportunity to adjust to the change.
"I have lots of energy and my mind doesn't stop. I wonder what I will do with my mind. I have never learned to live life. I have always worked life. I guess I have some new lessons to learn," said Peggy, who admits that while she may slow down, she will still serve on some boards and perhaps do some volunteer work.
"Most presidents fall in love with their first college. I fell in love with my last one. This is a wonderful place to close my career. We've worked hard. We've laughed hard. It is very difficult to leave these wonderful people," she said.