Bill Stone is the Stanford Alumni Association.
That was the sentiment expressed by SAA board chair Young Boozer, '71, at September's orientation weekend, the first gathering of the board after Bill announced his retirement.
It couldn't be more accurate, perhaps even more so for those of us who have known Bill since back when he was--to use his term--Dick Lyman's "rock catcher" before he joined SAA. For me, that's 29 years, since he was the faculty resident in my freshman dorm, Mark Twain House. We lost touch a bit over the years (and he keeps hoping I've forgotten all that he did back in his youth), but when he asked me to join the saa board four years ago, the memories came flooding back: of the smiling face, the quick wit and more hair than he has now. And, of course, the ubiquitous bow tie.
As my classmate and former SAA board chair Rich Jaroslovsky, '75, puts it: "It probably is no overstatement to say that, for thousands of alumni, Bill Stone is the face of Stanford University.
"And what a face. Besides being one of the best-natured humans on the face of the planet, Bill is a genuinely--indeed, reflexively--funny man. When he is in a meeting, he makes jokes. When he is relaxed, he makes jokes. Even when he's nervous, he makes jokes. The man just can't help himself." Jaroslovsky's words ring true for all of us who are friends and colleagues of Bill Stone.
Perhaps the greatest testament to the effectiveness of a leader is the legacy he leaves. There's no doubt what he's meant to SAA, leading it to become a model for university alumni associations in its entrepreneurial and service orientation. Only Bill could have led saa through the recent merger into the University. But for all that achievement, the esteem and love of the SAA staff speak even louder.
When he announced to the staff that he would retire, says longtime SAA colleague Marie Earl, '78, there was "a loud, collective, gasp—that "uhhhh" sound usually reserved for horror films. (Many) had to run for the sanctity of the bathrooms so as not to be caught crying in public." During the weeks that have followed, even staff members who haven't worked particularly closely with Bill have been bursting into tears in managers' offices.
A fitting tribute to a man both beloved and brilliant. To be sure, we will always treasure the wit and warmth. I'll never get tired of him telling me I'm a "great American." But let us never lose sight of what he has built and what he means to Stanford.
Each year at Senior Class Day, Bill has delivered, forever it seems, a variation on the same speech (OK, he's not entirely an original) in which he quotes a member of the class of '48. It goes something like this: "Mr. Arnold talked about trying to get a window seat whenever he happened to be flying into sfo, and his routine of seeking to orient himself to the highways and landmarks below and, when he got lucky, spotting a great sea of red tile roofs. He wrote: 'Although what happens at Stanford may always be similar to what happens in the nation, a great university can make a difference. Its leaders and its teachers can show the way; and its students and its alumni can show the nation. I feel I've been around long enough to see Stanford become that kind of university. . . . I have also been around long enough to (observe that) the sun, the winds and the rains have warmed its tones and softened its edges. It's improved with age. In fact, the whole place has truly grown on me. Whenever I (spot) it from an airliner that's bringing me in from somewhere or other, I'm happy. I know I'm home.'"
Bill always delivered the closing lines with a special reverence. He has given so much to Stanford, but he knows how much Stanford has given him. Mr. Arnold's words could well be Bill's.
Regardless of where the future takes him, the red tile roofs will always mean he's home.
Peter Bhatia, ’75, executive editor of the Portland Oregonian, is a member of the Stanford Alumni Association Board of Directors.