President's Office

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Lorene Cary's Introduction of President Peyton Randolph Helm

October 18, 2003

Thank you, Mr. Heffer. First let me say to the Muhlenberg community, board members, alumni, faculty, students: Congratulations. You have made an excellent choice of president. I've known Randy Helm since I was 20 years old. I am grateful for the honor of introducing him, grateful that after all these years, he still considers me, like Charlotte the spider in Charlotte's Web , a good writer and a good friend. It is typical of your new president's constantly associating mind-and his humor-that when I mentioned Charlotte, Randy wondered whether I was planning to use the same words to describe him that E.B. White's spider wove in her web. You might remember. Wilber, she wrote, was three things: he was radiant, humble, and some pig .

He's funny, Randy is.

When we met about 25 years ago, I was amazed at how deeply connected I felt to this graduate student who cooked full course meals on a hotplate and regaled us with bloody stories about the ancient tribes that roamed Mesopotamia. Randy possessed a fine scholarly intellect as well as a widely roving curiosity. He was at once easygoing and meticulous, fiercely competitive, and a team builder. He was a white guy from the South who understood that our collective privilege rests on a history of native displacement and the unpaid and underpaid labor of black and immigrant labor. He knew the core of aloneness and fear in the human soul-and looked for the creative force in the universe that answers it. While most of us were still playing at intimacy, Randy was falling in love with Patricia Burton. We heard about her before we met her: she was smart, beautiful, a fine musician, and more than the rest of us, Randy was able, with some humor, to be honest about how deeply his life was being changed. ("Just pray that she doesn't dump me.")

See: Humble. But don't let the self-deprecation throw you off, Muhlenberg. Randy was graduated magna cum laude from Yale, and did his Ph.D. in Ancient History at the University of Penn. There he was appointed adjunct professor and served first as associate, then director, of development for the college. He and Pat went lived in a dorm, where he Randy went from senior administrative fellow of one college house to running the college house system. So at Penn, within eight years of his dissertation, Randy had already built the foundation of his current appointment, by achieving excellence in the classroom, the dormitory, and in administration.

Randy accepted a position as professor of History at Colby College in 1988. There, too, he pursued his "total college" approach to teaching and administration. While teaching one course a year in Homeric epic or the Bronze Age, say, he worked as Vice President for Development and Alumni Relations, and more recently, Vice President for all college Relations.

As a Louisville, Kentucky native, Randy chose to be introduced by someone he figured might request just a tad of Southern call-and-response. So, tell me, Muhlenberg, are you ready?

As a leader, Randy knows that challenge is our only defense against intellectual rigor mortis and financial decline. He's a team-builder who takes the industry standard as a bar to exceed, and thinks that problem-solving, like board games, should be played to victory, and just for fun. He's mad organized: plan, implement, evaluate. The re-plan accordingly.

And the thing is, you're going to love it. Randy's passion is not just the system, but the system of relationships through which students, faculty, and staff learn and teach and grow. Former Colby President William Cotter told me that even during difficult times he'd hear peels of laughter from Randy's staff meetings.

And congratulations, Randy, on your choice of college. We know that other fine institutions have made passes at you, and that this liberal arts gem, with more than 150 years of academic integrity and excellence, and its recognition by 14 national honor societies, including Phi Beta Kappa, was a careful and conscious choice.

Randy is radiant today, because he knows that health of the complex relationships in this very special liberal arts college will ripple out-through alumni and friends and professional and personal networks-to strengthen the wide world beyond. Randy will give intellectual and spiritual leadership to a group of students discussing Herodotus, a faculty examining core curriculum, and to peers at a conference in Hong Kong. He knows that what the world does not need now is wave after wave of newly minted American grads on the make for the main chance, and that the learning and humanistic values in a small college in Allentown can and must supply moral, political, and economic leaders to a world badly in need of vision. You can be sure Randy Helm will be a committed steward of the precious heritage here at Muhlenberg, and that he will work, with all his heart and with all his strength and with all his mind, to enlarge it.

So, board and alumni, are you ready?

Randy Helm knows that great programs must be paid for. He took over a $100 campaign at Colby that he saw it to completion at $150 million . Sure, that was during a different market, and post 9/11 recession is not the go-go '90s, but you get the picture: $100 million was the goal, and $150 million was the total. And alumni giving, resting somewhere in the low 30 percent range at Colby, which where it is roughly, I believe, here, grew to 51% . That's as good as it gets.

I'm asking you Muhlenberg, are you ready for this? Cause you see where it's heading. Here's the heads-up, and don't ever say nobody told you: if you start writing checks (right now ) nobody will get hurt.

Faculty and students, another benefit of Randy's family's relocation is the presence of Patricia Burton Helm. As Pat settles in, you will discover an inspired teacher and musician who brings wonderful gifts of the mind and spirit for which you and she will find excellent matches in the years to come.

Muhlenberg parents, please note that Randy and Pat are themselves college parents, of two marvelous sons, Burt and Alec. For sure, they help keep him humble, just as this beautiful ceremony is making him radiant.

Yep, Muhlenberg, you got yourself a prize-winner here.

He'd gonna be some prez.