One of the most well-known memories of William F. Quillian, Jr., was his tradition of singing “Minnie the Moocher” for Randolph-Macon Woman’s College functions as well as community events. So it was somewhat unexpected, but not really surprising, when the final speaker at his memorial service, his son Robert Quillian, broke out into the song in which every verse ends, “Minnie had a heart as big as a whale.”
On the last verse, Robert Quillian changed the lyric: “Our daddy had a heart as big as a whale.”
Quillian, the fifth and longest-service president of the College, died on March 4, just a few weeks before his 101st birthday. Many of the comments and remembrances shared at Quillian’s service on Monday revolved around the size of his heart and the love he had for others.
“His love knew no bounds,” said Gil Cobbs, a local civil rights activist, former Lynchburg City Council member, and friend of Quillian’s. “What brought joy to him was creating joy and happiness in others.”
Speakers also talked about Quillian’s leadership of the College, his effectiveness in fundraising for the College and for other charitable causes, his stance for civil rights, his relationship with his wife, Margaret, and his desire for justice and racial equality. Bill Quillian III read a poem he had composed about his father’s life.
The Rev. Curtis Harper, who was a friend of Quillian’s for about the past 10 years, said Quillian epitomized the College’s motto, vita abundantior, a life more abundant.
“The spirit of a life more abundant radiated from that president’s office across the campus, over the Red Brick Wall, through the hills and valleys of our city, among the privileged and unprivileged,” he said. “It radiated from Bill Quillian’s heart throughout most of the 20th century and into the 21st century.”
Even towards the end of his life, when he had already retired from three careers, Quillian remained active in trying to improve the lives of others. Harper recalled Quillian’s role in forming a group to get together and discuss issues related to social justice. Harper recalled an Easter message that Quillian published several years ago encouraging people to honor their Christian beliefs by serving others who are less fortunate.
“He didn’t have any acquaintances,” Quillian's son, Robert, told the group. “If he knew you, you were his friend.”
He added that all who knew him benefited from his friendship, but many who did not know him are blessed by his legacy.
“Whether he was developing one of the finest liberal arts colleges in the country, or whether he was promoting the arts here in Lynchburg, or spearheading some charitable cause, we are all fortunate and humble beneficiaries of his extraordinary life’s work.”
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