Fall 2022 Issue

A Tireless Advocate

Marilyn Ward Midyette ’75, credited with transforming the alumni experience at William & Mary, retires as W&M Alumni Association CEO

By Tina Eshleman

Fall 2022 Issue

From her time as an undergraduate 

at William & Mary, it was clear that Marilyn Ward Midyette ’75 is a natural leader. As a student, she immersed herself in the life of the university as a cheerleader, a resident assistant and a member of Delta Delta Delta and of the W&M Choir.

After eight years of spearheading programs and services for William & Mary’s more than 100,000 alumni, creating signature initiatives that raise the university’s profile and overseeing the extensive renovation and expansion of the Alumni House, Midyette retired Aug. 1 as the leader of the university’s alumni engagement efforts and the W&M Alumni Association.

“For someone who doesn’t know Marilyn, I would describe her as a force, both inward and outward, with her personality, her positive outlook, her enthusiasm, her sense of humor and her infectious laugh,” classmate and fellow Alumni Medallion recipient Lynn Melzer Dillon ’75 said when Midyette received the Alumni Medallion in 2011.

Those qualities propelled Midyette to leadership positions at Sprint, where she became a regional vice president, and at the Girl Scouts of Greater Atlanta, where she guided one of the organization’s 10 largest councils in the country as CEO.

Throughout her professional career, Midyette remained active with her alma mater through alumni chapters in Georgia and Illinois and by serving on the Class of 1975 Reunion Committees, the Annual Giving Board of Directors and the Alumni Association Board of Directors.

In 2014, William & Mary and the Alumni Association board decided to merge the WMAA staff with University Development to form a new University Advancement organization. According to Vice President for University Advancement Matthew T. Lambert ’99, Midyette was an obvious choice as the first person to serve jointly as associate vice president for alumni engagement and executive director of the W&M Alumni Association.

“Marilyn has played an absolutely crucial role in helping the university build a robust culture of engagement and philanthropy among our more than 100,000 alumni,” says Lambert, who returned to William & Mary in 2013 and hired Midyette.

Photo Credit: Alfred Herczeg P ’24

“She has been uncompromising in the best possible way — she is a tireless advocate for our alumni and she understands the power of community,” Lambert says. “She recognizes that for William & Mary to sustain our commitment to excellence and make an impact globally, we need the support of an engaged and active alumni network.”

Anna Dinwiddie Hatfield ’96, president of the W&M Alumni Association, says the former Tribe cheerleader has set an inspiring example in her lifelong dedication to all things green and gold.

“There is no stronger champion for William & Mary alumni than Marilyn Midyette,” Hatfield says. “She so passionately worked for exceptional alumni programming and other ways for alumni to deepen connections with each other and William & Mary. It was a pleasure to work with Marilyn, and it has been a great joy to see her vision for the Alumni House come to life and become a beautiful home for alumni for generations to come.”

The expanded Alumni House opened in 2020 after years of planning and fundraising, adding 33,000 square feet of new space in addition to careful renovation of the existing historic house. In announcing Midyette’s retirement, Lambert and Hatfield said, “Marilyn ensured the Alumni House was built with the utmost beauty and functionality and that it was built to last for ages with future expansion space included. She worked to raise funds to support and care for the building over the years and built the strongest financial foundation for the Alumni Association in its history.”

Midyette envisioned the expanded Alumni House as a representation of the important role that William & Mary’s growing alumni population plays in supporting the university’s mission and investing in its future. She says she has always believed that programming for alumni should reflect the same level of excellence that is expected of students at William & Mary.

“What I’m most proud of is bringing a more comprehensive and diverse set of value-added opportunities to alumni,” she says. “We’ve expanded from social interactions and engagement to very rich and robust programming that is not only social but professional and intellectual and cultural. We have also raised the quality of both Homecoming and our chapter and regional engagement.”

Under her leadership, the university launched William & Mary Weekend, Professionals Week, W&M Women’s Weekend, a reimagined Homecoming & Reunion Weekend, Traditions Weekend, new virtual programming featuring alumni experts in their fields, and the addition and growth of affinity and identity-based inclusion initiatives, among other offerings. Through these creative programs and events, the university saw the number of alumni participating in expanded activities — including new career and networking opportunities — triple over the course of the campaign from approximately 10,000 per year to more than 30,000 per year, establishing a trajectory for growth.

Among those programs, Midyette sees the debut of William & Mary Weekend as the pièce de résistance. Beginning in 2016, W&M Weekend traveled from Washington, D.C., to New York City and Chicago, and will move to San Francisco in June 2023, featuring insider tours, cultural events and intellectual panels.

“That was a sea change for us,” she says. “It was a new tradition that was representative of everything that William & Mary stands for — bringing the best of William & Mary and the best of a given metropolitan area to our alumni.”

Will Payne ’01, former vice rector of the William & Mary Board of Visitors, praised Midyette for her distinguished service during a time of significant change at William & Mary.

“As a seasoned chief executive, Marilyn Midyette has transformed the university’s alumni engagement operation into a model that continues to buck national trends, demonstrating the power of the William & Mary network and a shared commitment by all to develop lifelong, meaningful relationships,” he says. “Marilyn has a rare ability to develop a vision, build consensus and inspire action on an international scale; and as a result, she leaves a legacy for which we are all grateful.”

ONE FAMILY: Midyette celebrated with former WMAA board member Todd Norris '86, P '18, P '20, P '22 and other alumni at the 2022 Legacy Toast reception for graduates and their parents. Photo Credit: Skip Rowland ’83

Midyette’s tenure coincided with William & Mary’s ambitious For the Bold campaign, which ended June 30, 2020, after raising $1.04 billion for the university. The campaign’s goals included increasing alumni participation and strengthening alumni engagement.

Robust engagement is key to building a strong philanthropic culture among William & Mary’s alumni community, and W&M has been ranked the No. 1 public university for alumni giving in the U.S. several years in a row.

“We are so grateful to Marilyn for her forward- thinking leadership,” President Katherine Rowe says. “She believes in the future of William & Mary and has rallied alumni to support it. Our alumni are more connected than ever to each other and to our university.”

The career engagement and professional network initiatives that began under Midyette’s watch create opportunities for alumni to support each other and interact with current students, Rowe says. She adds, “We will build on the relationships Marilyn forged to advance our career initiative under Vision 2026. Our goal is simple: that our alumni support each other professionally from their first job to their last.”

A national search for Midyette’s successor began immediately, spearheaded by Lambert. Howard Busbee ’65, J.D. ’67, M.L.T ’68, L.H.D. ’22, P ’90, P ’04 assumed the role of interim leader of the alumni engagement efforts and the W&M Alumni Association on Aug. 1 and will serve until Midyette’s successor is hired.

A former faculty member and assistant dean at the Raymond A. Mason School of Business, Busbee spent 33 years as a tax partner with PricewaterhouseCoopers before turning to higher education for his second career. Always willing to answer alma mater’s call, Busbee has been active in many of the university’s leadership groups, serving as current vice chair of the William & Mary Real Estate Foundation, as well as co-chair of the Honorable Robert Boyle Legacy Society.

WELCOME HOME: Midyette was joined by Anna Dinwiddie Hatfield ’96, Hunter J. Smith ’51, L.H.D. ’18, President Katherine Rowe and Norris at the Alumni House dedication. Photo Credit: Skip Rowland ’83

His previous roles include president of the W&M Alumni Association, chair of the W&M Foundation and chair of the Olde Guarde Council. For his service, he has received the Alumni Medallion, W&M Law School’s Citizen Lawyer Award and, most recently, an honorary doctor of humane letters (L.H.D.) degree during this year’s Charter Day ceremony. Named in his honor, the Howard J. Busbee Finance Academy teaches W&M undergraduates about careers in finance and provides them opportunities to connect with professionals.

“We are thankful to Howard for his willingness to step in and guide our alumni engagement efforts during this transition,” Lambert says. “As an alumnus, parent and leader in both business and academia, he knows every branch of the William & Mary family and he will use that knowledge to benefit our alumni community and the university — just as he has always done.”

After Midyette’s retirement was announced in May, Busbee began what he describes as a listening tour to learn from alumni and university colleagues about what has gone well over the past year or so, where there is room for improvement and how he can be most effective in the short term.

“One thing I don’t want to be is just a caretaker,” he says. “I want to build on the programming and the outreach that’s been created and learn from our experience in dealing with a pandemic on how to be responsive and how to be flexible.”

After the disruptions and delays that resulted from the pandemic, Busbee expects to continue the WMAA’s focus on in-person events, both on campus and around the country, including Traditions Weekend next spring.

“I want to be an active participant in the planning and the input on those areas,” he says. “We also want to be a partner in university-wide efforts for equity and inclusion and make sure that we pursue the Inclusive Excellence Plan that we have.”

Busbee says he is drawing on his experience from the business and academic worlds, and from his own volunteerism, to encourage efficiency and collaboration between campus partners. He also brings insights from his two children who are William & Mary alumni and from a granddaughter who graduated in 2021.

“When my granddaughter was here on campus, we were also living in Williamsburg and so I got firsthand knowledge about what student life was like and the opportunities that she was able to take advantage of,” he says. “She spent a semester in the Washington Center. She also had an internship at the State Department, which ultimately led to a full-time job.”

Busbee, who served as president of the W&M Alumni Association board from 1999-2001, says the organization has come a long way under Midyette’s leadership and guidance.

“This is a changing of the guard, but I don’t think it’s a change in direction,” he says. “We will continue to build on what Marilyn and her staff have done in terms of programming and outreach. Those, to me, are the two areas that the alumni association can be most beneficial in and if we continue to do them, we will be successful.”

As she moves into retirement, Midyette leaves a legacy of accomplishment and devotion to William & Mary. Both she and her husband, Payne H. Midyette ’75, have given generously to their alma mater, contributing funds to the Alumni House expansion, the Alumni Association and W&M Athletics, among other programs.

She recalls that Payne wholeheartedly endorsed her taking on the WMAA leadership role, and he has been at her side during countless events over the last eight years. She had been driving to Williamsburg to chair her last meeting of the Annual Giving Board of Directors on June 20, 2014, when Lambert called and said her name kept coming up during discussions about the position.

Even though she had retired the previous year from her leadership role with the Girl Scouts, Midyette was intrigued. She then called Payne and outlined Lambert’s criteria for the position: someone who had professional best management business experience, who had interfaced with a board in a leadership role, who had volunteer management experience and — ideally — someone who was a William & Mary alumnus or alumna.

“My husband said, ‘Everything he’s listed, you’ve done. You care passionately about the institution, and you can certainly add value. It seems like this job has your name written all over it.’”

Now, Midyette says she is ready to resume the life of a retiree — enjoying a flexible schedule, doing home improvement projects, traveling with W&M Alumni Journeys as a participant rather than as a host and cheering on the Tribe.

“I’m taking a step back for a while and then, probably a year from now, you’ll see me more,” she says. “But I’ll still be at football games, basketball games and other things like that — just not on the stage.”

Reflecting on her experience over the past eight years, she says, “It’s been a blessing beyond measure, and I’m so proud of the time that I’ve had and the opportunity I’ve had to give back.”